Sep 27, 2018 - Sale 2486

Sale 2486 - Lot 233

Price Realized: $ 10,625
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 8,000 - $ 12,000
"HAD A HASTY CRYING SPELL . . . NO ONE TO WAIT ON MYSELF IN DISTRESS" (CALIFORNIA.) Burlison, Thomas. Diary of a Gold Rush miner who barely survived his adventures. [37] manuscript diary pages plus [51] pages of memoranda. 8vo, contemporary limp calf, moderate wear with some loss to backstrip; minor wear to contents. Vp, 20 February 1849 to 22 January 1850, plus memoranda through 1882

Additional Details

This remarkable Gold Rush diary and record book was kept by Thomas Burlison (1802-1890), a married 47-year-old farmer from Harpersfield in central New York who left home with four neighbors in search of gold. Arriving in Chagres, Panama on 20 March, they learned "that there was some 1800 men at Panama waiting for a passage to San Francisco--rather sober times on board." His party found accommodations in a "hog sty or rather a goose pen, but not fit for either." By the time they crossed the isthmus to Panama City on 28 March, two of the party were quite ill with dysentery and Burlison assumed responsibility for their care, washing them, emptying their pots, and securing occasional medical attention: "The Doct is very weak, have to lift him off & on his chair, hold him up after he is on. Glad to get out a minute for fresh air." His friend Doctor Joseph Ells died on 23 April.
On the long voyage north from Panama, Burlison notes the remains of several fellow passengers being "committed to the deep." He arrives at San Francisco on 30 August, and continues on to Sacramento the next week, despite a bad case of dysentery. Frederick Osborn of his travelling party, who he had nursed to health in Panama, refused to help him: "We had to camp out under a tree on the ground without anything but our blankets. Got up several times in the night. Asked O. once to get up & get me some medicine as I was so cold! He said he would not. . . . Had a hasty crying spell thinking how I had almost spent my life for him & the Doct in Panama & now no one to wait on myself in distress" (12 September).
After a 4-month break, the diary concludes with 5 pages in the gold fields in January 1850. The running theme is a series of disagreements with Osborn. They fought over cooking and division of labor: "He said I must rock the cradle. I told him I prefered it & wanted to rock all day. I took one turn at it. He said he had got warmed up & should not shovel & dip water any longer, so I shoveld & dipped water as usual & could not please him at anything I did." When Burlison refused to bake a pie that evening, Osborn muttered "If you don't look out, something will happen you that you don't think of." Burlison noted with palpable fear: "If I should die when with him in a sudden manner, I hope my friends will read this." The diary ends suddenly on 22 January, but Burlison was not murdered; he shows up back in Harpersfield as a farmer in the 1850 census.
The volume also contains memoranda relating to Burlison's journey and mining efforts. A 3-page description of a "washing trough called Long Tom" is illustrated with two crude pencil sketches. Several pages of daily account entries at the "Dry Diggings" and "Big Hole" show a profitable enterprise, with $50 or $60 of gold washed on the better days in December and January, slowing down to $14 for the last entry on 10 February 1850. 4 pages are devoted to a list of letters and "a specimen of gold" which Burlison apparently brought back to New York for fellow miners. Additional notes on this vivid personal record of the Gold Rush are available upon request.