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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer

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Edmund then decided to go by himself to the southern mines, but he had to wait several days because of rain. He found an ordinary hotel, where, for $2 a day, every man slept in his own blankets on the floor or on benches. Some hotels charged two ounces of gold dust a week for board and lodgings. When the rain stopped, Edmund left with a man from Long Island for Coloma 60 miles away, where gold had been first discovered. As night came, they stopped at a big log still burning, left by previous campers. They ate a supper of crackers, lay down in their blankets, and slept undisturbed.

Coloma, just north of Placerville, included stores, hotels, saloons, gambling houses, and banks. Just outside of town stood the skeleton of Sutter’s Mill and below it the race in which James Marshall discovered the gold that brought about the settlement of California. Many of the new emigrants first headed to Coloma, and a bridge had been constructed across the North Fork of the American River to handle the increased traffic.

Edmund slept at the only hotel in Coloma, a two-story building kept by a big-hearted Missouri man who also had left his wife behind to mine for gold. On a large flat nearby, many men were working with picks, shovels, and rockers. The Long Island man had a sheet-iron rocker and the next day the landlord joined them and the three went to work on the flat. They made only a few dollars a day. After a week or so they agreed to go to Placerville. Edmund’s Long Island companion shouldered his rocker and Edmund carried the baggage, and after a walk of a few miles they were there. They stayed for several weeks and worked with varying success, making from $2 to $10 per day.

We were new to the business, and long toms and sluices had not come into use. Washing gold by the rocker was slow work. We boarded at the only hotel in the place at $18 a week and slept in our cabin. My companion was an intelligent and genial man. . . . I grew tired of this slow success and concluded to go further south to Sonora, in Tuolumne County, 60 miles east of Stockton.10

B E F O R E leaving Placerville, Edmund traveled briefly to Sacramento City to check for mail from Mary Ann. It was February and he still had not received any news from home. The quintessential pioneering woman, Mary Ann had been living with family members rather unhappily for about ten months. After Edmund left for California, she and the two children moved in with Henry Booth. Fairview had only a half dozen log cabins and frame houses at the time. The school was located in the basement of Dr. Matson’s large, frame house, and the local children were taught by Miss Aletha Hall.

From the start, Mary Ann suffered the loss of her independence. She desperately wished to cook, sew, and raise the children without her relatives around. Throughout the years Edmund was in California, and afterwards, she demonstrated great self-reliance. She did not need, or desire, assistance. She took the seeds of a tasty apple and produced trees that supplied the family with applesauce for years. She invested $90 in 5 acres of farmland and told her children in sign language that a day would arrive when someone would offer much more for that same land. She deftly curled young Hattie's hair for a daguerreotype photograph, and made beautiful clothes for the children from homespun yarn. She planned for planting, harvesting, and selling crops, raising cattle, and she dealt with the fencing and clearing of land and other business matters associated with the family farm. A devoted wife and mother, she was well suited for single handedly raising two children—a role thrust upon her by Edmund's departure for the California gold mines.


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