In 1966 Francis Coleman Rosenberger printed the diary kept by Zirkle D. Robinson on his trip to the California gold fields (1). He left in the original spelling and wording.
Zirkle travelled with his brother Joseph Robinson and his wife's brother Wesley Rosenberger. They left Virginia, Cass County, Illinois, on March 28, 1849. Some of the others who travelled to California with them include Thomas Deal (husband of Wesley's sister Elizabeth), Charles Brady, Dr. Fred Schooly, J. R. Fitch, Jno. M. Beard, John R. Dutch, Geo. Edger, Rich'd Jewksbury, John W. Evans, Moland Beard, John B. Thompson, Wilson Beard, R. D. Hopkins, Samuel Leeper, Lewis M. Runyon, L. M. Bunch, Dr. Wm. Clark, John Yaples, (is this the same man who in 1853 married Sarah Price - daughter of Henry?), Charles Brady, Ambrose Bettickey, Hiram Masten, Rich'd Thompson, Peter Conover, John Farrow (and his family), Henry Ingalls and his son, and Richard Dusenberry and his son.
The route followed by the "Virginia Company" as they called themselves crossed the Mississippi River near Warsaw, Illinois, and went down the Des Moines River in Iowa. They then followed the 1846 Mormon Trail across southern Iowa until the Chariton River where they headed southwest toward St. Joseph, Missouri.
The OCTA has an excellent map of the trails used by the Virginia Company and others as they headed west.
Zirkle's diary describes the miserable, wet weather they travelled through before reaching St. Jo. Near there they met up with "our old friend Lawson and A. E. Elder and family all for California." On the riverboat he saw coffins "drest in Black velvet" supposedly for cholera victims. He speaks of passing 100 wagons in a single day and hearing of 400 still ahead of them. Going across the prairie he missed the trees he was used to seeing. Zirkle calls it "fine Looking country if it had Timber."
He was travelling in a group of eighteen wagons and saw others which had as many as thirty. He often comments on the beauties of nature that they saw. He admired elk and antelope they saw playing together in one herd. Near Fort Charles (Fort Kearny) he tells of lying on level ground and looking two miles up the river and being able to see the water. "It appeared Like we would look up hill to see the water."
They had to start using buffalo chips to build their camp fires. Apparently he and others were sick because he called one stopover "Puke camp." The next day they camped near the bluffs by a spring that "Boild and had some specks Look Like Gold in it. I cald it the gold spring." On May 29th he says the "greatest sight I yet have seen in the way of wagons. They are lined up the River as fair (far) as the Eye can see." On June 3, 1849, he writes that he "went to see what is cald the cort house 12 Miles from the chimny rock. I went some 8 Miles and got to the Rock. I went up on it and I saw many Names cut on the Rock some 5 hundred ft high. The Rock is soft and Mounts up in the air and Looks like a bilding. It stands out in the Prairie By its self." The next day they stopped at noon by Chimney Rock which he thought a "most splendid and grand sight."
At the Laramas River he bought a "boat wagon" for $25.00 that would have cost $175 in the "states" while selling their old one for $2.00. Here people are lightening their loads by tossing away unnecessary items even "meet and flower." On June 14th Zirkle launched his boat to ferry the river. Many wagons were crossing and at least 8 people drowned that day. They reach Independance Rock on June 18th. After Independence Rock the Virginia Company took the new Sublette Cutoff instead of the old trail that lead through Fort Bridger.
At the Green River people were having to pay as much as eight dollars per wagon to cross. While they rested on Sunday, June 30th two hundred teams passed them. In the mountains Zirkle saw snow as well as numerous flowers and plants. "It Looks very strange to see snow and Ice to the Depth of 20 feet and not more than 5 ft from the snow we see Bloom of all sorts and grass up to our ne."
They celebrated the 4th of July by going "Down a mountain where we had to let the wagon Down with Ropes." And proving there was still some boyishness left in these grown men they also "went to a snow Bank and had a snow Balling scrape. And while we ware on the snow the musketoes would Bite us so Bad we would have to nock them of." They ended the holiday by firing off their guns that night.
On July 7th they reached Soda Spring where the water was just like "soda water" and some of it is "just like Beer. It sparkles when you Drink it. It is the Best Drink I ever Drank." He made the mistake of filling his keg with water from the springs. After being jarred in the wagon for awhile it blew the stopper and "run out just Like Beer."
On July 11th at Fort Hall he figures they are 750 miles yet from Sutters Fort. On July 19th at Thousand Springs valley they found hot springs and cold springs (with ice around them) only fifty yards apart. In preparation for crossing the 60 Mile Desert they cut grass for the livestock to haul with them before leaving for Humbolt Sink. Many people had to abandon possessions, wagons, and livestock as they crossed the desert. "Many had to Leave all and foot it and Beg there way." On August 10th they have their first timber to cook with in a month. They met some Mormons returning home from the gold fields. He was impressed with the amount of gold they had with them.
