Oregon City, September 1st, 1852
The weary travelers came upon the first house they had seen since crossing the Missouri River. As the men traveled the road that led to Oregon City, more buildings rose in the distance. Wells pulled back on the reigns stopping his horse as they entered Main street. The town was bustling with activity. Horses, men, woman, and children hurried across the dusty road to their destinations.
On the other side of Willamette River stood a large mill. Main street was full of new settlers, loggers, wailing children, and horses. Several stores supplying the new settlers with goods sat along the boardwalk, which kept people out of the dusty street. Near the center of town stood a log building with the sign that read HOTEL. Wells followed his uncle towards the hotel and took in every smell, sound, and sight. After they had procured a room, they took their horses to the livery down the street. With their horses taken care of, their belongings in their room, they entered the main room of the hotel for dinner.
Real food for the first time in months. No more hardtack or salt meat. The waitress brought out mashed potatoes, gravy, ham, green beans, biscuits, and hot strong coffee. Wells savored each bite, as did his uncle who sat across from him. After eating every last bite, the waitress brought over a plate with a piece of apple pie and refilled their coffee. The aroma of the baked apples and crust reminded Wells of his family and home back in Michigan. Wells sighed and sipped his coffee slowly. He was exhausted, but glad they made it safe.
That night Wells crawled into bed, grateful for a roof over his head as a light rain fell softly on the tin roof. His eyes closed before he could put the lantern out. Uncle David looked at wells before he blew the lantern out. His nephew was asleep in seconds. He shook his head and thought of how grateful he was that they had made it this far with no major incidents. The other two men who had
Uncle David looked at wells before he blew the lantern out. His nephew was asleep in seconds. He shook his head and thought of how grateful he was that they had made it this far with no major incidents. The other two men who rode with them from Michigan had set out to settle in the area and claim land. David said a prayer of thanks while his nephew snored on the opposite end of the small room.
Wells yawned and stretched his arms out as he rose out of bed. Uncle David was reading his morning devotions as Wells prepared for the day. He needed to look for work and see about any recent discoveries of gold. As he tied his worn-out shoes he made a mental note to look at the mercantile to price some new shoes. The men went down to the hotel restaurant to have their breakfast of biscuits, gravy, sausage, eggs, and coffee.
“Uncle David, I’m going to check around town for some work and maybe see if anyone has heard of any gold findings lately”
“Sounds good, I was thinking of looking for work too so we can continue to stay here or at a boarding house until we find a claim.”
“I was thinking of taking a look around town too, and talk to some of the men who have been here awhile to see if they have heard of any gold and if the stories are true. I also need to go to the mercantile to get a few things. Do you need me to pick up anything?”
“I’ll write down what I need. Thanks Wells.”
Uncle David pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil and wrote down the items he needed then handed the note to Wells. The waitress came and cleared their table of the empty plates.
“I’ll see you at supper then.” Wells said as he put his hat on. Wells opened the front doors leading to the boardwalk and main street. Sunshine filled the streets with a warm glow, and a faint mist hovered over the trees that bordered the town on the hills. He looked down the street and saw a sign for a mercantile. A little bell jingled as he stepped into the store. Windows let in sunlight and shelves held every good imaginable. A wood stove sat in the center where some older men played checkers, one of them scowling as his partner jumped his piece. A wood counter sat the left where a middle-aged man with glasses stood helping a customer with their final purchases.
Wells looked at some boots while he waited. He picked up a pair his size and brought them to the counter. The store owner finished with his customer and looked at Wells. “Anything I can help you with?”
“Yes sir, I would like to get these, and wondered if you knew of anyone in town that would be hiring?”
“As far as work, I know there is a farmer by the name of Joe Collins, he is working on clearing land and needs a strong able bodied man for the job.”
“Thank you sir! Do you know where I could find him?”
“I’ll write down the directions for you.” He wrote the directions down and handed the paper toe Wells.
He finished his purchases and headed back to the hotel to trade out his shoes and head to the livery. With the directions in his hand from the store owner Wells rode his mare towards the wooded hills on the outskirts of town. After a thirty minute ride, he came upon a log home with smoke peacefully coming out of the chimney. Wells approached the front door and knocked. A woman with a white apron and gray dress opened the door. She had auburn hair and brown eyes, and a little girl with the same hair but blue eyes stared out from her skirts. “Can I help you sir?” replied the woman.
“Yes Ma’am I was looking for a Mr. Collins? I heard he was looking to hire someone to help clear some land.”
“I am Mrs. Collins, and this is Lizzy, Joe is down past the barn. He will be glad to see you”
“Thank you Ma’am.”
Wells walked his horse past the barn where a man with blond hair was chopping wood. “Hello, Mr. Collins?”
Mr. Collins laid down his ax and came to greet Wells. Blue eyes just like the little girl in the cabin looked at him. “Yes sir that’s me”
“My name is Wells Miller, I was told you were looking to hire a man to help clear a field.”
Mr. Collins shook Wells hand heartily “Why yes I am! Have you ever cleared land before son?”
“My family owns a logging operation and I’ve grown up cutting trees down.” Wells said with a smile on his face.
