Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, October 21, 2012 pg. 9
Iíve been watching that cable TV program about the divers who dive under the ice in the Bering Sea at Nome, Alaska to suck up gold nuggets from the sea floor. What an exciting life. In Albionís history, there was a significant group of people here that "went for the gold," back in í49. Thatís 1849. The California gold rush was at its peak, and around three dozen Albion persons caught the "gold fever" during the next few years.
A large group of around two dozen men left Albion together on March 1, 1849, driving four ox-teams westwards. It took two weeks to reach Davenport, Iowa. At that time the rest of the Albion contingent joined them, and the group headed west together.
Those heading for California at that time were: William Fleming, William A. Warner, Alonzo H. Colby, William Pearl, Loran Martin, Oscar McGee, Alex Moore, Ezra Bradner, M. Congleton, Phillip Goodrich, Noel Fleming, George West, Alva Blodgett, Francis Clay, Davis Handy, Thomas Grant, Austin Church, Uriah Young, Marcus Tuttle, Charles French, Oscar Finley, Jesse Fleming, Hiram Goodrich, Fleming Gilleland, Addison West, and Robert Y. Finch. At Salt Lake City, they exchanged their oxen for horses for the remainder of the trip. The journey by land via Salt Lake City took six months.
Upon arriving at Salt Lake City, they came upon William Warnerís cousin, Mary Elizabeth "Betsy" (Warner) Dalton (1826-1856). She was a daughter of Williamís uncle Luther Warner, the latter being great-great-great-grandfather of Mitt Romney (see my article February 5, 2012 in this column on the www.albionmich.com website). That branch of the Warner family joined the Mormon religion and headed west in the 1840s. Mary E. (1826-1856) was married to a Morman elder named Charles Dalton in Homer on August 11, 1842. Maryís sister Elnora and her daughter Rosetta is whom we featured in our Romney article earlier this year. Special thanks again to the contemporary Mary Warner of Ann Arbor for these tidbits of Warner family information.
Anyway, "There, for a short time, the California-bound Albionites enjoyed some good square meals, including hot biscuits and butter," recalled party member Robert Finch in 1905. The Albion contingent continued on from Salt Lake City arrived in California in October, 1849. Other Albion individuals went to California at other times.
How did they fare? On the top end of the spectrum was James Peabody (1829-1903) son of Albionís first settler Tenney Peabody. James left Albion in 1850 at the age of 21 and drove a team across the Plains the entire distance to California. He stayed there for four years and was very successful. He came back with a fortune in gold. In fact, he had a gold belt buckle made which he wore here when he got back. Because of his wealth, he never had to work and lived off his good fortune the rest of his life.
On the other end of the spectrum was Jamesí brother-in-law, Charles F. Stockwell (1817-1950), the first principal of the Wesleyan Seminary at Albion, now Albion College. Charles teamed up with brothers Darius and Elisha Warner, Charles Blanchard, and around a dozen others in 1849-50 to head to California by ship via the Isthmus of Panama. This was before the Panama Canal was built, and the party had to trek through the jungle to the Pacific side. During that time Charles was stricken with erysipelas. He died on June 30, 1850 on the schooner Kirkwood en route to Sacramento, and was buried at sea.
The Warner brothers continued on and arrived in California after a five monthís trip. Other family members also came in 1852. One report stated, "They did not get rich by any means, operating boarding houses in two locations before getting sick of the region and returning to Albion in 1855 via the Isthmus of Panama and New York City."
Jackson Howell (1822-1899) was another area person (from South Albion) who was also a "Forty-Niner." One report about him stated that "he came down with smallpox and was left behind by his party. Afterwards, having run out of money, he worked in a hotel, washing dishes among other things. His sickness caused him to lose his hair and Indians, who saw him, when they learned that he had smallpox, feared him greatly."
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of James Peabody, the Albionite who "struck it rich" during the California Gold Rush.
James Peabody (1829-1903)
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic