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1932 Stories

CROSSING THE PLAINS IN '51
By Orla Foster, Dist. 227

Charles Foster, my great-grandfather, was born in the White Hills of New Hampshire in 1820. By working his way on river steamers and walking he got to Troy Grove in 1844, where he worked for Mr. Shedd. In the fall of 1847 he married Harriet Masterman, who had come to the village from Maine in 1844. They made their home in Troy Grove until 1851.

The early spring of the- latter date found John Edgcomb, John Wylie, Carl Thelo and Oliver Hickok with Charles Foster starting for the gold fields of California in ox-drawn and covered wagons.

It took them from late March until early May to get from Troy Grove to Omaha. At Omaha there was a band of one hundred wagons going to California, so they joined the caravan. Before they started, the leader inspected their wagons to see if he thought they would hold out through the journey. If he did, they were permitted to go. Although they had covered wagons to carry their supplies in, the men, we must remember, had to walk.

It was mid-July when they arrived at Ft. Laramie. Here they got new supplies, repaired their wagons and rested their oxen to prepare them for crossing the mountains.

By the time they arrived at Salt Lake City the oxen hoofs were so badly worn down and their feet so sore they could hardly walk. Brigham Young offered to trade one ox for two of the travelers'. After he had turned them he sent them to pasture for a few weeks, their hoofs would heal and he could trade them one for two again. The travelers made two-wheel carts out of their wagons, yoked two oxen instead of four and started across the desert.

The country between Salt Lake City and the Sierra Nevada mountains was nothing but a semi-arid region and they had to go forty-eight hours without water at one time. From about noon of the second day they could hardly keep the oxen going, but early in the morning of the third day they started up, and all the men could do was to let them go. They had smelled the water they were nearing.

The water hole had a sloping road clear around it leading down to the water. Some of the oxen wanted to jump out into the middle and they had a hard time holding them.

Mining on such a small scale was called "placer mining." There are four steps in getting the pure gold from the gravel beds. The first step was to get the gravel out of the bed of the river. This was done by building a wing dam part way across the stream and drain the lower side of it. They could readily get the rock and gravel out this way.

They got their gold from the Feather and the Yuba rivers.

Some Mexicans rode into the claim one day and demanded gold. Some of the men at the camp fired upon the greasers and they drove away faster than they came.

The second step of placer mining was done by means of a rocker and a miner's pan, which removed all the larger rocks.

To get the sand out they washed it with quicksilver. The gold would settle to the bottom and the sand on top.

The fourth and last step was getting the quicksilver out of the gold. If they boiled it the quicksilver would evaporate and leave the pure gold. By condensing the quicksilver it could be used again and again.

In California the groceries cost from fify cents to a dollar a pound, and a one hundred pound sack of flour cost one hundred and fifty dollars.

December of 1855 found Charles crossing the Isthmus of Darien. to which he had come on a steamer from San Francisco, and from which he was going to sail to New York. From New York to Mendota he took his first train ride. He walked to Troy Grove, seven miles, a very small undertaking for him who had walked so many miles to California.

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