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Jefferson County's '49ers
The Fairfield Weekly Journal
Wed. March 27, 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. March 27, 1901.
(The only Daily Paper in Jefferson County)


(H. Heaton)

One more incident of life among the Argonauts and then we must quit California. Feather River is a very swift stream, although of no great breadth. A short distance below “Fairfield Bar” there was kept a canoe for men to cross from side to side. It was necessary to take the canoe a considerable distance up the stream, even in the comparatively smoother current of the ferry, to make the landing on either side, because a short distance below there was a fall in the river. One day Hardin Butler, whom we have seen with Ross and others, a delegate to the First Constitutional Convention, with a man named Love, got into the canoe to cross to the other side. By some means the men lost control of the vessel, and when it became apparent that it would go over the falls, Love leaped out, and fortunately was able to seize a bush that hung over into the water. Butler in the canoe went over the cataract, a number of men who witnessed the accident gave him up as lost, but while the boat was never seen again, Butler came to the surface and made a desperate struggle for life. Below the falls the river was whipped into a whirl-pool, and Butler was whirled around and around, yet managed to keep on the surface, although it was impossible to lay hold on anything by which to save himself. Evan Hardin, who had seen his own brother James drowned in this same river, was one of the spectators, and noticing that Butler had several times swept close by a large boulder, yet was unable to seize it, he ran to the place and threw himself on the stone, clasping it with his arms and hanging his legs down to the water for Butler to seize hold on when he came by again, which he did. Even now it was necessary for a man to run half a mile and bring a rope to fasten to Butler, before the men could draw him out of the water, so fierce was the current. Butler declared, afterward, that while battling for life every incident of his past life flashed before his mind in a moment.

The chief reason that led Mr. Ross to go to California was the symptoms of consumption apparent in Mrs. Ross, and while the life in the open air, crossing the plains, seemed to have arrested the disease, it became apparent, as time went on, that the malady had not been thrown off, but would renew its attacks. One evening Mrs. Ross expressed a wish that she might again see the old friends in Iowa; when morning came, Mr. Ross was ready to start on the return journey, by way of the Isthmus, and without any unusual incidents reached their old home near Rome. He bought a small farm, a mile west of Rome, in Henry County, but what he had foreseen could not be averted and only a few months after returning to Iowa Mrs. Ross died and was buried in the church yard of the little log (Shiloh) church, which had taken the place of meeting at Mr. Ross’ own home. Short as had been Mrs. Ross’ life after her return, it had been long enough to bury her son Thomas, or more properly, her stepson (also nephew), for he was a son of Mr. Ross by a former marriage. Thomas had been through the California experiences, but only lived a few weeks after coming home, and died at his sister’s near Merrimac, Mrs. McGuire’s. (See p. 222, V. 2, JEFFERSON COUNTY RECORDS, for tombstones.)

Perhaps this is as good a place as any to speak more particularly of Mr. Ross’ family than we have thus taken time to do. Mr. Ross had been married twice before he went to California. He first married Mary Ann Junkin, in Indiana, in 1823, and by this marriage he had a son William, who married Catherine Bonnifield, in 1844, and they both live in Kansas; a son Thomas, whom we have just seen die, upon his return from California; James H., who went to California, returned and married Nancy Crenshaw of this county and served in the Civil War and was afterwards a Methodist preacher, went to Arkansas and was killed in a most singular accident -- a steer crowded him off a bridge; and two daughters -- Nancy Elizabeth married Samuel J. Bonnifield, and died in California in 1860, and Margaret married Charles McGuire of Merrimac, this county.

Upon the death of his first wife, about the time he came to Burlington, Mr. Ross married her sister (Elizabeth), and their children were Sulifand, Sutherland, Jr., now of Mt. Pleasant, who was a member of co. M, 4th Iowa Cavalry; Edward Christopher, who enlisted in a Kansas regiment in the Civil War and died at Fort Scott shortly after entering the service, of the measles, and Lucinda, the infant child that we have seen on the way to California, who is now living in Oregon, the wife of a Mr. Smithlein, once of Lockridge."

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