Jefferson County Online
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Jefferson County's '49ers
The Iowa Journal of History and Politics,
July, 1932

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 Iowa Journal of History and Politics", July 1932, Vol. XXX, No. 3, Published Quarterly by The State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.

"Iowa and the California Gold Rush of 1849." by Fred V. Lorch.

"...By the fourth week in December, 1848, the California excitement had grown to such proportions in Iowa that many were ready to join the rush the moment they were assured that reports were measurably credible. That week, with a timeliness almost dramatic, President James K. Polk’s message to Congress appeared in many of the Iowa newspapers, confirming not only the reports concerning the discovery of gold in California but also the most extravagant rumors of its abundance...

JEFFERSON COUNTY ... Not wishing, perhaps to be instrumental in disturbing local tranquility by printing news about which he was skeptical, the editor of the Fairfield Iowa Sentinel had maintained a discreet silence during the early excitement occasioned by the rumors of California gold. But with the publication of the President’s message in the local paper late in December, 1848, the contagion, apparently, could no longer be avoided. How quickly thereafter the California fever set in at Fairfield may be judged from the fact that while on January 5, 1849, the Fairfield editor reported merely "some talk" of emigrating in the spring, a week later he printed a notice calling attention to the first California meeting. This meeting, which was to be held at the courthouse on Monday, January 15th, was called "for the purpose of devising the best means for an outfit" and to ascertain how many were planning to go from the town of Fairfield and the county."

That anything definite in the way of organization was attempted at this meeting is not indicated. Apparently, however, during the weeks immediately following, the fever in and about Fairfield had abated, for on January 26th the editor predicts that few cases are likely to prove fatal. He calls attention to the fact, however, that the Iowa-California company, being organized at Iowa City, would leave that place on April 1st and would very probably pass through Fairfield on its way west. He believed it would be advantageous for local people desiring to emigrate to join that company.

But the editor’s suggestion was not acted upon. Nor had the fever abated nearly as much as he had supposed. On February 13th, a second California meeting was held, at which "A number of persons, citizens of Jefferson county, who contemplate emigrating to California early in the ensuing spring, met in the Iowa Drug Store." R. W. Steel was called to the chair, and J. N. Bell was appointed secretary. A committee of five, composed of Messrs. Shedd, Hardin, Jenkins, Rice, and Myers, was appointed for the purpose of drafting a code of rules for the better organization of the Fairfield company. Before adjourning, the group decided to meet again the following Monday at six o’clock, in the Presbyterian church. All who planned to make the trip were requested to attend.

The Fairfield paper fails to report the nature of the business taken up at the Monday evening meeting. One may presume, however, that the committee of five presented its plan of organization, that a general discussion ensued, and that before the evening was over the Fairfield-California company had become a reality.

In the meantime, while the Fairfield company was being formed, a county company was also in the process of organization. Where the group met, when it was organized, and its personnel was, are not reported in the local paper. It appears likely as will be shown later, that this company was even larger than the Fairfield company.

It was on Thursday, April 19th, that the Fairfield group, with the exception of two teams which were to leave the following Monday, departed for the Missouri River. As locally reported, the company consisted of thirty-three persons and eleven towns. Included in the number were one woman and three children, the family of Willard Markham.

Whether by accident or agreement, it is evident that the two companies from Jefferson County departed about the same day and proceeded by way of Fort Des Moines and Clark’s Road to the same point on the Missouri River, namely Trader’s Point. At this rendezvous both companies, in conjunction with at least three other groups, formed a regiment called the Spartan Band. If the figures given way be trusted, this band numbered 57 wagons and 163 persons. It was splendidly organized and was reported by observers as a fine body of men, fitted out with all the necessities of life.

The officers of the Jefferson company (apparently the county company) were R. L. Smith, captain, Daniel Campbell, lieutenant, and J. Rogers, sergeant. The company, as here reported, numbered 12 wagons and 40 men.

The officers of the Fairfield company were J.T. Hardin, captain, Randall Rice, lieutenant, and William Baker, sergeant. Eleven wagons and twenty-five men were credited to the company at this point. On the basis of these figures, therefore, the migration from Jefferson County totaled 23 wagons and 65 men.*

“The Iowa Star” (Fort Des Moines), July 26, 1849. The totals here given are slightly larger than the estimated totals printed by the Fairfield editor on April 20, 1849, which were between 50 and 60 persons and between 15 ad 20 teams.

Shortly after his arrival in the gold region, J. T. Hardin was drowned in the Feather River.--The Miners’ Express (Dubuque) March 6, 1850."

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