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Gallia County, Ohio
Gates Family Letters

Letters From Virgil A. Gates

Virgil A. Gates and his parents and siblings lived in Gallipolis, Gallia Co., Ohio. In May of 1850 Virgil left for the "Gold Fields" of California, he was about 21 years old. He appears on the 1852 California Census as age 23.

This is a series of letters, five in all, that were published in the Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Oh.), between September 1850 and August 1851 (written between June 1850 and August 1851); from Virgil A. Gates to his father Moses and brother Daniel H. Gates. He tells of his four month trip to the "gold fields" in California; his experiences; and relates news of other "Gallia Boys" that also went seeking their fortune in California.

The Gallipolis Journal, published or printed these extracts on a fairly regular basis. Two other Gallia county men, A.W. and Columbus C. Drouillard, brothers, also had two letters published. They likewise, passed along news of and about the Gallia county people they knew or saw.

- Kathy McDaniel


Letter from Virgil Gates, Dated June 13, 1850,
Published Sept. 19, 1850

Letter from the Plains.
Opposite Fort Laramie,
North side of Platte river,
June 13th, 1850,

Dear Father: We have just concluded the second part of our journey in good health and condition. We left Fort Kearney on the 26th of May, and reached this point, 330 miles distant, in 15 days, make an average of 22 miles per day. At Fort Kearney we left the main road and crossed the Platte river at Grand Island, then struck the Mormon or Council Bluff road. By doing this we avoided the immense crowd of emigrants and had a very good road, good grass and water, plenty of game, no wood but a good substitute in the way of "buffalo chips." So I think I can recommend this route. We have seen thousands of buffalo and antelopes, and killed a great many, and almost lived on the meat, which is most excellent. Buffalo chasing is the finest sport I ever engaged in, but very dangerous, without you have a good horse and are yourself a good horseman. I was out one day last week in company with two others, and had fine fun. We charged on a herd but the outrun us; soon after we came across one by itself, so we made a charge on it and crippled it, after which we dismounted and went up to it; it proved to be a bull. He turned on us and we made some fast running. We approached him again, more cautiously, and fired on him until he fell. I made eight holes in his hide, and the other boys worked about as fast as I did, so you see they are very hard to kill, for we stood within 30 steps of him, and aimed to shoot him in the heart. He was a fine, fat fellow and made first rate beef. So much for buffalo hunting.

I will now give you a kind of a description of our manner of living, travelling, &c(etc). In the evening, the first thing after stopping is unyoking the cattle, driving to water and grass, and staking out the horses; then some go to gathering chips, building up fires, cooking, &c(etc). After supper we pick out the most suitable place and pitch our tents, spread one half of our blankets on the ground, roll in and over with the rest. At daybreak we turn out, get breakfast, yoke up, and move on; some stay with the wagon, some ride horses, some take their guns and amuse themselves shooting prairie dogs, gophers, rattlesnakes, and every thing that comes in their way. We drive 12 to 14 miles before lunch; rest two hours at noon, and then drive on till we find a good camping place. Some may not like this mode of living, but it is always attended with a great deal of excitement and amusement.---A person with an active mind will every minute in the day see something to excite his interest or awaken his curiosity.

As far as I can see or learn the health of the emigrants has been very good, and the greatest proof that I can produce of this is the fact that we travelled twenty five days behind 5,347 wagons, averaging 4 1/2 men to each team, and have seen but two newly made graves, and the death of one of these was caused by accident; and it is my opinion you cannot find less sickness in the same number of men in any State of the Union. A person will stand more exposure here than he will at home, owing to such constant excercise and pure atmosphere. We never pretend to salt our fresh meat, as it is entirely unnecessary. We can hang up behind the wagon a quarter of buffalo beef and use it at our leisure in oppressive warm weather.

Yesterday we spent the day in ferrying across the Platte river. As the river was not fordable, and the ferry boat having drifted away, we were compelled to use our wagon beds, and as they were very unwieldy it took us the entire day to cross our four teams. The river here is aobut like the schute at Gallipolis island in high water; but we got over tolerably well, considering all things, having sunk only once.