On August 17th they traversed a canyon and didn't get through before dark so had to camp there. It was "The most Dredful Place I Ever saw and the worst roads Eny man Ever saw." After the canyon, though, they were ready for the Sierra Nevada mountains and almost at the end of their trip. They were amazed at the size of the trees they saw and stopped and measured some. They also found a dead "furd" tree and set it afire. The blaze ran up the whole hundred foot length of the tree and was a "most splendid sight."
On August 26th Zirkle went down to the mines and "Took my knife and Picked out some gold. I then went to a bording house and got my supper. I asked the Landlord my Bill. He said 150 cts. I thought it very high But sed nothing But Paid it." By September 7th they moved up river and settled in to work with varying results. "Some make 2 oz and some 7 and some 8 dollars and soon it is very heard work." Not being satisfied there they moved on to Setters creek and then moved on again at the end of October. They moved two hundred miles south.
They built themselves a shelter by chopping logs on December third and moving in on December 8th. Here they stayed til May of 1850. On May 24th they "sunk a hole and took out that Day 63 66cts and then sold the claim for 1600 Dollars. That was the Last we Done in the mines." On May 27, 1850, Zirkle Robinson and Wesley Rosenberger started for home.
Zirkle's daughter says that Zirkle was very reluctant to leave California. He did so only because someone needed to accompany the very sick Wesley on the journey and no one else was willing ."Then I was often detained by my brother-in-law, Wesley Rosenberger, who had exposed himself in the mines, often we would be in water up to our hips, washing gold...Not one would say they would go with him... It was hard for me to give up to go."
For the return journey they sailed from Stockton to San Francisco. There they saw Thompson from Beardstown. Thompson was apparently with Fitch. One of those two men had a store and there Zirkle and Wesley stored their trunks and stayed til June 10th when they boarded the Mariana. The ship sailed on June 13th but because of a high tide had to anchor and leave on the 14th. Zirkle was sea sick for a couple of days but seems to have recovered by the time they passed Guadalupe Island. In five days at sea they had covered nine hundred miles of their journey to Panama.
Zirkle's "We had a time on Board." appears to be a real understatement. He talks about two or three passengers getting drunk and acting crazy all day. So much so that they tied them with ropes for the night. As on the journey westward Zirkle comments often on the beauties of nature around him."The sea looked like copper and gold. It made me feel how great was this world God had made." By July 18, 1850, they are within sight of Panama. They transfer to a steamboat and go into Panama. His summation was "We got in the town 10 oclock on Saturday the 21. Went to the Catholic church. Heard a fine sermon. We put up at the American Hotel."
Thus ended Zirkle Robinson's original journal. In 1914 his daughter, Lucinda Rice, copied it. The copy was part paraphrase and part amplification. Frances Rosenberger had access to both the original manuscript and Lucinda's 1914 copy. Lucinda's copy continued their journey home.
When they reached the Caribbean Sea Wesley was so sick they had trouble getting him on the ship. He was told by a doctor that Wesley would never reach home. They took passage on the Steamboat Orleans which was bound for St. Louis, and they were quarantined for three days because of cholera. At St. Louis they went up the Illinois River and landed at Beardstown late at night. Because of the fear of cholera they couldn't get into a hotel, but Zirkle put Wesley in a butcher shop. He sent messages to his wife Malinda at Virginia, Illinois, and her parents John and Elizabeth Rosenberger at Princeton which was twenty miles away.
Malinda arrived the next morning in time to see her brother die but his parents came too late. They took the body home and buried him in the family grave yard (Robinson cemetery). Malinda's health failed rapidly and she died three months later leaving Zirkle with three sons and a daughter to raise.
Zirkle doesn't say how much money he brought home from the gold fields but there are notations in his notebook about gold dust he was given by other members of the Virginia Company to bring home to Illinois.
"On the 26 May I got of Ambers Beoucher 6 hundred dollars in gold dust to take home for his Brother in cass co Illinois".
June the 3 this day I got of Brother Joseph 6 hundred dollars in gold dust to take home to his wife in cass co Illinois and also on the same day got from Thomas P. Deal 31 oz and 4 dollars making 5 hundred dollars at 16 dollars per oz to take home to his wife in cass co Illinois near Princeton may the Lord grant that I may Land it there safe and find all well is my prayer for Jesus sake amen".
And he repeats it for safety's sake:
"Monday the 3 of may (should be June) 1850 I recd of Brother Joseph 6 hundred Dollars in gold dust to take home to his wife Elizabeth Deal- in cass county and state of illinois at Jersey Prairie near Princeton So this is to show where they live if I should not reach my home the Lords will be done not mine But thine o lord for in thy care I am now placed o god"
"orleans aug the 6th 1850
gold dust Exchanged for coin
By L.H. Prosise
(1) Rosenberger, Francis Coleman, The Robinson-Rosenberger journey to the gold fields of California, 1849-1850: the diary of Zirkle D. Robinson.
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