In 1848, Gold was discovered
in California. When the ensueing Gold Rush began, California
was a peculiarly lawless place. On the day when gold
was discovered at Sutter's Mill, California was still
technically part of Mexico, under American military
occupation as the result of the Mexican-American War.
With the signing of the treaty ending the war on February
2, 1848, California became a possession of the United
States, but it was not a formal "territory"
and did not become a state until September 9, 1850.
A doctor, Dr. J. G. Candee, living
and practicing in New York but born and raised in Harwinton
felt the urge to migrate west in search of his fortune.
In February of 1849, he set out with some companions
in what would be a seven month journey across the vast
continent encountering many hardships along the way.
The following is the transcription
of a letter that he wrote to his good friend Anson Hungerford
back here in Harwinton. The letter was received in 1850.
Puntuation and spelling was left as written.
On the 22nd of September, seven
months after I left the city of New York, we succeeded
in effecting a crossing of the Colorado. After a detention
of about twenty-four hours, and at 3 o’clock,
P.M., and being surrounded by hostile Indians, the Jumas,
(Sumas) we struck off on the great desert, reaching
the first well or watering place, 15 miles about 9 o’clock
the same evening.
In crossing the desert we were obliged to pack our animals
with grass and Mazkeete leaves, and walk ourselves a
portion of the way, that we might have where with to
refresh our weary animals. We were five days in crossing
the desert, including about thirty-six hours which we
lay by the New River, or Salvation Camp, as Lieut. Couts
of the army had named it, before our arrival. Here we
found plenty of grass and water. It is said that this
river has broken out within a year and a half, as Emery
says nothing about it in his first report.; as if, God,
ever mindful of the necessities of poor, suffering humanity,
had caused this water to gush up, not by the stroke
of a rod, but by some process of nature to us unaccountable,
for the express purpose of refreshing and invigorating
the poor worn out emigrant and his jaded and fatigued
animals which he knew would cross that desert in 1849.
We left New River, or Salvation Camp about 2 P.M. on
the 23rd and arrived at Vallerite, the first town on
the other side of the desert, the next night, where
we found plenty of grass and water. A few Indian Wigwams
constitute the town.
Endeavor to imagine to yourself, two weary way worn
travelers without a change of garments, ragged, dirty,
in the midst of a desert, covered with its dust; surrounded
with ? barren, but burning sand, with not a green thing
upon which to rest the eye, mounted, or leading their
jaded or almost worn out animals, on which is packed
the scanty sustenance and few blankets to serve for
their bed. Watch them: see the anxious and almost despairing
countenance, as they toil on, hoping almost against
hope that soon the eye will be permitted to rest upon
the green and fresh herbage and the lip permitted to
taste the cool refreshing beverage of nature. And hark!
Hear the music of that sweet warbler which tells the
weary traveler that he is near where vegetation springs
up, and where the sparkling rivulet flows gently by
to water the thirsty earth. Follow them a little farther.
See them toiling to ascend that sandy eminence yonder.
They reach its top, and in the distance, suddenly breaks
upon the eye, the green valley of Vallacito. The countenance
changes, it becomes cheerful and animated; even the
poor jaded animals , as they snuff up the fresh breezes
borne across the green valley, partake of the cheerfulness,
and press on with fresh vigor and renewed strength,
till they reached the long looked for and desired resting
Now, this is a faint picture of that, which happened
to me and my young companion, as we toiled across the
desert; and I trust gratitude, gratitude to God, filled
our hearts when we arrived at that spot, where we could
lie down in green pastures and rest, and refresh ourselves
and our almost worn out animals.
We were at this point, about eighty-five miles from
San Diego, and my pack animal hardly able to stand up,
yet after a few hours rest, and good feed, she was able
to bear her pack, and we went on to San Fillipe, where
we left the main road, and took our course across the
mountains to San Diego, where we arrived on the 2nd
of October. My pack animal, however, gave out about
sixty miles before reaching them, so I was obliged to
pack my saddle mule and walk a portion of the way, which
rendered it still more fatiguing.
Fine country from San Fillipe to San Diego; the water
and the most delightful atmosphere I have ever breathed.
We passed through a large tract of country, covered
with wild oats, in extent more than the eye could measure,
hundreds and thousands of acres.
On arrival at San Diego, we found ourselves almost destitute
of clothing, and entirely so of provisions. For my part,
I had not a change of garments, except an extra pair
of socks. My outer garments were a thin calico sack
coat, and old worn out vest, a pair of duck trousers,
an overall and my worn out overcoat, with a dilapidated
California hat which I had worn the entire journey,
and in that garb I proceeded onto San Francisco, on
board the steamer California.
Our stock of provisions was entirely exhausted, I remember
well, - REMEMBER! – I shall never forget the last
meal we ate before reaching San Diego, consisting of
the last piece of bacon, and the last hard biscuit remaining
in our haversack, and this just at sundown about four
miles before reaching the Mission San Diego.
