The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

H. G. Ferris
Letters of Hiram Gano Ferris, written from the gold fields of the Sierras and Yreka.

Placerville or Hangtown California
    July 11th 1850
My friends at home
    I arrived in the mines yesterday. We have been 76 days from the Missouri River; had good luck & got all our horses through. Two of them are in good condition & we have just sold them both for 190 dollars. The other horse Lion the white horse got injured on the Humboldt River by alkali and is not worth much.
    I have had very good health not having been sick or unwell to exceed three days. We have put things through endways since we left the States and got here unusually early for overland emigrants.
    As yet I have had little opportunity to ascertain much about gold diggings & the prospect of making money fast. From what I have learned I am satisfied that fortunes are not made in a day even here. There are thousands here who are not a cent better off than when they came here last year. Still there is lots of gold in California and any man who will work hard can make on an average from six to twelve dollars a day with the chances of doing better. The country is full of miners and what the immense overland crowd will do no man can tell. They are bound to see very hard times on the road still harder here--I have got along first rate & have strong confidence as to the future.
    I now expect to go on to the Yuba River but may change my destination. I shall try mining for awhile anyhow and if I cannot succeed try something else. I am not at all discouraged.
    Rose & the boys are not here now. They left this place last March for what is called the Middle Fork--I cannot learn how well he is doing. I shall try to see him but may not as it is exceedingly difficult to find anyone here. I will see him sometime during the fall. I do not know [if] Jabez is with him or not. He left Salt Lake last fall to come to California by the southern route. That is all I have been able to learn about him.
    I shall write you again within a month & will give a full account of the trip, the mines & state of things here &c. &c.
    I am at present in great haste.
Yours Truly
    H. G. Ferris
[Addressed to]
L. T. Ferris, M, D.
    Fountain Green
        Hancock Co.

