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Jefferson County's '49ers
The Fairfield Weekly Journal
Jan. 16, 1901

Following the discovery of Gold in California in 1848 and the confirmation of its truth, a group of residents of Jefferson County, Iowa, began organizing and undertook a journey across land to distant California.  This adventure was recorded in a dozen or so newspaper accounts during and following the journey.  Listed below are some of those articles.  We are grateful to Judy Neu for transcribing these articles from Jefferson County Records, Vol. 3 compiled by Mary Prill and published by the Log Cabin Chapter of the DAR.

"Fairfield (Iowa) Weekly Journal, Wed., Jan. 16, 1901, p. 5, col. 3-4-5, (Iowa State Dept. of History & Archives, Des Moines, Iowa.)
From Monday’s Daily.


(H. Heaton)

Sir Walter Scott begins one of his stories, “’Tis sixty years since,” and there is no doubt that any account of events than occurred sixty years ago will find many persons interested in them. While there may not be many remaining that took part in the events narrated, the generation just preceding our own must ever claim a more living connection with us than any former generation can have.

One of Mr. Ross’ young friends was Daniel Fiedler, a powerful young man 21 years of age, a carpenter by trade, son of a Lutheran clergyman who was minister at Bentonsport. Young Fiedler was always in demand at parties, and at the party at Chandler’s, of which mention has been made, he met Rebecca Morgan, and as she was at that time living at Mr. Ross’, he soon found an excuse to visit there himself. The next morning Mr. Ross had Dan go with him hunting, and they had gone but a short distance, in the direction of what is now the Swede settlement, when Fiedler shot a fine large turkey and felt somewhat proud of his success in bagging such fine game before so accomplished a hunter as Mr. Ross had killed anything, but before his elation had had a long life, the latter killed a deer, and proved that turkeys were only secondary considerations at that time--game was so plentiful.

Mr. Fiedler bought his carpenter tools of Henry Shepherd, who lived on what is now Mr. Lamson’s farm in Round Prairie Township. Shepherd came from Brooklyn, N.Y., with his father, Charles Shepherd, who was a pensioner of the Revolutionary War. This old soldier had lived in a cabin near Mr. Ross for a number of years as we have already seen, but wishing to have a home of his own, even though past eighty years of age, he sent his two sons, James and Joseph, to Fairfield with money saved out of his pension, to buy a forty acre farm in Henry County. The day was cold and James left Joseph in the street to care for the oxen, while he went into the land office to enter the land. Instead of entering the land in his father’s name entered it in his own, and thus cheated the old man out of the only chance he ever had of owning land. It is some satisfaction to know that this James Shepherd was the first occupant of the Fairfield jail, a log structure without door or windows, entered by descending a ladder, which when removed, left the prisoner entirely safe, without the care of a jailer. This jail stood where Rev. Mr. McElhinney’s residence now stands. It is not probable that old Mr. Shepherd ever learned of the duplicity of his son, and that he died in 1840 in the belief that he was the possessor of the little farm on which he desired to be buried. In disregard of the old patriot’s wish for a resting place, there has been persistent efforts made to remove his ashes to Mt. Pleasant, but thus far some good power has prevented the finding of his grave.

We have, in an early chapter, seen that Mr. Ross was a neighbor in Rush County, Indiana, of Wm. Blair, who was a soldier of the War of Independence, and came to Iowa about the same time, and was buried near Kossuth; that his own father, William Ross, served the entire seven years of that war in the English army, came to Iowa and lies buried within its bounds, thus he was intimately associated with three men of that struggle, and still there were two other men came to Iowa who had borne a part in liberating the colonies from English rule; one lies buried in Polk County and the other in Lee County.

One of Mr. Ross’ daughters, Margaret, married Charles McGuire, a young man who had been reared by Judge Sample, an emigrant from Indiana, who made his home a mile east of Rome, on a farm now the home of Wm. Davis , Esq., whose wife was a daughter of Samples. Judge Sample was the first victim of the cholera visitation in 1851, when so many died in Henry County of this disease, and when Dr. Charles Clarke, father of Dr. J. Fred Clarke, of Fairfield, rendered such unwearied service in caring for the sick, and Mrs. Clarke helped and encouraged in combating the terrible plague.

This Henry Shepherd, above named, was at one time involved in a neighborhood difficulty that gathered in a common trouble many of the names thus far mentioned in this history. In 1841 the Bonnifield boys had a well dug by N. Simmons, stepson, as we have seen, of Frederic Schneringer, the Napoleonic and Wellingtonian soldier. They first had a son named Vorhies to which for a good place to dig, by carrying a forked stick over the ground. Simmons hired Shepherd to haul stone for walling the well, at a dollar and a half for himself and two yoke of oxen, which Simmons refused to pay because it was exorbitant. By paying some mutual debts owing to Mr. Bonnifield, the amount in dispute was reduced to $4.87½. Without coming to a final settlement Simmons returned to Ohio to be married. Shepherd gave an order on Simmons to Thomas Miller at Glasgow, a storekeeper, Miller gave the order to a tailor named Bartleson, who returned also to Ohio to make it his home. Notwithstanding he had already given an order on Simmons, Shepherd began a suit to collect payment before Smith Ball, a justice of the peace, father of Frank Ball, of Cedar Township, and Hon. George Ball of Iowa City, but having had a trial already before Squire Ball for assaulting Wm. Tilford, he took a change of venue to J. R. Parsons, another justice. Schneringer appeared for his step-son, and when the case went against him took an appeal to the county court and wrote Simmons to return.