I went up to the Fort this morning, and found it no fort at all, but a collection of rough log and mud houses.---There are all kinds of mechanical shops here, but they charge California prices. I went to a blacksmith shop to get some ox shoes, and they charged 37 1/2 cents apiece for shoes, and 10 cents apiece for hose nails. Flour sold here yesterday for $30 per sack (100 lbs.); hard bread $14 per bushel; whiskey $6, and brandy $9 per gallon.

Up to this time there have passed here 16,915 men, 235 women, 242 children, 4,672 wagons, 14,974 horses, 4,641 mules, 7,471 oxen, and 1,053 cows.

I have been at hard work all this day notwithstanding the teams started this morning and are some 10 or 12 miles ahead, and it is now 2 o'clock. I have been making ox shoes and nails.

Frank Cromley is well, and calculates to walk through from Salt Lake.

I could tell you a great deal more that would interest you, if I had time, but I must go. Give my love to all.

Your son. V. A. GATES.

Source: Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Oh.) Thursday, September 19, 1850
Transcribed and submitted by Kathy McDaniel

Letter from Virgil A. Gates
Dated Sept. 5, 1850, Published Oct. 31, 1850

Letter from California.

Mr. Moses Gates, of this town, received Monday evening a letter from his son, V. A. Gates, from which we make the following extracts. The letter is dated Sacramento City, Sept. 5th. Mr. Gates left here last spring for the California, by land, and it will be remembered we published a letter from him to his father, some time since, written from Fort Laramie. Dr Talefero, of whom mention is made, is the gentleman who left Gallipolis one year ago last spring. He was from Franklin county, Va., we believe:

Sacramento City, Sept. 5th, '50.

My Dear Father: I take this opportunity of informing you that I arrived safe at the City of Sacramento, on the 2d day of September, after a laborious and tiresome journey of four months and two days, during which time I have had my health as well as ever, and that is more than thousands of the emigrants can say, for after passing Fort Laramie the scenery changes, and a person may lay his "fun tools" in the bottom of the wagon, and prepare himself for all kinds of privation, exposure and the hardest kind of work.

We are ahead of the main body of the emigration, and I thank God for it, for I would hate to witness the distruction and misery which is now on this road; it was bad enough when we came along, and we did not altogether escape, for our provisions fell about three weeks short, notwithstanding we lived on short allowance about the same length of time. Our wagons were loaded down with sick, and the scarcity of grass kept us back.

We came to the first trading posts at the Desert, where flour was selling at $2 per pound, pork $1 50 and every thing else in proportion. Men who had plenty of money got along well enough, but they were scarce, consequently the road was lined with beggars, principally foreigners, as the poor Americans were too proud, and would eat the dead animals along the road-side before they would beg. But I cannot tell you all at once, suffice it to say we (Capt. H., Dr. Beale, Frank and myself,) four out of ten, reached this city in good health. Three left us and went to Salt Lake, (we came the cut-off,) one poor fellow we buried near the summit of the Sierra Nevada heights; his name was Thos. Lindsay, from near Winchester, Clark county, Ky. Junius Hereford left us in the mountains and went ahead, the other two we left at the first settlements, sick.

We have sold our team at a very fair price, nearly as much as it cost, and are going to try our luck in the mines. We go different directions and will meet again in a week or ten days at this place, and compare notes, then I will write and give you my opinion of the country, prospects, &c(etc).

I have made all inquiry after Dr. Talefero, and from all I can learn I think he is dead. A young man by the name of Greathouse informs me that he crossed the plains last fall and stopped at Lawson's ranche, and while there a man was left, who was sick, answering the name and description, who died. He also gave me an introduction to a Mrs. O'Brien, of this city, an intelligent lady, who was there at the same time and nursed this person until he died. She says he spoke tenderly of his wife, and was anxious to write but was unable to do so.

I have not yet seen any of the Gallia county boys, but have heard of them, but how or what they are doing I cannot learn.

Business here is brisk but wages are very low at present, on account of the country being flooded with newly arrived emigrants, out of money and out of spirits, who crowd down to the city and then have to go to work for means to enable them to get back to the mines again. It is my opinion any person can make money here but not quite as fast as they anticipated; however I will know more about it on my return to the city.

