Jefferson County Online
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Jefferson County's '49ers
The Fairfield Weekly Journal
Jan. 31, 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.

"The Fairfield Weekly Journal, Wed., Jan. 31, 1901, P.5, col. 6.


(H. Heaton)

Month succeeded month and still the “Spartan Band,” as the company with which Mr. Ross journeyed called themselves, were toiling on towards the promised land, where gold was to be had for the mere trouble of picking it up. Blessed with youth and health the journey was full of enjoyment to almost all, with the campfires at night where hours were spent in songs and jollity.

On reaching the headwater of Feather river, which was a wonderful spring, the river starting almost full grown from its fountain heads, a man from Indiana determined to try a shorter route to the Pitt river than the company had fixed upon, and induced a number of other men to go with him, among whom was Tommy Thomson. They wandered about in the mountains until they had consumed all their provisions, and then they seriously considered the idea of killing one of their number for food, as the ill-fated Donner party was compelled to do. A fat Irishman was of the number, who had never been able to keep up with the company, and on him their hungry eyes were turned; thus hoping to acquire food and at the same time be rid of an encumbrance, but he surmised their plans and evaded them, finding the lost trail, and they soon after all arrived at Feather river.

On the second of October the company reached Lawson’s and Redding’s ranch on Feather river; seven full months after Mr. Ross had started on this great undertaking, which we have seen was on the 27th of March, from the old house on Brush Creek. Mr. Ross’ first work was given to securing shelter for his wife and little children. A cabin that had never been roofed sheltered them at first, if a roofless house may be said to shelter from heavy showers that soon began to fall. The elder sons were sent with the oxen that yet remained, to Marysville to be sold to replenish their greatly reduced supply of provisions, with which they returned to Long’s Point.

Another company of the band that went to Sacramento for supplies, had several adventures that deserve mentioning; one of which cast a gloom over the entire company from this county. Having been without fresh meat for a long while, on their journey down to Sacramento, they fell in with a drove of cattle belonging to Lawson, and our young friend, J. Nelson Bell, shot one of them with his revolver, and they had a fine feast, only fearing that the loss might be discovered and they held to an account; but a band of Indians came, and nothing could be more agreeable to them than to act as scavengers on the remains of the animal, leaving nothing to reveal the cause of the loss.

On their return from Sacramento several of the number got lost, McWhirter, Hugh Shufflaton, and one or two others, wandering about in the woods all night in a heavy rain. The next day when they found their bearings and reached Feather river, at Long’s bar, they came upon Calvin Gillham, (now of Fairfield), Evan Hardin, and several other men, who had just witnessed the drowning of James Hardin. Hardin crossed the river in a crazy boat, that was used for ferrying men across the stream, and which Evan Hardin had used the day before in bringing over a part of their goods, and might easily have had them all ferried over, but the heavy rain in the night had so swollen the river that it was now dangerous to attempt it, with such a boat. However, James was indignant that Evan had not brought the effects across, as he should have done, and so he jumped into the boat with two men and tried to make his way across a stream that was now like a mill sluice. The boat turned side-ways, was driven against a rock and capsized, and Hardin was seen no more, although he was a good swimmer; the other men, neither of whom could swim, were saved. This occurred in November, and although careful search was made for the body it was not found until the next June, when Isaac Boyle, looking for oxen, saw a strange object in a drift of the river and on a closer look it proved to be the remains of a man. Evan Hardin recognized some of the garments as those worn by his brother James. The skeleton was kept several months on the roof of Evan’s cabin, and then packed in a trunk was brought back to Fairfield by Calvin Gillham and Hardin Butler, who was a cousin, and buried in the Fairfield cemetery, Hardin having been a Mason.

Mr. Ross with Kyle, Parsons, McWhirter and others of the company from Jefferson County, formed a joint stock mining company and proceeded to dam Feather river at a place which they called Fairfield bar. They hired fifty men at fifteen dollars a day and board. Board was a matter of importance, flour was one hundred dollars a barrel, eggs a dollar a piece, and a moderate sized hog would cost a hundred dollars. The company’s venture was only a partial success, and so it dissolved. Mr. Ross’ sons, Thomas and James, had struck out for themselves, and did not work with their father in the stock company, but went further up the river to what was called Iowa City bar.

If Mr. Ross and his partners had taken Wm. Bonnifield’s advice and had gone to Scott river at once they would have been more than rewarded; for men were taking out as much as $8000 a day from those diggings. However, they went to Trinity river instead and when they finally went to Scott river, the season came on unusually dry, and they were not able to work their earth, but had to carry it a great distance to water."

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