Seated upon the ground, we collected a few twigs and
made a fire in the road, as we were then in the midst
of a field of wild oats, there extent of which the eye
could not measure, and on which our mules were feeding,
and there boiled our last piece of meat, and ate with
a relish of which you city epicures know nothing, and
for our drinks we had the juice of a watermelon, which
kind of Providence had put it into the head or heart
of a young Spanish Senorita whom we met on the way,
to present to my young companion. This meal I remember
amongst the sweetest and most luxurious of my whole
life; but it would have been a sorry meal without the
addition of the melon, as we had not a drop of water
in our canteens, and the day was very hot.
Having arrived at San Diego at fatiguing part of my
journey was at an end. It will hardly be necessary for
me to tell you of the hair-breadth escapes from dangers,
seen and unseen, or the hardships and suffering endured,
or the privation of food and drink, or the difficulty
of obtaining them, which fell to my lot, for I hope
to live to see you yet again in the land of the living,
and tell you of my journey, its pleasures and its pains.
But one thing I must say; if you have never suffered
from thirst, you know very little of what suffering
the human frame is susceptible. Oh! The torments of
thirst! – there is nothing on earth that can produce
so deep a pang as thirst; a man will endure anything,
suffer anything, sacrifice any, yes everything, to alley
the tormenting and distressing, distracting pains of
thirst. I have seen the time during my journey, that
having been deprived of water for a few hours only,
when coming in sight of it, I would leap from my mule,
and entirely regardless of quality, or the effect produced
upon the system, would sit upon the bank of the rivulet
or pool and drink pint after pint. I remember when I
reached the Rio Colardo, that I rode to its bank, and
dismounting drank in quick succession seven pint cups
full without even a thought in reference to its quality
or effects, for I was thirsty – and this water
be it remembered, has been my only drink since I left
the City of New York.
It is said to me by some of my companions, (who were
not exactly tea-totalers) at the commencement of my
journey, that I would take brandy before reaching California;
feeling myself insulted by the assertion, I raised my
hand above my head and replied, “living or dying,
God being my helper, I shall go to California. Remain
there, and return to the states without tasting it”,
and thus far I have been able to keep my resolution.
I went on board the steamer California on the 6th of
October, and on the 9th arrived in San Francisco, just
71/2 months after leaving New York. My first business
was to ascertain where to find the brig Cordelia in
which my company embarked from New York. I soon ascertained
she had gone to Sacramento City, about 150 miles up
the Sacramento River, Almost the first man I met after
landing was Lieut. Bartlett of the U.S. Navy, who took
me to his store and furnished me with a change of garments,
which was all I wanted, as I had sent a trunk of clothing
which when found would be amply sufficient for two years
at least. I hastened to Sacramento City, and found the
Brig, but the company had all disbanded, and the mining
utensils, provisions etc. all sold or divided amongst
the company, without any reference to me at all, and
my trunk of clothing nowhere to be found, or to be heard
from; thus, I was left destitute, without clothing,
mining utensils, or provisions, and entirely destitute
of cash, which to me was nothing new. I hastened back
however, and went to the Southern mines, at the place
I now am, where I found my young companion, and where
I have been laboring very hard at gold digging ever
since. Having arrived in the mines, destitute as I was
of everything, except on suit of clothes and my blankets,
I found it rather difficult to support myself during
the winter or rainy season. Provisions were exorbantly
high, being obliged to pay for flour, bread, rice, beans,
coffee, sugart and pork $1 per pound each, making flour
as you perceive $200 a barrel; potatoes #1; butter $2;
cheese $1.50 per pound; candles $1.50 apiece; saleratus
$4 per pound; vinegar $7 and molasses $10 per gallon.
So you see a man must earn something to live in this
country. Provisions at this time are very low, flour
$23; pork $40, vinegar and molasses $4 per gallon and
the weather pleasant, the rainly season being over and
mining rather more tolerable.
I am located in the village of Curtissville, situated
on a creek called Curtis Creek, in the San Joaquin district
about 230 miles from San Francisco, and 80 miles from
Stockton the nearest market town, and at the head of
navigation. We have a monthly express running from the
mines to San Francisco, so that we get a mail once a
month, and pay for letters $2 each. (cheap postage).
As for newspapers we get very few, and for these we
pay $1 each.
There is very little use of an individual sending papers
to San Francisco for friends in the mines, for we seldom
if ever receive them, they are sold in San Francisco.
I have not received a paper since I have been in the
country, and have bought but one, The Tribune, for which
I paid $1.
The business of mining is very laborious and uncertain
business, It seems to me the hardewst and most laborious
business a man ever engaged in. Common farming is a
mere pastime compared to it. And uncertain, because
the gold is not equally distributed or diffused through
the earth. Two men may be working side by side, or within
a few feet of each other, one may take out his ounces
or even pounds, while the other with the same amount
of laborwill only take out his dollars or perhaps shillings.
Some are successful or lucky, (for it’s a complete
lottery) and others the reverse. I am not among the
first class. The most I have made in one day is $51.50.