Before returning, Simmons got the order of Bartleson, returned and paid Miller, obtained a receipt, and armed with these, employed a lawyer, named Tees, for five dollars; appeared in court, presented the order which Miller swore he had written and Shepherd signed. The judge dismissed the case and the costs, amounting to more than fifty dollars, were collected from Alexander Kirk, father of Eli Kirk, who had been Shepherd’s security. Kirk was compelled to sell his farm to satisfy the claim, and it was bought by Schneringer, but after much cost and trouble was redeemed by Kirk.

We shall meet a number of the above named persons in California.

Mr. Ross had seen life in Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and now in Iowa, and was not averse to entering into the adventures of a trip across the almost unknown lands intervening between Iowa and California. Another incentive to the journey was that Mrs. Ross showed incipient indications of consumption, and he hoped that life in the open air on the great plains might restore her health. Selling all his household and farm property at public auction, he started with wife and infant daughter Lucinda, now Mrs. Smitlian of Oregon, his sons, James and Thomas, and little son Sulifand S., now of M. Pleasant, then ten years old, in two wagons on a journey that might have appalled a less courageous man, in March, 1849. One of the wagons was drawn by five yoke of oxen, and the other by four yoke of oxen and one yoke of cows; both wagons were laden with provisions chiefly, but also with bedding and cooking utensils.

At Fairfield Mr. Ross’ wagons were joined by six more. Mr. Dickey who had kept a hotel in early days had one of them; other who were of the Fairfield company were James Hardin, whom we have seen came to Iowa in 1837, with Harden Butler, he had since been county sheriff; his brother, Evan, John Fee, Robert Hill, John and Isaac Boyle, and John McWhirter, who was buried last week (Jan. 1902 at Fairfield),
James Freeman, John Kyle, who still lives at Beckwith, Shuffleton, Baker, and J. Nelson Bell, a son of Lancelot G. Bell, of whom we have had much to say in former chapters, Wm. And James Walmsley, of Libertyville, and Wm. Bonnifield whom we have already often noticed.

Anyone unacquainted with the heart-breaking slowness of oxen, can hardly understand why such a train of wagons as left Fairfield on the 27th of April, 1849, were so long in crossing the state to the Missouri River. That river was crossed at Gainsville on a steam ferry-boat and when all were over, it was found that other trains converging into the common route had swelled the number of wagons to sixty-five. Such a number of wagons having on an average four men to the wagon, felt that they could safely travel in face of any Indians they might meet. At Dupin’s trading point, the company organized by electing a man from Missouri captain. His only recommendation was that he had served in the Mexican War. Proving utterly incompetent, Wm. Bonnifield was chosen in his place.

Before reaching Fort Laramie the cholera broke out in the company, but it was impossible to call a halt because of the short pasturage, and danger of attack from Indians. Before reaching Fort Laramie, John Kyle had a severe attack of that disease, but thanks to a Dr. Derman, one of the company, and also to our young friend, J. Nelson Bell, who had studied medicine, he recovered. At the crossing of the Platte, after leaving Fort Laramie, Dr. Derman complained of symptoms of cholera. The crossing was difficult, being accomplished by a swimmer taking a line in his mouth and swimming the stream, then with the line drawing a large rope over, and then a wagon body which was used for a ferry boat. Much trouble arose from the cattle being unwilling to enter the water, and Derman got wet in urging them in and trying to expedite the march to a point beyond, where it was hoped plenty of grass was to be found. He had taken a large dose of calomel, and was seen unable to move. McWhirter, the Walmsley boys, and Hill stayed with him until he died and then buried him.

No doubt the constant progress from one camping ground to another had a solitary effect in restricting the ravages of the cholera, and it was soon left behind entirely. Terrifying storms were encountered when the grain reached the headwaters of the Platte. In one storm the lightning broke just overhead, and seemed to jingle the log chains, making the hair stand on end, and poor as the cattle had become, it was difficult to prevent them from being stampeded. The alkali country had proved very fatal to the cattle; Mr. Ross lost one yoke of his, and at the crossing of Green river one of the cows was lost. At Green river they found a wagon had preceded them and already was in camp, the occupants being a French trader and his wife. One of the company, Jo Thorn, recognized the woman as an old sweetheart of his, Eliza Davis. At another stopping place on the same river, a wagon had halted in which a woman had just died, after giving birth to a child. The man was distracted, crying and weeping, and wholly at a loss what to do with the little thing. He tried to prevail on Mrs. Ross, the only woman with the train, to take it, but in her state of health, and an infant of her own, she was unable to do so. However, another train came by the same day, in which was a woman who took it.

At Salt Lake City a young man, Asa Daniels, came to the train with the information that the Mormons had learned that a man named Cornell, who had taken part with the mob that shot the Smiths, was with the company, and that they had determined to kill him. Hastily leaving on horse back, with one companion, Cornell succeeded in crossing a bridge just as the Mormon guard arrived to prevent his passing. Terrible were the hardships encountered by him and his companion, while separated from the train. In the heat of the day, to prevent themselves from the sun, they would stand their horses close together, and spread their blankets from one horse to the other, and sit in the shade thus made. When overtaken they were almost at the last gasp, their tongues protruded from their mouths, black and terribly swollen.

Here Mr. Ross was compelled to abandon one of his wagons, but by this time one wagon would hold almost all that remained unconsumed. The train deflected far to the north of the traveled route, that they might find pasturage for their teams, but the poor beasts suffered terribly for food, but more from want of water, and when they finally reached a stream they drank so greedily, that poor as they had become, they could not get out of the stream and died there, to be devoured by the wolves."

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