I Would Advise Nobody to Come to this Place
Jacob Van Riper Van Blarcom of New Jersey headed west on a hunt for treasure, as did many prospectors of the day. This letter explains a good deal of his journey with some interesting details that really outline the time and circumstances. Direct family members are in search of this original letter or other letters sent to and from Jacob during his trip west in search of gold. Please contact us with any information regarding original copies of letters.
In Camp, near Dry Diggins on the North Fork of American River, California, October 21, 1849 Jacob (M E) Van Blarcom
My Dearly Beloved Wife
I write to you at last from the region of the gold mines of this country, and again am happy to inform you of that of which you are most anxious to hear, namely that I continue to enjoy good health, for I have not had as yet a single sick hour since leaving home. I wish I knew that you are all well at home. I suppose you have received my 2 letters from San Francisco of Sep. 29 and 30 announcing our safe arrival at that place on Sep. 29 after a passage of 231 days. I mentioned that Mr. Chittenden had not arrived, but on the 30th after mailing my letter, Mr. Nathaniel W. Chittenden came on board of the Cameo, not having heard of our arrival the day before in time to come on board that day. He says Mr. AS. C. is in New Orleans, and has written to him to come here, N.W.C. had only 10 days. He is practicing law here. They brought a lot and are now about (getting) the large hotel.
We left on Thursday P.M. Oct. 4 on board of a small schooner to go to Sacramento City/ about 2 miles from Sutter's Fork on the banks of the Sacramento River, and arrived there on Sunday morning following. Fare $13 each. We left with 1 month's provisions & very little personal baggage, for it costs 2 cents per pound from San Francisco to Sacramento City and from 12 to 14 cents per pound from Sacramento City to this place, 48 miles. We had not as selected a place for operations, but started for the Oregon Bar on the North Fork on Monday, a week ago, and arrived here on Saturday A.M. with a team of 4 yoke of oxen, as poor as could be, travelling from 10 to 12 miles a day, over a good road. The first day the road was very dusty, no rain having fallen since Spring, and everything parched with the drought, nothing for cattle to eat (barley 50 cents per quart) on the road, water scarce every 8 to 12 miles — the night after we started from S. City, a slight shower of rain fell and laid the dust succeeding night a more copious shower fell, the weather has been fine since to this time, not a single cloud obscuring the sun.
We camped 2 miles from the Dry Diggins called Auburn, near a spring of water & about 2 miles from the river. We would probably be a little better situated if we were in Auburn, but all things considered this is best at present, for we are within 2 miles of the river, as well as the dry diggings/ which are ravines without water, but when rain comes, they will pay well I expect, but at present they can only throw out the dirt, and pick out such pieces of gold as they can see, which is a very precarious business, sometimes a man may find 3 or more ounces in one day and then may dig for a week or more without finding anything.
At Auburn water for drinking can only be got in limited quantities at a distance of 1/2 mile, and then they are obliged to wait their turn and dip it without a tin cup (muddy at that) but here we have good spring water and are situated in a very pleasant valley, with about a dozen other tents near, in sight. My dear I am glad that I can inform you that the best of order prevails here and throughout all California. Fire arms and bowie knives are of no use to us here, except in some parts when there are Indians, perhaps, but they are so few here, that I have only seen a few, a couple of times. The Most Perfect Security prevails here in regards to life and property, far more so than home. Every person is supposed to have gold with him, but I cannot hear of a single case of theft. Every person is supposed to be honest here. Persons often leave their tents, with all it contains, for weeks, and everything on his return is found untouched. You can have no idea of the security that a person feels here.
I have seen some prairie wolves/ they are entirely harmless, some deer, and hares, and very few persons have seen a bear, but there are a few grizzly bears along these mountains but do not attack persons unless they are attacked first, so persons do not interfere with them. I have seen a few persons who say they had seen a rattlesnake but they are seldom seen. So you may judge that things are very different from what was anticipated. Nearly every company that has come out here has dissolved for they find no danger is to be apprehended and they can do better alone or in pairs, 2 to a rocker, for nothing else is used here for washing gold & nothing else will do. Thousands of dollars' worth of machines have been thrown aside in San Francisco worthless. Fortunately we had not invested much in them. We left ours at San F. and got a rocker in Sacramento City and a couple on the river here. They cost $35 each in S. City, on the river here from $16 (1 oz. of gold) to $40 & $50. They work well and save all the gold.
