Speech given by Clyde Williams Grubville, Missouri
3rd Sunday in August, 1949
Jefferson County men who went to the gold fields in California
We are met today to celebrate the annual homecoming of the descendants of Simeon Frost and also to commemorate the centennial of the trip of those sturdy pioneers who left this community in 1849 to cross the plains and climb the mountains in search of gold. So far as I can learn there were eight men in that little band who departed for that long and perilous journey from the home of E. F. Frost in Grubville about the 1st of May 1849. One of the men was Simeon Frost, who was born in Kentucky in 1789 and came first to Washington County, Missouri and then to Crawford County. He was the father of Franklin, George and Christopher Frost and Mrs. Robert Wilson and others. He died on the trip about 10 miles west of Independence and was the only casualty among the group. The others were George Frost, M. C. Atwood, Mr. Mothershead, Mr. Leroy Dover, Ewing Mitchel, my grandfather John Manion and my father Frank Williams. There may have been others. There were several others who went to California about that time from Jefferson County and surrounding counties. Among them were James A. Wilson of Bethlehem, James McCulloch, Booker and Skelton Richardson, Mr. Duckworth, Thomas Harbison, father of Dr. M. C. Harbison who was known to everybody in the surrounding country 50 years ago. So far as I have ever heard, Skelton Richardson was the only man who made the trip, returned to Jefferson County. and then made the second trip and stayed some five years. The one trip seems to have satisfied all the rest.
Most of what little I have been able to learn about the eventful journey of the eight who left here together comes from a letter written by George Frost to his brothers Franklin and Christopher. The letter was dated Nov. 12, 1849, and was written at Feather River, California, the mining settlement where they stopped and which is about 100 miles from Sacramento, the capital of California.
I have not been able to secure a description of the equipment of this adventuresome band as they embarked upon their long, tiresome and hazardous journey. We can imagine their confusion, excitement and anxiety as they made great preparations for their departure. It is known that they traveled by wagons drawn by oxen. How many wagons and oxen, I do not know. They, of course, did not have the elaborate equipment of the trade caravans of that and earlier days, which traveled over the Santa Fe Trail from Kansas City, Topeka and other points to the southwest. The wagons used in that business carried 3 or 4 tons and were drawn by 6 yokes of cattle. We can suppose our little band had two or three wagons with two yokes of oxen for each wagon. The wagons were, no doubt, homemade. There were a number of local blacksmiths and wagon makers of that day, among them was Geo. W. Haverstick, father of Chas. W. Haverstick, who lived near Victoria, and who made many wagons that crossed the plains. In the letter above mentioned it is stated that the writer and Mr. Manion left their wagon and double teamed with Frank Williams and got through with one wagon and 4 yoke of cattle. The wagons, of course, were well filled with provisions and bedding, covered with wagon sheets and I can imagine that each one of the party had his trusty rifle and at least one faithful dog to the wagon. The guns served the double purpose of protection from the Indians and providing game to eat. Our group, no doubt, was joined along the way by others who were on a like mission. The letter mentions that they passed many on the way who were carrying their packs on their backs and were begging their way. Perhaps those who were traveling by wagon fell in together and formed a kind of caravan and at night, as was the custom of the trade groups, would form a circle with the wagons as a means of protection from the wild beasts and the Indians. The day’s drive was likely divided into two parts, an early start in the morning and a drive of 5 or 6 miles, then a stop at noon for food and drink and then the afternoon drive of about the same distance. It took them 6 months and 7 days to make the journey and while it is not known just what route they took, they would have had to travel almost directly west a distance of at least 2,000 miles to reach their destination in the Sacramento Valley in California. There were many hardships and dangers and much sickness along the way but only the one death in this group.
Thomas Harbison who went about the same time but not with this band, died of cholera after reaching California. That dread disease was raging at that time and took its toll from among those crossing the plains as well as throughout the entire country. In St. Louis alone out of a populations of some 60,000 about one out of every 10 died of the terrible malady.
