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American Annals of the Deaf

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Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer

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It had been only a few months since he arrived in California and already he was planning his return. “I intend to start for home at the beginning of the rainy season in November.” He was considering going by way of Panama, possibly returning in the spring the same way. Although his boredom with farming was part of the reason he left Iowa, he wrote to her that “I would rather however be on my farm than be gold digging.” Edmund had not used a razor nor cut any of this hair since he was near Fort Laramie. “In this matter,” he wrote to Mary Ann, “I am a match for old Jupiter.”17 Edmund’s next letter indicates that he was missing his children: “I suppose by this time Harriet can run about and probably has forgotten her papa entirely.” He predicted that California would one day be “well enough for families to come, but it needs heroines to make the beginning.” He still expected to start for home in the fall; nevertheless, he warned Mary Ann that “I will not till I get enough to greatly improve our circumstances.”18

As the summer of 1850 approached, mining became difficult. During the summer, or dry season, the mines could be worked only where water was in streams or was brought through the ditches. The water levels in the rivers were too high. The dry season forced work to stop on many good claims. By mid-August, Edmund appeared to be contemplating a longer stay. He remained optimistic, writing to Mary Ann that should he spend any portion of the coming rainy season in this part of the country, “I shall hardly fail of doing well. In the river (Tuolumne) on which I am now located I expect to make fifteen hundred at the least before the rainy season opens. Most men say they expect to make from three to five thousand, and I may do that.”19

Miners often worked in groups, sharing the work and the claims. They dug canals at various points along the river and built dams in order to leave the middle of the river bare for mining. Had Edmund arrived three or four months earlier, he could have had a share in one of the canals. One particular canal opposite Jacksonville took over 100 days to dig, and cost each shareholder over $1000. Edmund was offered a half share for $1000, but he did not accept.20 Without access to one of the canals, he and two other men were forced to mark off a 6-foot-square claim on the riverbank, which was then under water. They waited about fifteen days for the river to turn so they could work on it.

Edmund was usually realistic on the subject of making money. He often explained to Mary Ann the uncertainty involved—“A few men make hundreds or thousands in a few hours or a few days; while the many require months to accomplish the same object—this is the general feature throughout California.” About the claim he was working on, he told her, “We may make much and may make nothing on it.”21

Edmund warned Mary Ann not to believe the newspaper stories about lumps of gold weighing 80 or 90 pounds. “We know they are false, but these stories, got up by traders, merchants and speculators to get more fools into the country accomplish their purpose to a certain extent—witness the immense immigration across the deserts this year. They will suffer sadly.” He also told her that California was no place for men who could not take care of themselves.

It is well enough for poor men without families to come dig for gold, but if a man is doing well, living comfortably . . . if he takes a notion to leave his family & come to California, I would advise Rockwell, as County Attorney, to have him indicted forthwith as non compos mentis and incapable of taking care of himself. About one third of the men here have families in the East. Some say nothing, but most complain . . . of the separation and the long uncertainty between the receipt of letters. Most of the men here are from Massachusetts & Rhode Island. . . . Over one hundred within 12 miles are from New Bedford.22

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