Centre Diggings, Dec. 29th, 1850.
Mr. Barnett
    (Dr. Sir)
        How do you do, how are times with you; what news have you today? How do politics range in Knox Co., Ill. state, Galesburg and particularly in the state of Cedar Fork? Who is governor this year and what is the course of policy your governor and legislature consider most advisable to pursue towards your querulous neighbors? I know it is very annoying to have an adjoining state continuously quarreling even though it should be, as with your neighbor, that they contend among themselves about a state religion. Such a state of things tends in no small degree to destroy the mutual benefits of commercial relations but to excite and hunt up pretexts for difficulty with an adjoining state whose citizens have been cultivating the arts of peace and by industry & good government enjoying and even progressing in happiness, while the inhabitants of the other have been "flunkeying it" for their leaders and contending to permanently get the biggest bone for their (Rev.) hero. This condition of things though unpleasant and tending in some degree ferment difficulties in your own quiet & happy state will have to be endured until by overt acts depredations upon your own soil & commerce give your legislative council sufficient cause to take the matter seriously into consideration and either take them into your own care & keeping and enjoin religious contentions (as indeed I believe your state constitution has already done) or drive them out, establishing peace and good order "where confusion reigneth." But let this be a dernier resort. It might contaminate your people--I have the fullest confidence in the wisdom, prudence, discernment and integrity of your Executive and Legislative councils and the intelligence of your [people] and therefore shall not suffer myself to become uneasy during my absence in a foreign country believing you will be found fully adequate to any emergency that may arise.
    California is a real country and about there being gold here in considerable quantities there is no humbug. But it is a very great mistake if anybody believes chat one fourth who come here to make more money will go home as well off as they came. The reasons for this are obvious to anyone here who has had an opportunity to know the real state of things as well as to many well-informed men at home. Three fourths of those who come are not fit or calculated for the country or for effecting the object for which they came. People in the States do not and, I fear, will not or cannot understand the true condition of things in California.
    There is no doubt but gold is abundant in this country. But the difficulties of getting possession of much of it honestly & fairly is the rub. It requires uncommon industry & perseverance as a general thing to succeed. A man should have the perseverance of an ant and the constitution of a mule. A man easily discouraged or one who is in the habit of having the blues at all will not do. He must pack over mountains, brave every danger & hardship, fatigue & labor and then not give up but be willing to do it again & again. He is subject to the accidents of a mountain life, robberies & sickness unattended by true friends, for God only knows who will be true in this country and run the risk of sinking into the grave among strangers, neglected, unmourned & unknown.
    Vice & crime I believe abounds more in this country than any other civilized state on the globe. Gambling of every sort, drinking & whoring are common in every city, town & village in California. The two former are practiced very generally all over the country whether in towns or cities or out of them. Every inducement is presented and allurement offered to lead the weak-minded & all others who have not real bone & stamina of character into it. Thousands who in the state would do very well are led into it & fall, irretrievably fall; for no one who travels far in that direction retraces his steps. A man who cannot refuse & when solicited too far knocks the man down who presumes to do it is not secure from these vices. Besides all this a man who is healthy in Ill. or the western states may not enjoy his health here. The process of becoming acclimated removes thousands from this world's troubles. The dysentery which prevails here is of the same character of that which proved so destructive among our soldiers in Mexico. It is very difficult to manage.
    Under all these circumstances I would advise no man to come. Every man of a family ought most certainly to remain with it, and nine out of ten of all others would do much better to stay at home. The same persevering energy & industry which is absolutely required to succeed here would ensure any man a competency at home. But should anyone conclude to come I would say from what I can learn about both routes that it would be far better to come by the Isthmus than overland.
    As for myself I had first-rate luck on the journey both in health & with the team, and since I arrived here I have traveled over the country a good deal & had a good opportunity to know about the mines and the state of things here generally. I have made some money & am not [at] all disposed to grumble at bad fortune. I shall remain in Cal. another year. My health is first rate. I never was so stout & hearty in my life.
    D. D. Colton, who crossed the plains with me, is in Oregon. He went there sometime in Oct. last.
    John Colton is here, well & hearty, a good fellow, anxious to hear from home & wishes you not to forget to answer his letters. J. H. Notewan did not come to see him although he might have done it just as well as not. He don't know how to understand that. He receives no letters from the [illegible].
    Notewan & B. Carpenter have recently started home. They will tell all sorts of yarns. Be careful & not believe too much of what they say either about what they have made or what others have made. Carpenter is a very great liar & you cannot believe him "even when he does speak the truth." Neither of them know what I have made and I presume it is so in reference to others, for in the country it is not customary for a man hardly "to let his right hand know what his left hand doeth."
    L. Clay, Mecum, Croscup & Davidson are on Feather River near Hangtown. I don't know how well they have done.
    I saw your brother J. H. Barnett in Oct. last at Goll's diggings on the south fork of Feather River. He was at that time well, although he thought there were some symptoms of the scurvy hanging about him. He said he had not been lucky this summer & was not certain whether he should return this winter or not. He was in good spirits and gladly embraced the opportunity of talking of his friends & acquaintances in the Sucker State. He says he would not advise you to come to California, We perfectly agreed on that point. It is doubtful whether your health would be benefited. It might be still more impaired. He was then en route from the North Fork of Feather River & Nelson Creek for a place at which to winter. I was also coming down from the same mines when we met. I do not know where he stopped.
    I am at present situated near Coloma on the South Fork of the American, 50 miles from Sacramento City in El Dorado Co., Cal. The dry diggings have not turned out much this winter on account of the scarcity of rain. There has not been enough water on the hills generally to wash out gold. We are expecting the rains to commence every day.
    I presume you have ere this heard of the death of N. O. Ferris. He died about a month ago of the dysentery & an enfeebled state [of] health brought on by a broken leg which never got well [enough] for him to walk on it. I attended his funeral. Before his death he requested that he should be buried in Masonic style. The Masons turned out & buried him in due honors with the usual solemn & sublime ceremonies.
    I have much more that I would like to write but I believe the foregoing with something rich which I am going to put on‘a separate slip of paper will be as [much] as you would like to be troubled with at once.
Yours Truly
    H. G. Ferris
J. S. Barnett, Esq.
        Knox Co. Ill.
Write to me immediately on the receipt of this and direct to Sacramento City, Cal.
I wish you to write particularly as to whether there will be much of an emigration next spring. On this subject I feel very much interested.

