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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer

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His disappointments in mining were overcome in part by the loving support he found in her correspondence. “With time and labor lost and my expectations blasted, I returned to Hawkin’s Bar in better spirits (from being assured that all were well at home) than I had possessed for some two or three weeks previous.” But he also wrote that his dog, Towser, “would [have been] some consolation in this my banishment. I never see a dog but I think of Towser.”32 Edmund does not say what became of Towser, but, in later years, Thomas recalled that his father told him the dog gradually dropped behind the wagons on the California Trail, and eventually failed to come up to their wagon.

A year had gone by, but Edmund was unable to help Mary Ann financially in any significant way. “You had better rent the farm,” he advised her on November 3, 1850. “Rent it on shares if it is still the custom. In my last [letter] I stated that I was intending to send you something. My connection with the damming Co. nearly emptied my pocket, for board was $15 per week and a set of tools will cost over $50. You must wait a little longer.”33

In the same letter Edmund responded to Mary Ann’s request to come to California with an adamant

No. I will never consent to you and the children taking so dangerous a journey in the care of others. On the road along the Humboldt and after, men were left dead and dying, uncared for, for nearly all were weak and starving and all fearing to share the same fate. When I came, the immigrants were overloaded with provisions . . . and the Humboldt was not overflowed. This year everything was on the other extreme.34
Then he offered the following sage advice to Henry Booth and Gideon Ford, who were thinking of coming the following spring.
That two such cautious, prudent and sensible men are so badly bitten shows the intensity of the California fever in the East. It makes me laugh. But if I was required to give a decisive yes or no to their coming I should say yes, with the remark that if they have a good prospect of getting along well where they are, they had best remain. They will soon know if they do not know already that thousands have left Cal. without making their “pile.” Few out of the many make fortunes. Experience teaches men to be content with half an ounce a day. If they do better they are lucky. I have heard of two men taking out forty thousand in one week, but such cases are extremely rare.35
Edmund’s diary and his correspondence with Mary Ann frequently made mention of communicating by “signs.” He likely meant the gestures most hearing people he encountered used to communicate with him. In the case of business dealings with the miners or evening chats at the campfires, the conversations recorded in his journal include remarkable detail. However, the journal also reveals that many of his exchanges in “signs” were simple forms of conveying basic wants, needs, or other messages, as the following two examples show:
I invariably unconsciously passed far ahead, stopped and waited for them [two Chinese men] to come up. On reaching me they both told me in urgent signs to not go ahead but to keep by them. I inferred they were afraid of being attacked and robbed, for we passed now and then a traveller or team coming from the mines.

On one occasion I met a Mexican. Kept an open eye on him as he was about to pass. He stopped suddenly and spoke. I made the sign of not being able to hear. He understood and pointed to his open mouth, meaning he wanted food. I swung around my pack, took out three or four big square crackers and gave him. He looked hungry. As he took the crackers he made the sign of the cross, pointed slightly upward and then to me. I interpreted it to mean, “The Holy Virgin bless you.” It was rather a pleasant adventure and I sat down to see what he would do on meeting my Chinese friends. He passed them with no sign. When they came up they scolded me in their way for going so fast. It was evident they regarded me as a protection to them.36


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