Your affectionate son, V. A. GATES

Source: Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Oh.) Thursday, October 31, 1850 - Transcribed and submitted by Kathy McDaniel

Letter from Virgil A. Gates
Dated Nov. 30, 1850, Published Feb. 6, 1851
Letter From South Fork Feather River, California

CALIFORNIA BOYS.--We publish a letter from Mr. V. A. Gates which will be perused with interest by his numerous friends. Mr. G. states that Columbus Drouillard, son of Joseph Drouillard, Esq., had left for home. He has not yet arrived and his family are ignorant of his whereabouts.

Source: Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Ohio) Thursday, February 6,1851


South Fork Feather River, California, Nov. 30th, '50

My Dear Father: The plains will do well enough, but the mountains are different things altogether. I tell you there is a deal of difference in travelling over level, smooth prairies, with plenty of game, grass, water, &c(etc)., and in wending our way up and down hills, along dry, dusty ridges and valleys, with little water, and that highly impregnated with alkali, sulphur or some other mineral, no game, nothing to amuse, but every thing to perplex.

You say you want me to give you a minute account of my journey, and little incidents, &c(etc). If you got my Laramie letter you will have nearly all, at least of the pleasing incidents, of my journey. Big Sandy (about half way) is the last place I remember of having my gun out of the wagon for the purpose of shooting, and then to no purpose, so you will perceive we had a peaceable time, yet if I was at home I have no doubt but I could interest you for many an evening with an account of my travels. A great many times on the route have I charged my memory with some little circumstance or object, which I thought would interest you in a letter, which afterwards would be cast in the shade and totally forgotten by me, while contemplating something of the same kind, so much more interesting or so far superior. But I will say more about this another time, and the first time I see Capt. H???d I will send you a copy of his journal.

I have seen none of the Gallia boys yet. June Hereford saw Anthony Drouillard at the city, who told him that Columbus had started home with one or two thousand. We were all there at the same time, but some how we did not meet. I would have liked to seen Columbus before he went home. I have seen or heard nothing of cousin Lem. or Robert Stevens yet. I would have liked very well to have gone in the mines with either of them, but it was otherwise ordained. I spent about a month of the best part of my time running around and waiting on friends, all to no purpose. I soon found out this would not do, so I came up here, in company with Frank Cromley and three other persons, but found the best part of the diggins had been worked while we were gone, but we set to work and did tolerably well for a few days. We made about one hundred dollars the first three or four days, four of us, then our lead give out, so they all made up their minds to leave, but I was determined not to leave this cabin this winter if I could help it, for here was every thing we wanted, a good cabin, with a floor in it, a good set of dishes, all kinds of cooking utensils and tools necessary for comfort, which would cost a great deal of labor and money, but here they cost us nothing. They all left, however, but myself and June, who had come in the meantime. June was unwell when he come up here, and soon after I was taken with the chills and fever, which lasted about a week, and then we were both taken with the diarrhrea, the effects of colds, and in fact, I am not entirely well yet, but am able to work at present. We scratched away, however, and managed to lay in a supply for winter before the rain, which is not in full operation. We have given up the idea of making any thing this winter more than what will keep us comfortably, and procure us a good outfit in the spring, when we calculate to make a push for the head waters of this river, where it is said, and I have every reason to believe, the diggins are as rich as any in California.---These mines cannot be worked in the winter on account of the snow, and our only chance lays in getting up there as soon as possible after the winter breaks, and working the ravines before the snow all melts. Upon the whole I think our prospects quite flattering. Our digging here is confined altogether to the river banks. We commence as close as we can to the water, and dig up the hill. In the first place we sink a hole to the bed rock, which is generally from two to six feet deep, (the deeper the better,) throwing away all dirt except that which lies immediately on the bottom---this take up carefully and wash. The gold here (on Oregon bar) lays in streaks or piles, and when we do get any thing it is something worth while. We can form no idea in the morning of what we will have at night. During the last two weeks we worked hard, when the weather would permit, and I am sure we did not more than pay our board, while there were men, acquaintances of ours, working by the side of us who would take out their hundred dollars a week; but we keep digging away, feeling certain that we will hit on it after while.

We are located about one hundred miles from Sacramento, and three miles above the town of Stringtown. We have a good cabin, good beds, plenty of books, and, upon the whole, are right comfortably fixed. We can buy almost any thing we want at Stringtown, in the provision line, but our principal diet is bread, pork, fresh beef, molasses, beans, pickles, coffee, tea, dried fruit, and occasionally we indulge in a mess of potatoes, &c(etc). I think we will pass off the winter with a great deal more comfort than I anticipated.

