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Jefferson County's '49ers
The Fairfield Weekly Journal
Feb. 13, 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., Feb. 13, 1901, P. 5, col. 2-3 (From Friday’s Daily)


(H. Heaton)

While Mr. Ross was at Fairfield Bar, in the mining company, many a shipwrecked traveler, barely escaping with life, made claim upon his humanity for relief. One man, whose team had died, made a sort of pack-saddle of one of the oxen’s hides, which he slung around his own neck, and in one end of it carried his infant child, in the other end such bare necessities from his stores, as his strength would permit him to take; his wife and two little children having all they could do to keep with him without any burdens. Such claims were almost daily made upon those who had been able to complete the journey without disaster.

While the company in which Ross traveled was the first from this county to reach the gold mines, other companies followed, so that the route was being almost continuously traveled.

Frederick Schneringer sold off his personal effects, and in company with a brother, we believe, of Shepherd Lefler, of Burlington, made the journey. His first wife, the good woman who had taken him in when houseless and homeless in Maine, had died, and he had remarried again, and was now the father of a son, Hall, who lives in Nebraska at this writing. Schneringer returned with some gold; one nugget which was worth $60, but as it was necessary for him to re-engage in farming, on his return, he paid the nugget to a man in Fairfield, for a horse that was worthless. Afterwards meeting the man, who wanted to be friendly, he seized a stick, and if the man had not made a hasty retreat, he would have learned what a man trained by the Great Napoleon could do to redress himself when defrauded. Schneringer had two other sons, Frederick and Mark, and one daughter, Mercy Jane, all of whom are still living, the daughter the wife of Dr. Billingsley, in Kansas; the three sons in Nebraska. Mr. Schneringer lived to a great age, and lies buried by both his wives, in the Lockridge cemetery.

Sam J. Bonnifield fitted out a wagon with five yoke of oxen, but when he reached Eddyville changed his mind, and sent on the wagon, with George Flanders, the little boy that we have seen with Schneringer in a former chapter, and Daniel Fiedler. Fiedler very much disliked driving oxen, but George was proficient at that work, and the greater part of the driving on the long journey fell to his lot. When they reached California they took different directions. Flanders had but moderate success, returned to Iowa, married and is still living at Lockridge, About him lives son, daughters and grandchildren.

Mr. Fiedler tried several enterprises, and finally on the Amador river was successful and accumulated sufficient means to return to Iowa and buy one of the best landed estates of the country; still living to enjoy the fruits of his hardships as a miner. While in California Mr. Fiedler was litigant in a mining controversy and his interest needed the evidence of a man named David Hopkirk, a brother of the John Hopkirk so often mentioned in the early chapters of this history. Hopkirk demurred to going into the court room, because of his uncouth, neglected appearance, but Fiedler said a barber could easily remedy this difficulty; but when that functionary tried to comb Hopkirk’s hair, the latter told him the effort was useless -- “There was tar there that had got into his hair when sleeping under the wagon when they crossed the Missouri.”

Hopkirk lived to return, having accumulated considerable means, and when he and a sister embarked in a ship to visit their old home in Scotland, but this ship never reached her destination--was never heard of more.

Calvet Gillham, in company with Jefferson and Thomas Howell, brothers of Albert Howell, who lives on the old home, near Glasgow, made the journey in 1849 to California. Gillham had learned the trade of blacksmithing, at Fairfield, of a man well known by pioneers, named Van. Returning to Fairfield, he married a sister of his companion in the journey. Those brothers and sisters were children of Thomas Howell, a son of the Howell at whose home in Virginia John Huff was born, when his father was following his trade -- that of an itinerant wheel-wright, and with his family was working at the elder Howell’s. One of the sisters, Adeline, married Edward B. Heaton, the singing school master, politician, clergyman, and lieutenant in the 30th Iowa in the Civil War, and both are still living at Indianola, this state.

Abial R. Pierce, who since those days became famous in the history of this county, but who was then living in Maine, went to California by way of the Isthmus on a ship called the John B. Alden. After discharging part of her cargo and passengers, the ship proceeded by way of Cape Horn to California, and it is sufficient to say that when she reached her destination, Pierce had been in California as long as he cared to remain, and when the same ship was ready to return, took passage in her for his home in Maine.

Joseph (John) Fell, one of the young men who went to California at an early date, prospered in his ventures and came back to his old home, and married a daughter of Thomas Miller, whom we have seen a merchant of Glasgow. Mrs. Miller was a sister of Robert Moore. Young Fell and his bride again went to California, and in a short time had secured a considerable sum of gold; set sail again for home, but the vessel in which they took passage sprung a leak, and although the crew and passengers worked incessantly at the pumps for three days it was in vain. The women were stripped of all but scantiest of underclothing, for the purpose of lightening their weight, and they were put into the boats, while the men were left to shift as best they might with life preservers and what besides they might get hold of. The last Mrs. Fell saw of her young husband, his hands were bleeding from work at the pumps. He possibly might have saved himself, but hoping to save his hard-earned gold too, he fastened it about him in a belt, and it is thought that it sank him. The Mrs. Fell who passed through those scenes of sorrow is now Mrs. Fiedler.

Robert Moore, as above said, was an Uncle of Mrs. Fiedler’s. He, who unwittingly carried Black Hawk’s skeleton to Keokuk, was one of the Argonauts, and yet lives near Glasgow, having been married to his wife sixty years, the greatest length of time that any couple has lived together in Jefferson County.

Thomas Dickey, who had been proprietor of the National Hotel at Fairfield, that stood where Ed Roth’s dry goods house stands, went to California and engaged in packing. Much of the mining country was impracticable to wagons and everything had to be packed in on the backs of mules. He succeeded well, although past sixty years of age, and sent for his family to come to him. His family consisted of his wife, son, and daughter named Adeline and her husband, Ezra Drown, a young lawyer, and one little child. They took passage from the Isthmus, and were entering the harbor in California when unfortunately the pilot ran the ship on a reef near the shore. Young Dickey swam to the shore with his mother, and Drown, after making his wife secure, as he thought until he could return for her, swam to the shore with the child, but before he could get back to his wife, she became exhausted and sank under the waves.

Chris. Shaffer and a young Mr. Ramsey with several other young men were of the Argonauts, and coming back by the Isthmus they stopped a short while at Havana, Cuba, where they separated, some to come by New York, and some by New Orleans. They got to Fairfield the same day -- a day or two after the old brick Presbyterian church was dedicated, the building that was pulled down to make room for the present church.

John Castell, now of Salina, was a gold seeker in those early days, going in company with a blacksmith and his family from Fairfield, named Fostermaker. At Omaha, or where Omaha has since been built, was only an Indian tepee, and when Castell and his companions came near, a squaw came out of the tent and scraping aside the snow from the ground, proceeded to build a fire. Castell and his company had a great deal of trouble with the Indians, who at a number of times were hardly induced to desist from killing their oxen, but finally succeeded after giving them some of their cows, in escaping to safely.

Our young friend, J. Nelson Bell, underwent the usual vicissitudes of mining life, but returned to his old home, and afterwards went to Kansas, where it is believed he has lived happily ever since; his readiness to adapt means to his wants, which we have seen he possessed, no doubt fitted him to enjoy life in the state John Brown and Jim Lane."

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