Volume 7, Number 5, Fall 1980
A lifetime of memories are contained in the old round-topped trunk which I have in my library.
It once belonged to Sacramento Belle (Layton) Glitsch McEvoy, daughter of Thomas Foster Layton and Julia Ann (Foster) Layton. She was the granddaughter of Robert Dudley Layton and Elizabeth Mitchell (Foster) Layton. Carefully upwrapping the moisture-proof coverings, I lift out the stack of little note books, the disintegrating leather wallets, which still contain a few locks of hair wrapped in yellowed tissue, and put them aside.
There is a hand embroidered book cover, made of blue and white linen, used on a Bible. A lace collar worn by Belle, stacks of old letters, yellowed with age, some tied with tinsel, some with ribbons, and some packed into old candy boxes. Beneath this, the old school books, and some envelopes of old photographs and clippings that she had saved.
I would like to share some of the contents of the trunk which was given to me by Belles son, Joseph H. McEvoy, Jr. after his mother died. There are many Layton descendants in your area.
Several old letters and a pocket diary, which I have copied, will provide this first story from the trunk. The letters are very old, very brittle, neither have envelopes, but have notes written by Belle in pencil.
Although the roads West from Missouri were not heavily traveled from the Taney County area, there were Military roads and trails between the Forts, and along the rivers.
In 1849 and 1850, most of the wagon trains left from the Springfield area, crossing through Kansas, to Ft. Kearney, up through Nebraska by way of the Nemaha, the Blue, and on to the Platte River. When they reached the mountains they had to go over the passes, or make their way around them.
Thomas Layton chose the northern route, through Wyoming, Idaho, dropping down into Utah, Nevada, then into California, probably into what is now Petaluma County, near Sacramento.
The Portneuf, Barmock, Snake Rivers, Goose Creek, Ft. Scott, Laramie, Rock Springs, Soda Springs, and other names found in the little black book, can almost be traced across todays map. The dates in the diary seem to be of the first trip he made.
Beside the desire to find gold, the trip was made as a business venture. In one letter the advice not less than a hundred day supply of food for the trip would indicate the approximate time it took them to make the trip. The number of miles made each day was small, so one can assume they had heavily loaded wagons.
The first letter was to Charles and Sarah Layton, of Springfield, Mo.
California Gold Diggins Nov. 13th 1849
My dear parents, it is with much pleasure that I except this opportunity to address you, though I have but so short a notice that I cannot give you much information, and will defer, giving in detail my trip & etc. until I find a more convenient season.
We arrived here about the 13th of October, after a long and tiresome trip, one that I would not attempt to perform again for no small consideration. We had a hard trip of it at best, but thanks to Kind Heaven we have gotten through and find prospects quite flattering.
James Meyers died on the 29th October after a long illness of typhoid fever. The Doctor, Dutchman and myself have had our health and are very well at present, for which I feel thankful.
We have been mining for some twenty days and have made an ounce per day to each with the most temporary machine. We have not made our backwash yet as we have not procured quicksilver, but the Doctor is going down in the city of Sacramento in a few days to lay in our winters stock of provisions and will get some quick silver, when we intend to make up our machine. They sell from $500 to $1000 and are being used by many. The miners find that the small cradling loose a great deal of the gold, and a great many are using the back washers. I intend to make one on a smaller scale, and make it quite light...in order that we may pick it up the mountains, where it is very difficult to get along.
Early in the spring we intend going up the Yuba River, where it is very rich, but is so cold
now that miners have to leave. We are on the Yuba River at present, where we expect to winter, but it is quite pleasant. The rainy season has set in, and it is raining more than one half the time, which prevents us from working, but it is not cold by any means. I think it is a pleasant and healthy climate.
We passed through the finest yellow pine, fir and cedar, in crossing the California mountains that I have ever seen. I saw a number of trees that were ten feet in diameter, and one hundred yards high.
Lumber is worth from 75 cents to one dollar per foot, and everything else high that requires laborers. Flour is worth 60 cents per pound; pork 75, beef 50, bacon $1.00, dried apples or peaches 1.25 - 1.50; Irish potatoes $1.00; onions 1.25; and everything else in proportion except clothing. That is cheap.
I expect you can learn a great deal more about the country through the papers than I can tell you. I dont think the old accounts have been exagerated at all as some lucky fellows find large quantities, while others are not doing so well. One ounce is about an average. We can make one half ounces & so on when we can work, and should we be so fortunate as to strike one of those rich places we may make quite a sum.
I promised to write to Messrs. Lain & Kimbrough but I am so far from where the post office is that I dont know when I will get the chance, but say to them that they are doing a good business, but still if they had twelve or fifteen hands out here they would be certain of a fortune, and I wish they had, and I was partner with them.
I advise all that wish to come to this country to come by the Isthmus of Panama, as the time they would save would more than pay the difference in the fare, or pack mules to start early in spring with one hundred days provisions, but I dont recommend the route across the plains at all.
I also promised to write Capt. Bedford & Mr. Farmer and will do so if I meet with a chance. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to write to my friends but I assure you it is very difficult to get letters off and more so to assure them, as I have not had a line nor heard one word from any of you in the States since I left, and am now the most anxious to hear from my family friends and relations than I ever was. But I hope the Doctor will bring me some letters when he returns.
I find the Doctor to be everything that I could wish. and am agreeably disappointed in him. I have taken John Kimbroughs advise. Tell Capt. Bedford that I dont know where Thomas Bedford is...but if he has him a farm near Sacramento City he is sure of a fortune. I hope he may do well.
Archibald is in California but I have not seen him, nor do I know where he is. I did not know that he was coming out here, nor would not have known had Dr. Perham not seen him. He was then going up the Yuba River to work. That was before I got in as the Dr. went ahead of the wagon before we crossed the Cal. mountains.
I have not seen John Foster either, nor do I know where he is. I have addressed him at Sacramento City but dont know when or if I shall see or hear from him. I wish I could see him and Archibald and wish that Wm., Mr. Lowrey and yourself were out here and John also. I know you could make considerable in the course of one season and I would most willing (if I had it) send you the money to come.
I have inclose an order from Dr. Perham on Thomas Tiller for one hundred dollars, which I wish you to get and send to Julia Ann as soon as possible as perhaps she may need some for I wish her to send the children to school or teach them herself.
You may take twenty-five for yourself and apply it to any purpose you please but if you need the neccessaries of life apply it to that. All but six dollars I wish Sarah to pay Mrs. Farmer and take in the letter due bill I gave him which she was to pay. I will send some more when Dr. Perham hears from Philadelphia...where he has deposited money.
You must inclose this letter to Julia Ann...as it may be some time before I can get a chance to write again. Direct your letters to Sacramento City.
Give my love to all my relations and friends for I feel a warm regard for them and except for yourselves a full share from your
Thomas F. Layton
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