Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer
Along the banks of the river, Edmund saw many of the men who accompanied him to California. Success was not yet very great for most of them, including himself. “I have made as much as $11.50 a day, he wrote.”26 The days were still very hot, but the nights were growing cool and the “more delicate” men put on their coats in the evening. In a week or so, regular and steady work would commence for many miles along the river, and such work would continue until stopped by the rainy weather in November. By now it was certain that he was postponing his return to Iowa. He had not earned enough to make the trip worthwhile and maintained hope that in time he would do so. He predicted that in a month or so he would probably be in some of the winter diggings at or near Sonora, 12 miles away.
I suppose, from seeing with my own eyes, there is gold enough in these mountains to sink a whole navy of the United States. But to dig it is another affair. The people of the U.S. and the speculators and merchants in California are insane on the subject. The only people who are in their senses are the diggers. Calif. is now flooded with provisions and goods of all kinds and competition in everything is keen. The result is many failures; and those who don't fail must be content with moderate gains.27Edmund called himself a “wandering exile.” He must have wondered at times about how safe it would be for a deaf man to walk around in the dark. Had a guard called out to him to stop, he would have been unable to heed the warning and could have been shot. He was staying at a hotel, paying $14 per week for room and board. The miners had plenty of food—local gardens supplied cabbage, potatoes, and tomatoes; raisins sold at the mines far up in the mountains for “their weight in gold dust,” fresh beef was abundant, arriving regularly from Mexico, and bushels of pears were brought in from Mexico on the backs of mules. The pears were about the size of black walnuts and sold eight for one dollar. Edmund was not impressed with California as farm country, however. He told Mary Ann that “Iowa is worth a hundred Californias for farming.”28
With great candor, Edmund shared with Mary Ann his hopes and dreams, his
successes and disappointments, and his heartfelt emotions as he struggled to
realize his modest goal of bringing home $3,000 to $5,000 for his family. That
was all he hoped to earn and he never lost track of his priorities. “I shall
rejoice to be at home again,” he wrote. “My old log cabin and farm have far more
charms for me than all the gold of Cal. and every man who is not a born miser
says the same of himself.” His motivation for staying was his children.
They must have as good an education as possible, for ignorance and folly usually go together. But I would much prefer to see them honest and kind-hearted than rich. Without honesty and goodness at heart, wealth will do little towards making them happy in life.29Edmund also frequently updated Mary Ann on his health, as he had done on his overland journey. To treat boils on his knee, he wrapped it with a cold, wet towel three times a day. “Many men in this country cure by cold water and have books on that subject. When unwell, I take a bath, drink plenty of cold water and sleep it off. Have taken no medicine save a little rhubarb.”30
On September 11, he left Hawkins Bar and crossed the mountains 8 miles to Jacksonville.
[I was] in no very pleasant mood of mind but in hopes of a letter from home. Well, I arrived; but as it was so long (eight or nine months) since my last dates from home, I was almost afraid to inquire, fearful of bad news. So I sat down in the express office and read the papers[;] in about fifteen minutes the principal of the house came in and at once brought me the list of letters with his finger at my name. I sprang up and ran into the office where he gave me your letter of May 22nd. Its reading raised my spirits 100 degrees. If you knew the value of letters to me in this strange land you would write more frequently—at least once a month.31