Tell the boys not to be too "dead set" for California. For my part I am glad that I come to California, and at present contented to stay a while, notwithstanding it did not come up to my expectations by two thirds, and when I was at home, if I had known as much about California as I do now, the prospect would have been no inducement for me to start across the plains.

But I must come to a close. Do not be uneasy on account of not hearing from me. V. A. GATES.

Source: Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Ohio) Thursday, February 6, 1851 - Transcribed and submitted by Kathy McDaniel

Letter from Virgil A. Gates
Dated June 1, 1851, Published July 31, 1851

Letter from Onion Valley, Cal.

The following letter from Mr. V. A. Gates will be read with interest by his numerous friends. Mr. G.'s former associates here have every confidence in his statements as containing the exact truth about California, so far as he has seen it, and if he don't derive advantage from a California trip with his good judgment, correct habits and industry, the next one need not entertain very positive anticipations of the wealth to be gathered there:

Onion Valley, Cal., June 1st, '51.

My Dear Father: I embrace this opportunity to send you a few lines, and have only time to tell you that I am still well and have been in the mountains since the middle of February, during the greater part of which time it has stormed, and even to-day the snow is falling.

The Nothern mines, to a great extent, have proved a failure. I belong to a company of four persons who have taken claims on Kanyan Creek, a tributary of the Yuba, and we have a good prospect for 8 or 10 dollar diggins.---Our claims lay about eight miles from this place, and all of our provisions we have to pack from this place on our backs over the hills that form the divide between Feather and Yuba rivers. I came in this morning and have to go back this evening with 50 pounds of flour, which accounts for my haste.

I received four letters and four newspapers, on the 15th ult., by private express, at a cost of two dollars per letter and fifty cents per paper. Two of the letters were from you, dated Nov. 24th and Feb. 8th, one from C. C. Hawkins, Dec. 7th, and one from cousin Austin, dated Jan. 19th. The papers were two Journals of March 13th and 20th, which looked more like an old acquaintance than any thing I have seen since I left home, and two Couriers, dated March 12th and 19th. The news contained in your letters was highly gratifying, and you may rest assured that I will not neglect to keep you informed of my whereabouts, circumstances, &c(etc)., but do not always expect letters by the packets, for I have no idea when the vessels sail, and I don't believe I know as well what is going on in the city as you do.

I am getting tired of the gold mines, and am determined to go home this fall. I would not experience another snowy season in the mountains of California for a fortune. If our claims fall this time I will quit the mines and try something more slow and sure. A person could make money in most any part of the mines if it were not for the high price of every thing he consumes. I have been forced in by the snow and obliged to board by the week at $1 50 per meal. I might answer mother's question "how we live," &c(etc)., with two words, but when I have more time I will give her a description and let her draw her own conclusions.

Junius Hereford did not come up in the mountains, and I understand he has been doing well down below.

You never acknowledged my Laramie letter. I made a great mistake in saying that there was no fort there. There were two divisions of the place and I was not aware of it until we were driving past.

I weigh thirty pounds more than when I left home.

I will now have to conclude this letter by sending my love to all our folks and my best respects to all of my friends, hoping none of the boys have started to California. I remain

Your affectionate son, V. A. GATES.

Source: Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Ohio) Thursday, July 31, 1851 - Transcribed and submitted by Kathy McDaniel

Letter from Virgil A. Gates
Dated Aug. 3, 1851, Published Oct. 2, 1851

Letter from Kanyan Creek, Cal.

Through the kindness of his brother we have again been favored with a letter from this gentleman, now in California. His numerous friends will be pleased to hear of his continued good health and fine prospects of success:

Kanyan Creek, Cal., Aug. 3, '51.

Dear Brother: I have just finished perusing your letter of the 4th of June, which came to Onion Valley by private express, and having an opportunity of sending you a few hasty lines, I take up my pen to inform you that I am well and still in the land of the living---or, I might more properly say, a "state of existence," for a man in the mountains of California don't live in every sense of the word, particularly when it refers to the pleasures and enjoyments of life. The only enjoyment the country affords is a good night's rest after a hard and profitable day's work, or a good feed of pork and flour after 24 hours fast.

