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No. 7 JULY 2002

ROBERT H. CALDWELL, SANDUSKY COUNTY, OHIO, FORTY-NINER

Robert H. Caldwell was one of Sandusky County, Ohio's most substantial citizens. A blacksmith and part owner of a Lower Sandusky (Fremont, Ohio) tavern, Caldwell also owned acreage in Fulton County, Ohio. However, when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California, Robert Caldwell could think of little else. "Gold fever" was everywhere. Like thousands of others, Caldwell was consumed by visions of spectacular wealth.

In the spring of 1849, Caldwell and his brother William joined forces with a group of Sandusky Countians to form the Fort Stephenson Mining Association. Acknowledging the high potential for financial disaster and personal danger, the men pooled their funds, agreeing to share their resources and support each other on the journey West. By late April, Caldwell was in Independence, Missouri, outfitting for the 2,200-mile overland route to California. The group's date of arrival in California is unknown, however, they purchased claims at Beals Bar and Negro Bar on the American River. Nothing was as they had envisioned. Heavy snows, inflated prices, fires, robbery, floods, riots, and sickness plagued the group.

During Robert's absence, Eleanor Caldwell had given birth to a son and endured the death of their adopted child. Cholera epidemics had forced her to flee her Fremont home on two occasions. Despite Robert's failure to discover significant amounts of gold, he continued to believe he would strike it rich. Just before Christmas 1853, death claimed Robert Caldwell and his dreams. A Sacramento minister consoled Eleanor by writing that while "Robert was buried among strangers, he had died among friends."

The transcribed letter is one of nine surviving letters written by Robert Caldwell to his wife from California. The letters are part of the William Caldwell Family Collection (Local History Collection 71).


Negro Bar Cal.
Saturday Afternoon April 23, 1853

My Dear Wife & Son,

It is with the Greatest Pleasure that I have This opportunity of Saying to you all that I am well. I Recd Yours last night from the city dated March 10th. Which informed me that You are not well. My dear how I felt no one can tell but myself.. I had sorrowfull feelings you may rest assured. You also said in yours of the former letter that you was quite unwell. I was in hopes to hear You was much better by this time, but I am Still in hopes by the next that You have recovered Your health. You speak of Receiving Mine dated December the 25th, but You don't say you got a draft for $50.00. But You Say Something about having some money and how You have disposed of it, but I have come to the conclusion that You did get it however. You say you don't see anything but clouds & of darkness and Black despair. O my dear Eleanor, I wish in my hart that You would if you could drive all those clouds over & see if some light would not appear. I doe think you make yourself too much trouble. I would Gladly come home now at your Request without one cent in my Pocket after I get home. But I know full well that I Should be complained of for So doeing. Now Eleanor I have some prospect [of] making some this Season. And I hope You will be contented for awhile Untill I make one more effort and See.

Now I will here ask You one question, suppose that I doe come home and not have any Money, what will you allways say to me (now think). I will tell You what You would say to me. If you had allways heard [listened] to me, you would not of went to California. As to that I will admit, but You finaly concented for Me to go. Well now I am here. Are you not willing to sacrifice Some of the happiness of each others Society for me to make one more try & see if I cant make up for at least a small part of the Sacrifice? I wont argue the Subject, for then if I thought You would be any better Sattisfied, but I will close this at least for the moment. I don't wish to come home now and You have discribed the fate of all that came home and be a beggar. No I will die here unless things change my mind more than they doe now. This is, My dear Eleanor, a Serious Subject to dwell uppon.

I am now here alone away in Cal. And I have no friends, but Strangers to give me any consolation but I probably Shall doe as well as I have done before. When I have bin sick heretofore, I had no friend to give me any aid. I had to allways [to] depend on Strangers. And as Yet I have never needed but Your Sweet will and Still I Shall have to trust to providence for the futere. I think he will direct all things aright.

I think of that Lovely Child of ours and often look at his and Your likeness. It now lies before me on the table and I often anticipate the pleasure that he May be to us both.

You Say that You did not se[e] Tindall, but You heard that he would not Risk Sending Lumber here to Me in California. Well he need not doe it if he dos not wish to. I gess that I am not quite broke Yet. He also Says that people have a bad name here in California & He wants Security for his Risk. Perhaps that's all wright. All I can Say, he can Keep his Lumber and Sell it at home if he likes for $10.00 per thousand, if he had it here it would be worth $350.00 per thousand. So it is some difference aint it. I am no Ensurance office to ensure Ships around the Horn. I am glad to hear that men are getting Rich faster in Fremont than in California. If I cant make a Raise here Soon I will come home then & try that old famous city once more.

Now to business matters:

I have perused your business matters with Lady Pearse. Yo[u] Say She is a hard case & so Doe I. But You have in My candid oppinion have done the thing up Brown with hir and better perhaps than I could have done. But I am perfectly well Sattisfied in the whole matter concerning it. I am Glad you have held onto the lot and not let hir have it back as some person wished to get it.

I am happy to Hear that the Misses Russles both ar[e] accomodating & let you have the Mony to pay Hir. I will send the amount Just as Soon as I Can take that much out of the Mines. I would of Sent it now but the Water in the River has bin two high on the Lane [?]to work dirt Ever Since Wm. C. left. We can commence in a day or two and Soon take out that much. I [?]Some talk of Selling out My Share of the claim here. I have here $500.00 dollars now offered. I will know in a few days whether it is best to take it or not

Tell the Mrs. Russles both I will Send the Mony in a Short time. As Soon as the water gets down then it will come along with the Interest two. So My dear, don't You be afraid. Everything I hope will work for Good

Friday Morning and I am well as usual. It is now Raining hard and has Rained from three oclock Yesterday afternoon & we have worked this week only one and one half days. We did not took up Gold last night. It Rained So hard everyday. It pa[id]d $7.20 cts per day to the man. It does not look much like doing anything to day. I hope it will be [f]air weather Soon. It is much needed indeed.

I have nothing of interest to day to write to You. Hoping You will enjoy Your Self Much more than Usual. I will now come to a close

Ever Remaining Yours Truly

R. H. Caldwell

Eleanor Caldwell, C. A. Caldwell, & Amanda Lary

I have Seen J. M. Smith a few days ago at Slate bar. He was busy working out Gold & he was well. He told me that P. J. Norton was over. He is still at Beals Bar. It is Said that he has a fine prospect for Gold there this Season. As for any of the others of our Fremonters, I have not heard Except Mr. Clark & Gasser [?] that I write in my former Letter. Since that I have not Heard now I will come to close by saying [to] all my friends in Fremont city and up the county. My best wishes &tc. I have Some room Yet. But I don't [k]now of anything that would interest You in the least. In Your next Just answer if You got those drafts or not.

R.H. Caldwell

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