Shasta Butte City, Cal.
    Dec. 27th 1851
My dear friends at home
    I received your letter (written by Thompson) dated Fountain Green June 11th about one week ago. Although it was a long time getting to me still it was very welcome.
    I might as well in the first place tell you where I am. This place is above the headwaters of the Sacramento River near the northern line of Cal. and about 400 [sic] miles from Sac. City. There is no mail carried nearer to this place than Shasta City, a place midway between this and Sac. City. [Shasta City is 37 miles from Yreka, and 219 miles from Sacramento.] Hence we have to get our letters by private conveyance from below. The mines here were not discovered until last spring and since May last this town has been built containing 30 stores or more of different kinds. It is built in a beautiful valley among the mountains and nothing can be brought here from any other place but Oregon except on pack mules. Still our principal supplies are brought from Sac. City. It is also 400 miles from Oregon City. They do come here with wagons from Oregon but [it] is very difficult to do so on account of the mountains.
    I suppose we are not over 150 miles from the coast but awful mountains are between.
    I came here in August last and since the first of Sept. have been mining within 2½ miles of this place--have done well better than I have ever done before in Cal. in the same length of time. Although as yet I have made no big strike. I have not yet fully determined whether I [will] remain here during the winter or not. Shall settle the question in a few weeks and when I do conclude where I will stop for the winter (as I have already determined to stay in the mines until spring) I will inform you. It is my opinion the mines about here are very good and if I can strike fair "prospects" I shall remain here during the winter. It will take about two weeks to finish my present diggings.
    I wrote to Dr. Griffith from Sac. City on my way up here. If he gets that letter he will know all about matters & things at Cold Springs. When I was at Sac. City I tried to find Solomon to have him come up here with me but could learn nothing of or concerning him. I have heard nothing from nor have not seen any of F. Green boys since Dr. G. left. My old partner Wm. G. C. R. Deardorff left two weeks ago for Oregon. So you see I am comparatively among strangers. But nevertheless I feel very much at home--in fact I can feel at home any place almost if I am only getting the dust but slowly. I would like to get it fast but shall henceforth content myself with Congress wages if I cannot do better. I have a claim on a quartz vein about 40 miles from this place. But the vein has not been tested thoroughly yet. It may turn out to be worth something pretty fine and it may not be worth working. At all events I shall not [spend] much money on it until I find by the experiments of others who have claims that it will pay. If it should turn out good it will be worth a pretty fair pile. But I don't dote much upon it.
    A great many men are making big fortunes in this country from the quartz. Some lose all they have by going into it too hastily.
    I have the money which I might send to J. M. Ferris to be loaned out as you suggest, but I suppose the [chance] had passed before I recd. your letter. Besides, [it] would take me a month to go to Sac. City to attend to getting a draft. Under this state of circumstances I know of no other way but to let that chance slip [as] far as I am concerned at least.
    It is still my intention to return to Ill. next spring. I may not start before May--I am anxious to go home in time so that I can see you all once more at least alive & well--I am glad to hear of the improvements in F. Green--I cannot write you a very long letter this time as it is now late. I got onto my mule at the camp after dark & came here to write you this letter tonight. Now you have what I have had time to write. So goodbye for the present.
Yours Truly
    H. G. Ferris
My Friends at Home
    F. Green, Ill.
I have written several letters after those which this letter of yours answers.

[Postmarked Peoria, Illinois, Feb. 4; addressed to]
L. T. Ferris, M, D.
    Fountain Green
        Hancock Co.
Per Mr. Wm. McCallister
who goes to Henry Co., Ill.

Shasta Butte City, Cal.
    Jan. 11th 1852
My Friends at home
    The last letter which I have recd. from any of you was written by Thompson in June of last year. I recd. it in Nov. last and answered it a few days after. And as I do not hear from you in any way, believing you still feel some interest in me and occasionally "send a wish or a thought" over this way, I have concluded [to] not let the fact of not receiving letters from home keep me from writing. I have concluded to remain here this winter & spring--perhaps longer--how much God only knows. In my letter of Nov. last I wrote you much about this region of country, mining here &c. &c. and hence shall endeavor not to repeat, presuming that has been recd. In regard to return to Ill. next spring as I have heretofore uniformly written, my intentions are changed. The principal reason of this alteration of purpose is this: viz., I have become considerably interested in quartz mining, hence it will be necessary for me to remain next summer if not longer. You all know my leading purpose in coming to Cal. was to make money and I now for the first time since I arrived here confidently believe that my most sanguine expectations are about to be realized. But I must remain here, at least long enough to get things fully in operation. I base this calculation on the fact that I have two quartz leads, that is, claims, on two both of which are well situated and I believe them to be rich. A claim is 150 ft. along the vein. These Q. leads pay as follows so far as they have been tested: the first which I found from 25 cts. to $1.00 to the lb. This vein is a little over one foot thick running down no one knows how deep. The other found by a friend it is believed will pay over 12 cts. It is four feet thick, furnishing an inexhaustible amount of quartz. Both are situated near constant and easy water power. Several others own claims next to mine and we have organized com. to introduce machinery & work the vein in compy. And I have money enough to bear the burden of this matter (that is, my share) & get it fairly going. It has been found by actual experience in Cal. that Q. which will pay 3cts. to the lb. will richly pay for working with machinery at Cal. prices for labor. Upon these facts I have fixed my "confident belief." I admit the possibility of a failure but not the probability if I live & have my health.
    I have not written this with any other intention in the world than that you should know my real prospects and as they seem to be flattering at present some may chink that I boast. Therefore I don't want the contents of this letter put into everybody's mouths. Let my friends see it such as will not blab & none other.
    I am mining this winter--making from three to eight dollars per day--have first-rate health and [a] good, intelligent & moral set of men to be with. You are acquainted with none of them except D. D. Colton, the young man who crossed the plains with me.
    I can give you no information concerning Solomon, Hopkins, Rose, McGee, the Wrights or anyone else of the F. Green boys but the subscriber. There is another Hiram Ferris in this part of Cal. from Ill., Mercer Co. He is not [of] much account--badly in debt--no kin of course.
    I am as Democratic as ever although I am not very well posted up in the political events of the day. You may all rely upon it that Cal. is & will continue to be a Democratic state. Oregon is also Democratic to [the] core.
    Direct to me at Shasta City, Shasta Co., Cal. That is the nearest P.O. although it is 150 miles off. [Shasta City is 37 miles from Yreka.] However I shall have no difficulty in getting your letters from there or Sac. City.
Yours Truly
    H. G. Ferris
John M. Ferris
    F Green, Ill.
P.S. I think I shall have some items of interest to write you in the spring in relation to other matters. H.G.F.
    Give my compliments to Tyler, Dr. Griffith & Stevenson. I am anxious to hear from Father & Mother often.
O when shall I see you all again.