“When can you start? It will take me two or three weeks to get it cleared.”
“I can start tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow at sunup then.” They shook on it and Wells left with a smile on his face. He wondered if his Uncle had any luck finding a job too. As he slowly worked his way back to town Wells remembered his letter to his family tucked safely in his shirt pocket. He would drop it off on his way to the Hotel.
Looking up to the blue sky filled with white wispy clouds, he thought about home, and what his family was doing right now. His mother and sisters and the younger boys were probably picking apples and storing up food from the garden for the long Michigan winter. His Father was probably chopping wood for the pile behind the house to keep them warm during the long winter months. He wondered if Oregon would be as cold in the winter, and if snow would come as early as November like it did in Michigan.
Oregon city’s buildings came into view. People bustling about, and a wagon train coming in on the road he had been on just yesterday. New buildings were being built, as hammers and men made noise and progress. The stable boy took Well’s horse for him and took the mare to a stall in the back as he headed out to the busy street. He found the post office and paid for the postage on the letters bound for home. His stomach rumbled reminding him it was time for dinner, and he headed to the hotel hoping his Uncle David had found a job too.
Just as he was opening the door to enter the hotel his Uncle slapped him on the back and walked in with him. “There you are Wells! I’m as hungry as a bear in spring time, want to grab some dinner?”
“Dinner sounds perfect to me. How was your job hunt today?”
“I’ll tell you all about it when we get a table”
They scanned the large room with tables and people, spotting an open table near a corner they took their seats. A waitress with two mugs and coffee came over and poured them some freshly brewed coffee. They gave her their orders and wells settled in his chair as she went to refill other customers coffee cups.
“I found a job out on a farm not to far from here clearing land. Should take a few weeks to get the job done.”
“That’s great Wells! With all the building going on here I found a job as a carpenter. I also found out there is a boarding house down the street, it’s less expensive for a room and two meals a day. I figured it would be okay with you so I went ahead and told them we would move over there tomorrow. It’s on the south side of town, but with the extra money we save we will be able to get more supplies for mining.”
“Sounds good to me.”
The food arrived and they dug in. The fresh food was splendid to the two men after months on the trail. It looked like things would work out here for them. Now to figure out where all that gold was.
“GOLD FOUND IN CALIFORNIA” Wells read the headline on the paper he heald called the Oregon Spectator. Finally after three weeks of being in Oregon City, word of new mines with gold had come. Wells carried the newspaper over to where his uncle was working down the street at a shop that was being built. Men hammered nails into wood and yelled commands at each other as he walked towards his uncle.
“Uncle David, do you have a minute?”
“Sure, let me finish this and I’ll be right there”
Wells watched his Uncle measure wood for the door frame he was working on. As soon as he was finished writing down the measurements he walked over to where Wells waited out of the way of the workers.
“Here take a look at this.” Wells handed his Uncle the newspaper that declared gold had been discovered in a new area about 300 miles south of Oregon City. A smile slowly came upon Uncle Davids face as he finished reading the article.
“Looks like we will be heading to California as soon as we can get our supplies ready.”
“I thought that may be what you would think, since my job at the Collins farm is finished I can get our supplies ready while you put in your last day here. We could head out on Saturday, the day after tomorrow.”
“Well I have to get back to work, I’ll tell them I can finish my work day tomorrow. Thanks for the good news Wells! I’ll see you tonight at supper”
David handed Wells the newspaper and walked back to the job site whistling. Wells was just as excited about the thought of getting to the gold country and finally doing what they had traveled so far to do. When he got to the mercantile he purchased everything they would need for the journey. With a promise to pick up everything in the morning, Wells headed out to a shaded spot to write a letter to his sister, with a finished one for his family in his pocket.
We have been told of new gold in California. It is 300 miles south of Oregon City, so we will be leaving the day after tomorrow. I will be sure to write to you as soon as I am able. I hope you are well. I miss teasing my sister, and our walks to the creek. I finished work at the Collins farm yesterday. We cleared a very large field for him to plant crops in next year. It was hard work, cutting down the trees and getting the stumps out of the ground, but I got paid well and the money should keep us going until we find gold. It will also help us buy a claim of our own, Uncle David and I. It rains here often. Sometimes the mist stays all day long and the fog lingers at the tree tops till the afternoon. When it isn’t raining though the days here are pleasant. I’m sure the weather there is cooling down as you get into October. Maybe even some snow here and there. I do miss home, but I am loving every bit of my adventure here. I can’t wait to travel the 300 miles and get to where the gold is. I know not to believe what everyone says about gold being everywhere and so much gold one can pick it off the ground. I know it will be hard work, but I enjoy work. I enjoy seeing progress every day. Like the field Mr. Collins and I cleared. Little by little progress was made until the end when you feel like you accomplished something big. I know you have had lots of work to do there with apple season in full swing, and winter quickly approaching. I miss those delicious apple pies you like to make. And you too of course. Don’t get into too much trouble, and I hope you stay well.
Your Loving Brother,
Wells sealed the letter and walked to the post office to mail them. Who knew where this next journey would take him. But he knew that whatever came his way, he would be ready for it.