It’s been a while since we explored the documentary record of Mequon’s Alfred T. Bonniwell and his family and friends. Previously, we learned that the Bonniwells’ gold rush saga involved not one, but two, expeditions. The second trek westward was overland, chronicled in George Bonniwell’s gold rush diary. That trip, and the diary, began with the party’s departure from Milwaukee on April 12, 1850, continued through their arrival at the California diggings in mid-August, and closed—still searching for gold—with a final entry dated Tuesday, September 24, 1850. For more details, take another look at Gold! – The Bonniwells go west…but when? and who?
The first journey involved a smaller group, which included Alfred T. and Henry V. Bonniwell. As we discussed in A (new) Bonniwell Gold Rush timeline, that trek appears to have begun in April, 1849, with an overland wagon trip from Milwaukee to points unknown, with the party eventually arriving in New Orleans. On September 6, 1849, this first party continued West, mostly via ship: New Orleans to Chagres (Panama), by canoe and overland trail across the isthmus to Panama City, and then by steamship to San Francisco. They appear to have made it to California no later than November 4, 1849. They likely docked at San Francisco and then headed up to Sacramento, the main point of entry to the gold fields, which looked something like this:
Parsons, Charles and George Victor Cooper. Sacramento city, Ca. from the foot of J. Street, showing I., J., & K. Sts. with the Sierra Nevada in the distance / C. Parsons ; drawn Dec. 20th , 1849, by G.V. Cooper ; lith. of Wm. Endicott & Co., N. York, before March 2, 1850. Library of Congress. Click to open larger and very detailed, image in new window.
Alfred and Henry Bonniwell, together with Mequon-area neighbors P. M. Johnson, Thomas Day and Richard Taylor and perhaps one or two others, made it to the gold fields in 1849, as part of the first wave of fortune seekers. They are, therefore, bona fide “Forty-niners.” George, Charles and both William T. Bonniwells (senior and junior), and the rest of their overland party would not arrive until August, 1850. It would appear that Alfred and the rest of the Wisconsin 49ers had a lucky head start on the others. Or did they?
I’m still busy annotating maps for upcoming Bonniwell-related blog posts. So instead of my planned Gold Rush themed Monday: Map Day! essay, I hope you enjoy this Clark-era image of a common visitor to much of North and South America—including Wisconsin—the Great Horned Owl.
Havell, Robert, jr., engraver, after John James Audubon, Great Horned Owl, 1829, plate 62 from The Birds of America (1828-1838), hand-colored engraving and aquatint on Whatman wove paper. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mrs. Walter B. James. Public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.
Hello, readers! Sorry for the long blog silence. I hope you are well.
It’s been a busy summer at my house, filled with the usual demands of job, summer garden chores, lots of behind-the-scenes history research and, alas, an unexpectedly large number of mundane but unavoidable tasks, most of which are now behind me.
I have a backlog of half-written posts to finish and share with you. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this photo.
Cedar Creek, looking north from the Columbia Road bridge, Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Reed Perkins, July, 2022.
The view looks north along Cedar Creek from near the historic Cedarburg Mill, about two miles north of the Jonathan Clark House. Turn off the electric lights, and this is a view that the Clark family would have known well.
I love a great map, and today’s example is particularly fine in several respects: as a detailed view of our hemisphere at a particularly dynamic moment in U.S. history, as an excellent example of mid-19th-century cartography, and—as we’ll see in our next post—as a clear illustration of how members of Mequon’s Bonniwell family made their way to and from the California gold fields in the heady days of the early Gold Rush of 1849 and 1850.1
Gold! where it is and how to get there, 1849
Atwood, John M., Map of the United States, the British provinces, Mexico &c.: showing the routes of the U.S. mail steam packets to California, and a plan of the Gold Region. New York: J. H. Colton, 1849. From the collection of Millard Fillmore. Library of Congress.
I’ve published some great old maps on Clark House Historian, and this is one of my favorites. In our next post, I’ll annotate a copy of this map to illustrate the Bonniwell’s Gold Rush travels in 1849 and the early 1850s. But today I’d like to show the map as it was in 1849, with all its “extra features.” I recommend you begin by clicking the map image, above, which opens a much higher-resolution copy of the map in a new window (FYI, this may take a few seconds; it’s a big, detailed image).
Our last two posts focused on the evidence we have that documents the Bonniwell family’s two-part trip west to the gold fields of California: by the Panama shortcut in 1849 and by the overland route in 1850. Today I’d like to focus on the members of Bonniwell company after the end of their westward voyage(s), and give you a sense of their experiences as newly-arrived prospectors in the California gold diggings through period drawings, lithographs, photographs, and a substantial excerpt from the Bonniwell Gold Rush diary.1
Currier & Ives. Gold mining in California. California, ca. 1871. New York: Published by Currier & Ives. Library of Congress. As always, click the images to open larger versions in new window.
This colorful Currier & Ives lithograph presents a somewhat idyllic view of “Gold Mining in California” as imagined in 1871 by a New York artist who, most likely, had never been west of the Alleghenies. On the one hand, the lithograph does give us an hint of the splendors of the Sierra Nevada, and some idea of the typical activities of California miners. But as we’ll see, life in gold country when the Bonniwell party arrived—in the early, frenzied days of 1849 and 1850—was much less bucolic.
“Working the bar”
Much of early California gold prospecting involved looking for smaller and larger bits of gold found within the loose alluvial soils and sediments of the rivers and dry riverbeds of the Sierra Nevada. In particular, the miners spent a lot of time “working the bar.” And no, my fellow Wisconsinites, this does not mean they were strenuously pub-crawling in El Dorado county, circa 1849-1850.
We have new partnership project with the Mequon Nature Preserve and MATC’s Kate Erickson, the Brown Bag Series: Mother Earth is Where We All Meet. Today is the second installment in the series, and our executive director Dana Hansen will be speaking on “European Settlement and the Shift of Mindset About the Earth.”
Old World Wisconsin, July, 2016. Photo credit: Anna Perkins. Click to open larger image in new window.
Guess what I did instead of writing a new Clark House Historian post! Here’s a clue, from about this time last year (revised and expanded for 2022)…
Spring weather in southeastern Wisconsin is pretty hard to predict these days. Spring 2021 was awfully dry. This year, spring has been wetter overall—I think—but the days have zigzagged rapidly and unpredictably between chill and damp or hot and humid. It’s almost like we haven’t had a proper Midwestern spring at all. And yet, the grass around the Historian’s house has already gotten pretty tall and scruffy. So it was time to get out the mower and tidy up (some of) the yard.
Maurer, Louis, Artist. The climax mower, most complete and perfect mower in the world, the Corry Machine Co., Corry, Pen. / L. Maurer. United States, None. [NY: the Major & Knapp Eng., Mfg. & Lith. Co., between 1869 and 1872] Photograph. Library of Congress.
I’m still tied up with other projects, so I thought you might enjoy a repeat of this seasonal post from last May. I’ll be back soon with new Clark House history.
It’s mid-May in southeastern Wisconsin, and with luck the last frost is behind us. For the past weeks and months farmers and gardeners have been tending to the soil and preparing for planting. At this time of year in the 1840s and ’50s, Jonathan M. Clark would have done much the same, hitching up his team of oxen to a steel-bladed plow to cut and turn over the tough prairie grasses and break up the soil of his newly-cleared lands.