Yreka Cal., Feby. 6th 1855
Dear Father
    On the first day of Jany. last I enclosed and forwarded to you a draft for $100 as a New Year's present--and I herewith enclose the second of exchange of the same. If the first reached you this of course will be valueless--but if not you can draw the amount on this. I did not know what else to send so easily nor of anything that would be a better testimonial to its value.
    I also then wrote a short letter in which [I] stated that I had not recd. a line from any of my friends in Ill. for more than six months past. Nothing has yet reached me. My opinion is that they have quit writing. What is the reason? It has always been a source of peculiar pleasure to receive letters from my friends and acquaintances in Ill.--and especially from my relatives at home. It would still be the same, but present appearances indicate that I shall no longer be gratified in that way--I fear that something has happened.
    I am well--and I may say in prosperous circumstances, have firmly resolved to take care of what I have as well as possible--enjoy it--and not take doubtful chances in business or speculation. But I shall be compelled to remain in this country some time longer--cannot say how long.
    I have no news for [omission] from Solomon or Jabez. I recd. a letter from Rose some 3 or 4 weeks ago. He was near Nevada when he wrote--and spoke of his intention of coming into this part of the country in the spring. I do not know whether he drinks hard yet or not. Patrick Wright is near here--at work for about $80.00 or $90 a month.
    Times are said to be hard here now--money scarce, some breaking, changing, &c. This is in consequence of not having rain to facilitate mining operations. Every other branch of business and trade is dependent upon the mines. We have had a very dry winter and lots of fine fair weather. But a few weeks rain will infuse new life into business, trade and enterprise--and all things will rush on again headlong.
    Remember me to all friends and acquaintances and say to them that I would be very much pleased to see & talk to them--and that I still indulge the hope of doing so at no very distant day--and believe me ever
Truly your Son
Stephen G. Ferris
    Fountain Green
        Hancock Co.