I received your letter of the 25th of March on the 7th of June, one week after I had written. The same day I came across an old acquaintance in the person of Major Evans, of Wilksvil'e, and I think we were mutually happy in shaking hands. He was well and is operating on Poor Man's Creek with a tolerable prospect.

Kanyan Creek, after having been deserted twice, has turned out some pump kins after all. We located eight claims when we first came on the creek, and stuck to them, while the large body of the prospecters went farther north, and as the snow left the mountains and the water went down men prospected more thoroughly, and some of the claims prove to be very rich. We did not get the best claims notwithstanding we took the first claims that were taken on the creek. We have sold two and a half claims (66 feet in a claim,) for $1250; $425 down and the balance when it comes out of the ground. We completed the draining of the balance two weeks ago yesterday. The first week we dug out $500, and the next $300, and we have a better show this week. The gold here is coarse and is of the purest and finest quality of any I have seen in California. The pieces in size range from 25 cents to an hundred dollars. The largest day's work we have done amounted to 17 ounces and two dollars; I raked out two pieces that weighed 34 and 40 dollars. There are five men in our company now, Mr. S. W. Price, from Oregon, formerly of Buffalo, Va., P. L. Trout and John K. Walls, from Hancock, O., S. P. Billien, from Missouri, and myself.

The days here are very warm and the nights cold. Vegetation took a start about the 1st of June, and the sides of the mountains are covered with a heavy growth of almost every variety of weeds and bushes, and quite a variety of fruits and berries, such as gooseberries, currants, raspberries, service berries, &c(etc).

There are several groceries on the Creek now and we can get our supplies without carrying them so far, at reasonable prices, 15 cemts for flour, 20a25 for fresh beef, and other things in proportion.

Father is continually asking for a description of the country, and I would be glad if I could comply with his request, but it seems almost impossible. I have had it in contemplation ever since I have been in the mines, but I can never catch time, opportunity and convenience together. I have never written to Mr. Lindsay, and do not know that I will be able to while I stay in the mountains.

I am sorry you suffer yourselves to feel uneasy at not hearing from me, and once more I will tell you not to feel so, for if an thing should happen you would hear of it in the shortest possible time.

I still feel determined to come home this winter if it is only on a visit. Father, in speaking of the returning Californians, says, "some with and some without money," which, as he thinks, is owing to their drinking and gambling propensities. This is a popular error, as I could show you conclusively if I had time. He would hit it oftener by referring to the other class, and giving them proper credit for their rascality and roguery is trade, but it will not apply, as a general rule, in either case. At any rate I intend to make my appearance in old Gallipolis this fall or winter, (without I have a mighty good prospect ahead) if nothing happens. I have long since given up the idea of making a fortune here in a short time, and at present I have enough to take me home and square up every thing, and a first rate prospect for some more, as I so I think you can look for me with considerable certainty about Christmas.

Charley Mayhew is one of our neighbors, and he wants me to have you tell his father that he is well.

I am at present enjoying first rate health and about as greasy and lousy as any of our company or neighbors, for I must tell you the lice and blow flies are about the greatest annoyances we have up here. There are three kinds of lice, known as the racers, graybacks and grisleys, and it is impossible to get rid of them without changing our clothing and blankets once a week at the least calculation, but this we cannot do, as blankets cost most too much dust, and it is decidedly unfashionable to put on a clean "hickory" oftener than once in three or four weeks at the least. We live in bush shantees and sleep on the ground.

Give my respects to the boys. I have not seen or heard of J. T. Hereford for two or three months. Quiet father's fears, if he has any, about the corruption of my morals; although I am not the same "unsophisticated" youth that I was when I left home, yet I am opposed to gambling and liquor-drinking as strongly as I ever was.

Tell grandpa the native inhabitants of this country are "top knot" Indians and grisley bear. I feasted on grisley meat some time ago, it tasted too much like dog---didn't like it.

I remain your affectionate brother, V. A. GATES.

Source: Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Oh.) Thursday, October 2, 1851

(later news of Virgil A. Gates)

We had the pleasure of taking our young friend, Junius Hereford, by the hand last Wednesday night week, on his arrival from California. His reports of the Gallia boys generally, in California, are favorable.---Mr. Virgil Gates, who expected to have accompanied him, returned to the mines, and will not return till Spring.

Source: Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Oh.) Thursday, January 29, 1852 - Transcribed and submitted by Kathy McDaniel

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