Although very laborious and uncertain, the business
of mining is exciting, and not unpleasant to one who
expects and is willing to work, as he is constantly
looking anxiously forward to some rich spot, or pocket,
as the miners term it, in which he expects to deposited
his future fortune. Another feature of mining, is agreeable
to say the least of it, for the miner has in his hand
in the evening, the product of his days work, and knows
exactly what he has earned and what he is worth, without
the glorious uncertainty of depending upon some bankrupt
employer at some future day, for his wages, or the poor
though honest customer, or patient for the collection
of a bill, after running a hundred and one times upon
the same errand.
Fortunes are not to be made her in a day by mining,
yet some fortunate individuals do get rich in a very
short time, but many more, a vast majority of miners,
barely make subsistence. Yet I believe that by perseverance,
industry and economy he may in process of time surely,
make a comfortable rate fortune, but the improvident
and dissipated will as surely remain poor. If he digs
a thousand dollars a day. Let me say here however to
my friend in Harwinton, who are calculating, or have
any desire to come to California, to ponder well on
the subject, before they make the experiment. I would
say in general terms; let no man leave a good business,
and above all a family, to come to California to dig
gold. I say a good business. If he is earning over and
above his ordinary expenses, let him live where he may.
$1,000. $500 or even $100 a year clear, let him stay
there and not come here when there is so much uncertainty.
I am confident however, that a young man just entering
upon the stage of life might be coming here, and laboring
hard for 3, 5 or 10 years, return to the state with
a fortune – but oh! The wreck of morals and religious
habit, who can estimate? Dissipation, drinking and gambling
are the only pastimes. A man at Sonora took out a piece
of gold weighing 22 lbs, he received for it, from a
trader $4,800; in one weeks time he had not one cent
of it left. The monte dealer and rum sellers tll had
absorbed the whole of it.
You may ask when do you expect to return to the States?
I answer, when I shall have accumulated a sum sufficient
to render me and those depending upon me, somewhat comfortable,
during the short time allotted me on earth. When that
time will come I am unable to say, perhaps never. I
have passed the meridian of life, and have but a few
years at most to remain here, before I shall have accomplished
my three score years and ten. I may be called suddenly
and at any time to lay down this clayey tenement, but
my strong, my earnest desire is to return to my native
land, there to rest with my Fathers, and those friends
who have gone before. It is a merciful provision of
Providence that we are not made acquainted with the
exact time of our departure, for who is there, even
the most pious and devoted Christian, that does not
shrink from the contemplation of the pain and anguish
of a death bed scene. The mere act of dying; the parting
of soul and body, is to be dreaded, Not that the Christian
fears to launch off upon the broad ocean of eternity,
for his soul is anchored sure and steadfast upon that
hope which looks within the veil, upon the Rock, even
Christ our Redeemer and he knows assuredly that this
mortal must pat on immortality and death be followed
up of victory. “Surely, if there be any one word
which carries peculiar sweetness in its sound it is
this word Immortality. For it is this that dries the
tear that falls upon the arm of those we love. It is
this that reconciles the world to all the sad variety
of woe, and it is this that will at last gild the horrors
of the grave, and shed a glorious light over the dark
valley of the shadow of death.”
I meant to have said more about the country of California
but this is the sixth sheet, and I fear I have prolonged
this to such an extent, that it will be irksome to you
to ever read it. I would say however, that the mining
districts are mountainous, sparsely covered with timber,
and tolerably well watered a small portion of which
is susceptible of cultivation except by irrigation,
the timber in the region of country where I am is principally
yellow pine, and three species of oak; white, black
and live oak. The vegetation corresponds somewhat with
that of the states, but has a ????? growth, putting
forth its blossoms almost as soon as it springs up,
till nature seems to be in bloom; a perfect flower garden,
each plant seeming to vie with each other in coming
to maturity. The greatest variety of flowers I ever
saw, mostly annuals I think.
It is a long time since I commenced this letter, and
although it is so lengthy. I have not written on half
I wish to write. But I stop here and wait patiently
for an answer, which I expect in due time.
Health country, my heath good, comfortable log hut to
live in, plenty to eat and money in pocket to buy more.
Dr. Joel Gillet
Candee was born in Harwinton on December 16th, 1798.
He married Mary Butler in April of 1828. She would die
in 1831. He was our Town Clerk from 1829 - 1834 and
a practicing physician here. Land records reveal that
he sold the last of his land here in Harwinton in 1834.
I am surmising that it was now that he moved to New
York to continue his medical practice. He was a graduate
of Yale University school of Medicine. In 1839 he shows
up as being appointed an officer in the Apollo Comandery
of the Knights Templars in the City of Troy New York.
In researching further,
it appears that he did come back to New York at some
point after the gold rush ended in 1855. He shows up
in New York in the 1860 census. He died ten years later
(1870) in Troy New York acheiving his goal mentioned
in the letter of "3 score and ten years" (70
years old). He was 71.
Historical Hartford Courant
Harwinton Town Records