I have no information of how Mr. Frost’s letter was transmitted or how long it was on the way. The rush of thousands to California made necessary a quicker transit of the mail. To meet the situation the Pony Express was organized which carried mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to San Francisco, California, a distance of about 1,800 miles. The distance was covered in 8 days. There were 80 riders constantly in the saddle, 40 going each way at the same time. The mail was carried in relays, each rider making 40 or 50 miles and then transferring the mail immediately to another who at the end of his line delivered to the next rider and so on. $5.00 was charged for carrying each letter. When the Pacific Telegraph was completed and began sending messages the Pony Express was abandoned. At the writing of the letter it was stated that Mr. Dover had been sent to Sacrament to lay in winter provisions where the price was cheap compared to that at the mines. Here is a sample of the prices at the mines, pork $1.00 a pound, flour $.75, potatoes $1.50 a pound, corn meal $.50 per pound and the charge for hauling $.50 a pound. Mr. Frost in his letter said that he and my father had been out that day, fixed up their washer, carried the rack, dirt and gravel about 20 yards in a pan and washed out better than an ounce of gold which should be something like $20. While money was plentiful, the going was rough and rugged and in the letter he advised his brothers to stay where they were and that he hoped to return the next fall by water as he never expected to cross the plains again. Living in a tent in a mining camp in all kinds of weather without any of the comforts of home and the association of loved ones was enough to make them homesick and as he said he wished a thousand times that he was back on Jones Creek. He and my father stayed about two years and returned by water and across the Isthmus of Panama. Those were perilous and trying times and it took the greatest courage and fortitude to undertake such an adventure.
It took those pioneers over 6 months to make that journey. Today one can go from St. Louis to San Francisco in 6 hours, which is about 720 times faster than they traveled. I wonder if we today are living over 700 times faster than they did. During the 100 years which have intervened since these pioneers crossed the plains vast and momentous changes have taken place, changes far greater and more varied than all those which took place in the entire history of mankind before that time. If those living at the beginning of the Christian era, nearly 2,000 years ago, could have been brought back to earth in 1849, they would have recognized it as much the same as when they lived. But if Geo. Washington could be brought back here today, he would not recognize this earth as the same upon which he lived a century and half ago.
Scientific research and inventive genius have transformed our manner of living and mode of life in every field of human activity. This has been truly a period of transition, a change from the old to the new. Many material comforts and conveniences and even luxuries have been showered upon us. The improved means of communication and the modern methods of transportation have made us all neighbors and we should be friends. It is a long cry from that day 100 years ago when that little band of pioneers left Grubville on that long and perilous trek to California. But with all the progress and advancement that has been made, perfection has not yet been reached. Disease and crime are still prevalent; ignorance, prejudice, superstition and intolerance are still wide spread. Jealously, envy and greed are still common. Inequality, poverty and want are still to be found among us. Go with me today to the faraway places in other lands and into the big cities, see the little children hungry and ragged living in huts and hovels, in dark and dusty tenements. Children who have never breathed a breath of pure unpolluted air, who have never enjoyed a clear bright beam of sunshine, who have never heard the song of a bird or smelled the fragrance of a flower and as we look into their sad and forlorn faces we realize that all our boasted progress has not brought contentment and happiness to all the people. Strife, selfishness and unholy ambition are still with us. Within the last few decades our nation has been called upon to fight two of the most destructive and devastating wars in the world’s history. Wars which brought death, sorrow and suffering to millions of men and women and which have left in their (aftermath) wake hardships and burdens which will be felt for generations to come. If mankind is to survive on this earth, the 3rd world war must not come. Now, five years after our last war, the nations of the world are earnestly and feverishly striving to perfect an association of nations that will bring us universal and lasting peace. Let us pray that their efforts will not be in vain. Surrounded on all sides by the constantly rising, ceaseless surging tide of unsettled thought and unstable, uncertain conditions, during all these vast upheavals and terrible calamities, in the midst of all the confusion, turmoil and strife, the fundamental principles of human life and conduct have remained firm and unshaken. We must hold steadfastly to those sturdy traits of character which supported and sustained our forefathers, which made them great and noble and which they transmitted unimpaired to us. Brotherly love is just as important, relief of the distressed is just as imperative and truth is just as vital today as they ever were. Faith in God and man must remain solid as the Rock of Ages. Charity must be ever fleet of foot and ready of hand to serve humanity. Friendship, loyalty and devotion must live on. Patriotism, love of home and country must be true and lofty. Honor, integrity and virtue must ever remain unsullied and undefiled. These are the things worthwhile. They are the great unseen realities of life which are the same yesterday, today and forever. They must and they will abide. Let us all hope that these noble virtues may be enshrined in the hearts of men everywhere and that the nations of earth animated and inspired by these lofty ideals may at last find the path that will lead us to the way of peace, that broad highway along which we may all march together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, hand clasped in hand and heart locked in heart until we reach that great tableland of tomorrow from which can be seen the dawn and sunrise of a brighter, a better and a happier day.