Jefferson County Online
Jefferson County's '49ers

The Fairfield Tribune
March 9, 1892



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 Tribune, Wed., Mar. 9, 1892, Page 1, col. 5.

THE ARGONAUTS OF ‘49.
More About the Jefferson County Gold Hunters--
Their Trials and Tribulations -- Hard Experiences and
Very Little Gold -- The Conclusion.

By Hiram Heaton.

The "Spartan Band," as the company called itself, while united, found that nuggets of gold were not as plentiful as hickory nuts, even in California. They had lost a number of cattle near the headwaters of the Pitt river, stolen by Indians, and although they had sent a detachment to recover them, they only found their hides, the Indians having butchered them. The loss of the cattle had compelled them to abandon a large amount of their effects, and now their first work was to renew their supplies by sending a number of men to Sacramento for provisions. On their return, Hugh Shuffleton, James Hardin, McWhirter, and others, got lost, and wandered about all night. But finding their way soon after daybreak, at a place called Long’s bar, they attempted to cross Feather river. It had rained heavily in the night and the river rose very suddenly and when Hardin, with two other men, attempted to cross, they being the last, the water was like a mill sluice. Hardin used a shovel for a paddle, but at the first stroke the canoe capsized, and although Hardin could swim, and neither of the other men could, he was drowned and they both escaped.

Diligent search was made for the body, but in vain. This occurred in November. In June following Isaac Boyle, looking for oxen, saw something unusual in a drift of the river, and on inspection it proved to be the remains of a man. Hardin’s brother Evan recognized the remains as his brother, and they were sent to Fairfield for burial; Hardin having been a Free Mason.

Kyle, McWhirter, Parsons, Col. Ross, and others of the company formed a joint stock mining company, and proceeded to dam Feather river. They hired fifty men at fifteen dollars per day, and board. Board was no trifle, as flour was one hundred dollars per barrel, eggs one dollar apiece. A moderate sized hog would bring $100.00. Cows the same, and even a dog, although not for the table, was cheap at $50.00, and cats at $30.00 and $40.00. The company’s venture was only a partial success, and the company dissolved. Kyle went to South Salmon river, then to North Salmon. Bonnifield advised him with his companions to go to Scott river, but they went to Trinity river, and when they did finally go to Scott river, all the available claims were taken. A day or two before their arrival, one man took over $8000.00 worth of gold. However, they went to work and would have done well, but very little rain fell that winter. Getting tired of this, they went to Shasta and elsewhere, spending many months prospecting. Then Parsons and Charles Kyle went to Oregon for horses, and Parsons became a rancher at Redding where he still lives.

The above account is substantially the experience of almost all of the Argonauts. McWhirter and the Boyles and Daniels went to Shasta, but not succeeding well, prospected, and found on Rogue river a camp that was mining profitably, but trying to keep it secret. One of the men named Colman, from Pella, killed four deer one day, and supplied them with provisions for a long time. But crowds of men from Oregon found the diggings and the work of water compelled them to haul the dirt.

Thomas Dickey, who had been proprietor of the National Hotel in Fairfield, that stood where Byrnes’ store now does, on reaching California went to packing. Much of the mining country was impracticable to wagons, and everything had to be packed in on the backs of mules. He succeeded well, although past sixty years of age, and sent for his family to come to him. His wife and son, daughter Adeline, and her husband, Ezra Drown, a young lawyer, and child took passage on a ship from the isthmus. The vessel struck a reef not far from the shore; young Dickey swam to the shore with his mother; Drown, after making his wife safe, as he supposed, swam to the shore with the child, but when he returned for his wife she had become exhausted and sunk.

James Freeman secured several hundred dollars and returned to Iowa and bought the Kirk farm. John Fell prospered, returned and married, took his young wife with him to California and again returning with considerable gold, the ship on which they were aboard sprung a leak. In this rush for California ship owners had pressed into use many old and worthless vessels without sufficient repairs, merely repainting them. This was one of them. The men worked three days at the pumps to keep it afloat, but all in vain. There being a number of women aboard, they were put into the boats, after being stripped of all but the scantiest of underclothing to avoid overloading the boats. The men were left to shift as best they could with life preservers. The last Mrs. Fell saw of her young husband, his hands were bleeding from work at the pumps. Young Bell returned to Iowa, and then went to Kansas where he died. (See p. 35a, V.2, JEFF. COUNTY RECORDS)

McWhirter, who landed in 1843 from Ireland, returned to Fairfield in 1853, where he still lives. Kyle returned in 1860 and bought a valuable farm in Buchanan township. He was born in Virginia, where he first went to school to his own grandfather, who continued to teach school until he was ninety-five years old. Mr. Kyle’s father was the only county supervisor of roads under the law of 1850, which was repealed in 1852. Mr. Kyle and McWhirter are the only remaining members of the company that left Fairfield that April day who have returned to make their home in Jefferson County."


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