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America's History in the Making

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Excerpted from a Letter from Elijah Allen Spooner

The prospects for obtaining gold are not as good as we had been led to anticipate, though it may appear better when the rain begins to fall We have dug but very little as yet having been prospecting and looking after our Cattle and building some log shanties for the winter &c. &c. This is one of the poorest rich countries that I ever heard of-So for as I have seen there is scarce an acre of land that is tillable. The summer drouth is alone sufficient to prevent almost every thing from growing (no water falling between the months of March and November) but there is but little that would be called good were this objection obviated-Prices of all kinds of provisions and labor are very high Fresh beef 25 to 35 cts pr lb. Flour 25 c lb, Sugar 25 c, Hams $1..00 to 1..25c lb, Cheese $1..00 lb
Pork (Salt) 50c lb, Potatoes 40c lb, (seen none) Onions $1..50 lb
Molasses $3..00 pr gall, Vinegar $1..00 pr gall, Saleratus $1..50 pr lb
Coffee 15c. Bro. Sugar 15 to 18c and washing 2/- to 4/- a piece
Mechanics get for their labor from 10 to 20 dollars pr day-Mr Gleason from Adrian I understand is clerking in Sacramento City (formerly Sutters Fort) for two hundred dolls pr month, this is considered rather low wages The above quotations are mostly for a village near where we are, which is some 50 miles north east of Sacramento
We have some idea of going into the gardening business another season if we can find a suitable piece of land, and can make other arrangements to suit-Think it would be a more healthy employment than digging gold and probably as certainly profitable, as all kinds of vegeta-bles are extremely high, their cultivation having been almost entirely neglected Gold digging is becoming a more laborious business than formerly and though there is an obun-dance of it here, the country has been so overrun and the rich deposits worked out, that it is more precarious business than formerly and requires much harder toil. Indeed old miners say that ounces are as hard to be obtained now as pounds were a year ago - But I think we will manage to get hold of some of it before another year rolls round, if we are blessed with health and strength

Elijah Spooner, "To His Wife." 20 Oct. 1849. Letter 8 in Letters and Diary, 1849—1850 (Harold B. Lee Library. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University).

Creator Elijah Allen Spooner
Context Spooner was among thousands of hopeful gold miners who left their families for California.
Audience His wife
Purpose To reassure her, tell her of how he was doing, and to defend his decision

Historical Significance

Many Americans of the mid-nineteenth century believed that gold was the shortest and surest route to great fortune. The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, in Central California, precipitated a stampede of hopeful miners from across and beyond North America. Elijah Allen Spooner was among them. He left his Michigan home in 1849 to travel overland. Below is a portion of one of the several letters he wrote to his wife during his absence. Spooner and his wife eventually settled in Kansas, where he farmed and held local offices.


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