About to leave for California's gold fields in the spring of 1849, eight men of Fremont, Ohio established the Fort Stephenson Mining Association for their mutual aid and protection. John M. Smith (President); Levi E. Boren (Secretary); and John A. Johnson (Treasurer) joined brothers William and Robert Caldwell, Grovenor Gallagher, Isaac Sharp, and James W. Stevenson in forming articles of agreement that bound the men and their fortunes to each other for a period of eight months. All eight charter members arrived in California safely. Initially, they took up claims on Beals Bar located on the North Fork of the American River, near its junction with the South Fork in Placer County. During the next several years, other Sandusky Countians headed to California to seek their fortunes.
Cyrus Sebring wrote this letter from California to his friend Minerva Justice of Fremont, Ohio. His letter is particularly interesting because it provides a glimpse into the lives of some of the original members of the mining association as well as others from Sandusky County who crossed the plains in the intervening years.
Those mentioned in his letter from Sandusky County, Ohio are:
John M. Smith
Many of these men returned to their homes in Sandusky County, Ohio. Others lived out their lives in California. And, some died in the gold fields, having never fulfilled their dreams. The record of the Fort Stephenson Mining Association kept by John A. Johnson is housed at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. In an upcoming post, I hope to provide more details of these men who went West in search of gold.
Sacramento City, Feb. 26, 1851
Dear Friend Minerva
I have just received your very kind letter and I can assure you that it was a very welcome visitor for in reality I had about come to the conclusion that all my old friends had determined that I should never again hear from them but oh how agreeably have I been today in recieving your letter. I can truly say that this is the happiest day that I have seen since I left Fremont. Minerva I think I scarcely need attempt to tell you how rejoiced I am to learn that your health has so far improved as to admit of your visiting your friends and enjoying their society. I realy wish that I was at home a short time that I might have the pleasure of enjoying a share of your smiles, but I am far away and deprived of all the pleasure derived from mingling with society and I feel the loss very much but since I voluntarily left I shall endeavor to make the best of a bad bargain and there is one thing certain and that is that I shall know much better than ever before how to appreciate the blessings derived from society and I assure you that I shall endeavor to make my stay in this land of Cutthroats and Gamblers as short as possible. But you know that I came here for the purpose of obtaining gold and I must have some of it before I can return home and as soon as I can accomplish that object you will surly see me coming home. And when I do come it will be to remain. I can assure you that if I live to get back I shall be contented to stay there.
Well now Minerva I presume that you would like to hear from some of the rest of the boys and I am glad that I am able to inform you that they are all well for I have just returned to the city from a prospecting tour and I have visited all of the boys that came from Fremont. Russ and J.M. Smith live together. I took dinner with them on last Friday and they were both of them hard at work. When I went up to them they were both rocking their cradles. I think you would laugh if you could only see Russ at work with his blue shirt on rocking the cradles and then you would laugh I think to see him cook. He moves around so very graceful and then they are so very cleanly they make it ruleable to wash their dishes as often as once during the week. Jaques Hulbard went up with me. We staid until almost sundown and then Jaques and Russ and myself started back for Beals Barr where almost the whole tribe of Fremonters are located, as you will see when I come to enumerate them. And in the first place there Jaques and Grove Gallagher, they tent together and seem to live very agreeably together and both as fat as there is any need for, and the next Putnam Norton and Henry Loveland they live together and are in good health and next comes Robert and Wm. Caldwell. They live together and are quite well and then comes poor Cyrus Thompson. He lives in a tent by himself and is well but looks lonely. And thinks he will not keep house much longer. He talks of going to Scotts River, a distance of about three hundred miles from here.
I believe that I have mentioned all at that place and will next walk down the river four miles to Negro Barr and there I find J. C. H. Montgomery. He is in good health. And then I come down to within four miles of town and there I find Add. Mann [?] and Mr. Stark. Not our Stark but his brother, and they are both well. And then when I get into the city I find Hiram Kelly, Kenny Russel, and Mr. Boren and by the way he wishes me to say that he shall feel himself under lasting obligations to you for your kindness in saying that his family are well. He has had the horrors for the last month. He has not had a letter from home for the three last mails. And now I believe that I have given you a short history of all of the folks from Fremont, and now I must say something about myself and in the first place will say that I am very well and weigh ten pounds more than I ever did before, so that you may judge that California agrees with me very well.
And if I could only see all of the girls for about one day I think I should be willing to stay in this country for some time. For the climate is realy very fine. We have not had any rain as yet and it is about as warm here at this time as it is in Fremont during the month of May. Go out of town and we can gather as many flowers as we wish and we have lettuce and radishes on the table while you are sitting around the stove. And hardly dare look out of doors for fear of freezing your nose. I think that if I only could have the same society here that we have at home I should like very well to live in this country. But without we can be with those we love, there can be no enjoyment or at least there is not for me and now I have a few questions to ask.
And in the first place you speak of recieving but one letter from me. I have written two and in the second one there was a specimen of gold. You say nothing about it. Have you not received it or was it so small that you did not think it worth while to mention it. You must not think that I intended that to answer for the one that I promised to bring you when I come home for I have one on hand and the pin fixed to it. It is rather large to send in a letter but you shall surly have it. I will send it the first opertunity I have that I think that it will be safe to do so. And unless I can have such an opertunity I shall keep it until I come home, which I am in hopes I shall be able to do by next fall, but dare not promise positively to do so. I have written to several of the girls. I say several, I will say a few. I wrote to Eveline and Alvina and A. M. O. and to Hat F___ [?] and Nett and not a single sound do I hear from one of them. I hardly know what to think. It is to me a mistery that I am unable to solve and my sheet of paper is about coming to a close. And I shall soon be obliged to bid you good by.
I feel very much obliged to those who wished to be remembered to me. Say to Alvina I should very much regret to hear that she should have the consumption poor girl. I could almost cry and would if I could only keep from laughing. Should she be taken off suddenly she shall have my blessing. To start with give her my best wishes and to Eveline give my love in return and to Mrs. Ball and Mrs. Olmstead my kindest regards. Tell them I wish them to keep a protecting watch over the girls.
And say to A. M. O. that Peter Hershey is on his road home and I wish her to be a little upon her gard for I am inclined to think that he has some very serious intentions from what I could learn. Tell her it is my wish that she should take good care of the telegraph office until I return. Tell Nett I am glad to that she is so well employed as teaching the young idies how to shoot. But I don’t see why she did not go to the house that I picked out for her between Fremont and Sandusky City. Where is Rachel. Is she yet in the famous city of Sandusky. I somewhat regret to learn that Mr. Fitch is not yet married. I thought he would have been before this time. Tell him not to dispair but try try again.
I had almost forgotten to tell you that I was going to start for the mines tomorrow. I can’t tell how long I shall stay but will surly be back in time to get all letters that come for me so that I want you to be sure and write to me as soon as your receive this and if it was not asking too much of a friend I would ask you to become a regular corispondent and I will ask you to write as often as you can do so. And tell the girls that I think if they only knew how anxious we folks in Cal. are to hear from them they would surly write. Now I will stop. I think I have now written more than you will have the patience to read if indeed you can read it at all. And now I have one request and that is that you will again write to me and let me hear the news and by so doing you will very much oblige.