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
Negro Bar Cal.
Saturday Afternoon April 23, 1853
My Dear Wife
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
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.