Summer has finally settled in here in Wisconsin, and the Jonathan Clark House is ready to host you once again on Saturday, July 16, 12pm – 3pm to enjoy all the old fashioned fun in the very spirit of the season for the second installment of our summer series event Heritage Days!
In addition to our favorite features, our special attractions for July include:
Jonathan Clark House Museum, pantry area, June 29, 2022. Photo by Reed Perkins.
Yesterday was the annual “Pie on the Patio” fundraising event for the Jonathan Clark House Museum. I made the drive up to Mequon and had a great time visiting and talking history with many old—and new—Clark House friends.
I’m taking a bit of a break and have nothing new for you today. I have been doing a good bit of garden work around the house, and that reminded me of this post from April, 2021. Now we’re just finishing the first week of June, 2022, and it’s almost summertime. In southeastern Wisconsin the first spring flowers are done, and the next round of blossoms have been blooming for weeks. The tomato, bean and pepper seedlings are in the ground and doing nicely (although the rabbits have been nibbling on far too many green bean sprouts), and the roses are beginning to unfold. So even though this was originally an early-spring essay, I hope you enjoy this garden-themed repost from last year.
Planning the garden
It’s early April, and the growing season is not far off. For a farmer like Jonathan M. Clark, it’s a little early yet for plowing and sowing, but not too early to make plans and sharpen the tools. For a farmer’s wife, like Mary (Turck) Clark, it’s not too soon to think about the farm garden, its crops and layout.
I don’t know if Mary and Jonathan were regular readers of the popular and affordable farmers’ almanacs of their era; I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. There were many to chose from. Perhaps they had a copy of something like:
The Cultivator […], New Series, Vol. VII, Albany, 1850, title page. Click to open larger image in new window.
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.
A new edition of our annual Memorial Day post. Previous versions published in 2020 and 2021.
UPDATED: May 30, 2022 to correct a few typos and minor errors.
Graves of Unknown Union Soldiers, Memphis National Cemetery, photo by Clayton B. Fraser, (Library of Congress), public domain. Memphis National Cemetery is the final resting place of Mequon’s Watson Peter Woodworth, and almost 14,000 of his Union Army comrades.
Today is the day our nation officially observes Memorial Day. For many Americans, Memorial Day represents “the first day of summer,” and is traditionally celebrated with trips to the lake, picnics, parades, and sales on cars, appliances, and other consumer goods.
But for many of us, Memorial Day remains rooted in its origins as Decoration Day. The first national observance was in 1868, when retired general John A. Logan, commander and chief of the Grand Army of the Republic—the Union veterans’ organization—issued his General Order Number 11, designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to remember what this day truly represents.
Continuing our look at old and new evidence about the Bonniwell family’s trip west to the gold fields of California. If you’re keeping track, this is also part 9 of our series documenting the life of Clark family neighbor (and in-law) Alfred T. Bonniwell and his family.
FOR CALIFORNIA.—Henry V. Bonniwell, Geo B. Bonniwell, Alfred Bonniwell, Joseph Loomis, and Richard Taylor from Mequon, Washington county, are to leave to-day for California. They proceed to Fort Independence, to fit out.
This April 7, 1849, announcement raises a number of questions, and complicates—if not contradicts—our understanding of the Bonniwell family’s better-known overland trek to California in 1850. I think I have figured out what happened, and the easiest way to explain full story of the Bonniwells and their trip West to the gold fields is by making a timeline of our new evidence. And before we do that, we need to remind ourselves that…
There was more than one way to get to California
When “gold fever” first hit the nation in 1848-1849, traveling to California via wagon trail from one of the major departure points—such as Ft. Independence, Missouri, at the head of the Oregon Trail—was the least expensive but most treacherous option for would-be gold seekers. On the one hand, the overland route was the shortest, about 3,000 miles from the eastern states, but it was fraught with dangers that included bad “roads,” lack of food and water, a whole spectrum of diseases and illnesses, as well as potential attacks by Native Americans or wild animals. Whatever their reason, it appears that sometime during the first stage of their journey, between April and September, 1849, our lads decided to skip the overland route and try something safer and faster, if more expensive:
The Panama Shortcut
“For California, Via Chagres,” advertisement for USMS Steamship Co., New Orleans Daily Crescent, Wednesday, 12 Sept 1849, p 3 (tinted, sharpened). As always, click each image to open larger copy in new windows.1
UPDATED, May 27, 2022 with a few minor edits for clarity.
Today, in part 8 of our series documenting the life of Clark family neighbor (and in-law) Alfred T. Bonniwell and his large extended family, we begin a fresh look at some documentary evidence that complicates and enriches our understanding of how the national “Gold Fever” that began in 1848 shaped the years around 1848-1851 in the lives of Bonniwells and some of their Mequon neighbors.
Gold, Placerville [formerly Hangtown], El Dorado County, California, Smithsonian Institution, NMNH-79-9911 (public domain, CC0). Click to open larger image in new window.
Our current knowledge of the Bonniwell family’s California adventures is nicely summarized by George B. Bonniwell at the start of chapter 12 of his book, The Bonniwells: 1000 Years.1
In January, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California. By 1849, the gold rush was on. The Bonniwells couldn’t resist another adventure. William Bonniwell, as Captain, led a wagon train of six wagons and 16 men, including Charles, James, Henry, George, Alfred and young William who was only 14 at the time. They started from Milwaukee on April 12, 1850, headed down into Illinois, through Iowa, joined the Oregon Trail in Nebraska, proceeded through Wyoming, into Idaho, down into Nevada and finally to Sacramento, California and the gold region. After four months enduring sickness, hostile Indians, more sickness, mountains, desert, more sickness, lack of water, starvation, etc., they finally made it to their destination in California on August 11, 1850.
Then, after “remaining anywhere from two to four years, they returned to the ‘Bonniwell Settlement.’ It is believed that they returned by the Isthmus of Panama (although some thought that they returned home around Cape Horn.”2
The whole story reads like a tale from a movie script or Western novel, but it’s not. It is, indeed, a true story. But what do we really know about the Bonniwells’ epic trek, and how do we know it? Well, we’ve got some outstanding contemporary sources; some are well-known and some are newly-discovered. Let’s start with what we know.
I’m feeling a bit under the weather today, so Clark House research will have to wait. Fortunately, I’ve had my shots, so it looks like the usual advice of bed rest, fluids, and such should be all I need. If not, perhaps a swig of a potion like Dr. C. V. Girard’s Ginger Brandy will do the trick.
Dr. C.Y. Girard’s ginger brandy, for sale here / lith. of Robertson, Seibert & Shearman, 93 Fulton St. New York. , ca. 1860. New York: Robertson, Seibert & Shearman, 93 Fulton St. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.
After all, it’s “A Certain Cure for Cholera Colic Cramps Dysentery, Chills & Fever” and “is a delightful and healthy beverage.” Ya can’t beat that!
Of course, if Dr. Girard’s Ginger Brandy doesn’t help, there were so many other elixirs to choose from during the pre-Pure Food and Drug Act era, such as…