I suppose you will have heard before this that gold digging is a complete lottery, a very uncertain business indeed. Some make lucky strikes in a rich place and make from 3 to 6 ounces per day, a dozen others may be near him and not get more than 1/2 an ounce or less. Many make money, many very many make none. Numbers would be glad enough to make enough to get back home again if they could. At the mines provisions are high, on account of the cost of transportation. Pilaf break here is 40 cents a pound, flour 30 cents, pork 50 cents, coffee 75 cents, onions $1.00, potatoes-none, ham $1.00. 20 miles above this it is nearly double. We have most of us been at work on the river with partial success, some in part and some in another. We start again tomorrow morning. 4 of us are going for a couple weeks, or more to Barne's Bar, 22 miles up the river, then on the Condemned Bar, near this where we worked the past week.
I have been some days at work, and now can rock the cradle, pan out the gold & it is trade to do it well and requires some time to do it well. We only made about 1/2 an ounce each, who worked, but some near us did much better having the choice spots. This river, and indeed most of them are well dug over, and an ounce per day is good pay now. I would advise nobody to come to this place, but to remain at home and contented, for in coming here, they sacrifice every comfort almost that makes life desirable, for a very uncertain prospect of getting rich. I am certain that I give the very best of advice and would be satisfied to be placed at home again in the same position that I was before I started. Everybody is very much discouraged at first and hundreds leave for home with first impressions on them. The last steamer was crowded with passengers for home, some with lots of gold, many with only enough to pay their way home, some working their passage back. But I am not discouraged & shall do what I can to give a good account of myself. We shall strive to get our provisions up here for the wet season, as soon as we have the means to do so, for the present they are stored on board of the Cameo. If they cannot be brought up here, then I rather think from present appearances that the Company will break up as all others have done, and go probably in parties of 2 or 3, each for himself, for one man here is as secure as a hundred. You are not secure from violence or theft at home, as we are here.
I have just heard of the arrival of a Steamer at San Francisco, but it is said she brings no mail, only some papers & letters by private hands, if so I shall most probably be disappointed getting any but my dear one, do not let that deter you from writing for I shall probably get them sometime or other. Oh! I wish I had those which you wrote to Valparaiso, and those you got ready to send by N.W. Chittenden. I have left an order in San Francisco for all letters, papers to be sent to me, and I write this to go by the Steamer to sail the 1st of next month. I have not had time to write before, and can now only do so by writing after dark. I shall write more fully if I can, for I know how you long to hear about me. My dear wife, I would like to tell you all that occurs and how I feel etc. but I can only partially do now. If my wishes could let you know, you should know every thought & action. Our prospect looks rather gloomy at present but I hope for the better. Tell Ackerman that harness making is worth nothing here, harnesses being imported on oxen and mules being mostly used.
If I do not write regularly you must suppose that is impracticable to do so, but love will accomplish wonders and what I do here in California will be for my Dear Wife and family, and those who are kind to them in my absence, which I pray God most devoutly to shorten, for it hangs like a load on my heart stringsOh! Euphemia this is hard to be so long and distantly separated, but we did it, as we thought, for the best, and may God have us in his most holy keeping "til we meet again". I suppose you perceive that I am somewhat discouraged, but I put out the dark side somewhat, but if I can keep my health, I hope to still do well if possible. I believe I am as little discouraged as any of our Co. for all I believe, would willingly be home again for after this Country is exhausted of its gold there is nothing to keep people here, in Summer the country is parched with drought and much of it is barren, and the climate is anything but satisfactory. Our Co. is the only one that been so long exempt from sickness. Dickerson & myself are the only ones who write Dr. Whitely & Thomas rec. no letters as yet since leaving home. My dear do not neglect to write, you are my dear and best beloved on earth, although my family and friends are dear also. Give my love to all my friends, Ann Eliza, Ackerman, Ann, Father & Mother, Taddy, Grandfather & Grandmother, sisters and brothers. Thank you, Ann Eliza, Matilda, Amelia, Gertrude, Eliza Jane, Dixon, Charity & all who wrote to me. I have them with me, and read them.
Yours with tears which I cannot restrainI see you nightly in my dreams, and oh! the exquisite pleasure of an embrace or a kiss is so great as to always awaken me-Oh! I hope the Lord has protected you as he has me. Pray for me as I do for you. Remember me to our dearly beloved Children. Kiss them for me, and let them kiss you for meWho will do the same to me, I am as ever your affectionate husband.
Jacob (ME) Van Blarcom
(I shall by all means try to send you some means by next Steamer. I know you need them)
(Written "over" inside page Euphemia, you know best if it be advisable to know of my Father's will to pay the interest on the ? and renew the life insurance or not. I will send funds as soon as practicable, but those things cannot wait.")
To Euphemia M Van Blarcom
From Jacob Van Riper Van Blarcom, Great Grandfather of Allida Mae Van Benschoten & Irma Gertrude Van Benschoten Dempster.