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.

Dear Anson

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 place.
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