This letter was written by 26 year-old Rodney Putam Odall, Jr. (1825-1906) to his parents Rodney Putnam Odall, Sr. (1801-1886) and Mary Ann Kenny (1802-1884) of Greece, Monroe County, New York.
We learn from this letter that Odall was among the gold seekers in California whose traveling expenses were underwritten by eastern investors. Though anxious to return home, young Odall remains in California attempting to earn enough money from mining to pay off the investors. He is “tired of wandering” — ready to “settle down” — and thinks California, like many others, a great “disappointment.” There is a rich description of San Francisco and its inhabitants contained in the letter.
Odall returned safely from California to New York State sometime before the mid 1850s. We find him working as a merchant in Parma, Monroe County, New York in the 1860 Census with his wife Miranda Elizabeth Knox (1827-1903). In 1875, he sought a patent for an improved design of cultivator teeth.
Addressed to Rodney P. Odall, Greece, Monroe County, New York
Wood’s Diggings,¹ California
February 17th 1852
Dear Parents, Brothers and Sisters,
I again take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know how I get along in the California. When I wrote to you last I was in the Redwood at work by the month for my health. I would never have went from the mines had it not been I was afraid I should never get over my sickness. As it was, it proved to be the best thing I could do for myself in that respect (but not in money matters). After I had worked my time out for Mr. Jones, I told him my time was out and I would like to settle with him, so he told me to come down to his house at San Jose and he would pay me off. I saw by that he was not intending to hire me any longer so I bundled up my things, put them on my back, and started for town.
The next morning I went to his house and he payed me off. When he had payed me, all the money I could rake and scrape was 105 dollars. What could I do. I did not know anyone in town that I might hire to again and be sure of the pay. I knew it had rained a good deal there and I thought it might have rained the same in the mines so I thought the sure way was for me to go to the mines. So I started right off by stage for A____ and took a steamer there and went to San Francisco which cost me 10 dollars. Got there in one day, distance 60 miles.
Got to San Francisco about 9 o’clock in the morning, found the city had much improved since I first landed in the country. It has much the same appearance as New York has. Business is done almost wholly by the wholesale and that on a very large scale. There were in port about 300 vessels of all kinds. They have extended their wharfs out into the bay 1/4 of a mile. Things in general is done more to some purpose than when I first came here. Houses are built of a more durable material, streets are more clean, [and] wharfs more extended. Vessels may now come to the wharf to discharge their cargoes which saves great cost in lightering good from ship to shore in flat boats.
On the whole, this place is the New York of the Pacific. You see people of all Nations here in their own costume. The Chinaman has on his large briches, his cork Bottomed shoes and nice cashmere short coat with his hair tied close on the top of his head, and so on. I might write a long letter about the strangers in our Pacific City. As for me, I felt that I was something of a stranger [and] felt a little as though I would like to go on board of the Steamer which was about ready to start for Panama. But no, thought I, I must stay a little longer in California and do what I could to get a little gold. So I started again for Stockton at 4 o’clock P.M. on the Kate Kearny.² Got to Stockton the next morning at daylight (cost 5 dollars).
Started again for Wood Diggins at noon and got there in 2 days. Bad roads. Cost 12 dollars. Got there safe and sound. I had heard that Brother [George C.] Lathrop [1804-1891] lived there. He came all the way with me from New York, so I called on him. He appeared glad to see me and at once said I must come and live with him and we would work together in the mine. I knew him to be a good man and a Christian and his company was what I wanted so that I might keep the little spark a burning in my breast. I found that he had family worship, as you would call it, which gave me much joy in my heart. I told him I felt glad that we had met once under such favorable circumstances and would gladly accept his proposal. He is from Ingham County, Michigan; was born and brought up in the town of Bethany, Genesee County, New York. He knows all about the Seager family — that is the family Micah married into. He is about 48 years old, has lived in Michigan over 20 years. Is a Christian inside and out. I like him as well as any man I ever saw. We read some portion of the Bible night and morning and try to pray to God to keep us safe in his hand. I feel better in my mind now than I ever have since I came into the country.
Since we have been together, we have built a new house 11 by 14, made of logs, and covered with pine bows and cloth. We have not been very lucky as yet. I do not expect to make but little anyhow, but shall try to make the men whole that sent me here. I expect to make about 2 to 3 dollars per day. We have had but little rain as yet. Fogs are quite frequent (I am at work on the banks of the Stanislaus River). When you write to me, direct to Woods Diggins, Tuolumne County, California. This from your son, — Rodney P. Odall, Jr.
Give my love to all the folks. My health is quite good now. George mentioned in a letter that Armenia wrote to me that a little money would come good to him. As I have written before to you that I sent you 18 ozs. If you should have some of it by you, if he should want 50 or 100, please let him have it as I do not expect to want it in year or so. I wish when you write to me you would mention whether you got the gold or not as it is of some importance. And if you have not, I should like to send another receipt to you that will draw the money anyhow.
I hope these few lines may find you in good health and enjoying the favor of God in all your hearts is my prayer daily. Please write to me as soon as you get this letter for I feel that one letter from home is better than many dollars of paltry gold. I love you all with a love that will soon bring me to your shores if I am spared. California is a continual field of disappointment; none to counsel, to counsel, to warn. Be assured that what I write is the truth. I have got tired of wandering. I would like to settle down for life. I find there is no pleasure in the world at all. Pray for poor me. I am in good spirits. My pluck has been tried in California. Do not borrow any trouble about me. It will do no good. But trust in God. — R. P. Odall, Jr.
¹ Jamestown In June of 1848, Benjamin Wood and party camped beside the small creek. According to the Bureau of Mines, a 150-pound gold mass found there resulted in 75 pounds of gold. The encampment was called Wood’s Diggings and later, Wood’s Crossing and was one of the very first finds of gold in the MotherLode area.
George James a lawyer and chief accolade hired local miners to work his claims and paid them in scrip. When he realized that he hadn’t found enough gold to make good on the scrip he quietly snuck out of town. The angry miners tried to rename the town American Camp but the U.S. Post Office already had several towns by that name. In 1853 the post office established under the name Jamestown.
Mining continued off and on through the years. On Christmas Eve in 1992, miners at the Jamestown Mine discovered several large pieces of gold. One of the larger ones is on display at Ironstone Vineyards weighs 45 pounds! That piece of gold is the largest piece of crystallized gold on display.
² KATE KEARNY, leaves Long wharf [San Francisco] every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, at 4 o’clock, p. M. J Whitney, jr, master; Jas S Johnson, clerk. San Jose. — San Francisco Directory 1852-53