Yreka City, Siskiyou Co., Cal.
    March 5th 1854
Mr. S. H. Tyler Jr.
    Dear Sir:
        Last week I received a letter from Thompson dated at F. Green Dec. 14/53 from which I learn that for some time previous you had been enjoying poor health. And upon reading it I resolved to write to you first of any of my numerous friends in Ills.
    And first I will venture to express the opinion that a trip across the plains to this country would cure you--I most sincerely believe it would; having known a good many cases of weak and infected lungs which the journey entirely cured. One is that of John Warren of La Harpe. When he left this place on his return home I made him promise to go to F. Green and tell you all about the effect the journey had on him--and also that it was my opinion that it might thoroughly restore you to sound health--and make you fat. If he complied with his promise you will have known my views on this subject before this letter reaches you.
    The effects of the journey upon that character of diseases seems to be uniform--a cure in almost every case--and were I in your place I would try it if I did not get effectual relief, soon, in some other way. Sound health would be worth to you more than a dozen such trips would cost--money, time and fatigue are nothing in comparative estimation with health. Come by water if you can't by land. A year or two spent among these mountains I think would cure you anyhow. I say try it--if you have not recovered when this reaches you. The chances of a favorable effect are worth taking.
    But should you have recovered--as I hope to God you have--then I don't insist upon your coming. Do as you please, but I do believe you would not regret a year spent in Cal. even under such circumstances. What say you to it? I will meet you on Humboldt or at San Francisco if I can know when you will be at either place. Let me entreat you to take some decisive measures besides the use of medicine. I well know you can nowhere have kinder attention or better medical attention aid shown you than at home. But you must leave that climate awhile and put yourself amid different scenes and different excitement. Should you come here you will by no means be away from all your friends. I know one who will be happy to render you every aid and attention. And that individual is by no means scarce of friends such as are "good and true." Should you come by water I would advise the Nicaragua route.
    The manner of living in Cal. now is quite different from what it was three years ago. All the necessaries and luxuries of life can now be had here at comparatively moderate rates. No one need to vary from his choice in good things to eat. But you can scarcely imagine how great the differences in appearance between this country and Illinois. Everything seems changed. But after a short residence a person can see that the country has some attractive qualities besides its gold. Come, for your health, and see.
    It would afford me very great pleasure to return and visit you and the rest of my relatives and friends in Ill. All whom I would care much about seeing are in Hancock County. But at present circumstances are such that I must forgo that great satisfaction. Nor can I now even guess when I shall visit Illinois.
    This country seems to me very much like home. Still I must & will if I live, see Ill. again.
    Patrick Wright is at work driving team at a sawmill about 5 miles from this place. He gets $100 a month and found. He has been at the same place since last fall and will probably continue there at the same wages. He is steady & saves his money. I know nothing of Seborn or Simon--suppose they are in the lower country. Nathan BurtonBond has been here about one month--and is now at work for me on my ranch in Scott Valley about 23 miles from this place. John Burnham is also at work on it and Geo. Smoot, a young man who came to the country with John Warren, carries it on for me. I know nothing of the whereabouts of Solomon, Jabez or Rose. I recd. letters from Rose early in the fall, inquiring whether he had better come into this part of the country and answered immediately informing him that I would like to see him and that he might do well here if he would not drink but that I did not want him to come if he had not concluded to remain a sober man. Have not heard from him since.
    As for myself, I have but little to say. I generally enjoy good health--always keep in good spirits sick or well--am doing well, enjoy myself well and am well pleased to subscribe myself with much respect your
Sincere Friend
    H. Gano Ferris
To S. H. Tyler, Jr.
    Fountain Green, Ill.
    My respects to Francina, Father, Mother--& all the rest--not omitting but particularly remembering A. W. Stevenson.

Yreka, Siskiyou Co., Cal.
    June 27th, 1855
My Dear Sister Francina: 
    Your letter dated Mar. 11th/55 arrived at this place during my absence at San Francisco. I left here about Apr. 24 & returned the last of May. When I got back I found your letter also one from Thompson dated March 18. Although they contained the mournful news of the death of Mr. Tyler Jr. still I was glad to see them.
    I deeply sympathize with you in this your great bereavement. The ways of Providence are indeed wonderful & past understanding, but wise & good. All who live must die--all are hastening to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. And this unavoidable certainty should not be foreign to our thoughts while yet health & life lasts. Our lives are truly checkered scenes, diversified with good & ill, joy & sorrow, success & disappointments, continually succeeding & to succeed each other until the end--and then may we reasonably entertain a bright hope of a glorious immortality of unending happiness?
    I know you have many good friends & advisors to sustain & befriend you. Your own good judgment will direct you in a course of life & conduct that will always secure such friends.
    I greatly regret your loss & mine in the death of Mr. Tyler. I had hoped again to see & converse with him. He certainly had many estimable qualities. When in health [he] possessed superior business capacities, industry & enterprise, a kind heard & generous nature. As for foibles he would have been more than human if he had none. Let them not be forgotten & let us remember & cherish his good qualities and deplore his early death.
    I am not surprised at the unkind & wanton conduct of the old lady, Stephen's mother. Her soul seems wrapped in sordid, bigoted, hypocritical selfishness. I do not remember of a kind word or act from her towards Stephen or yourself. Do not let such persons or such conduct disgust you towards that true religion & virtuous life, with the cloak of which they attempt to cover & conceal their enormities.
    I have no particular news to communicate. My health is uniformly good, and I am still doing quite well. I have by no means given up the hope of visiting my friends in Ill. at no very distant day. I intend to see you all as soon as I can get my affairs in a proper shape to leave for a year--or close out here altogether.
    I know nothing of the whereabouts of either Solomon, Jabez or Rose. David V. Gilchrist is in this neighborhood. He is a sober, industrious boy & I think he will do well. Patrick Wright & one of his brothers are also near here. Pat has done quite well. I do not know whether the other has made anything or not.
    If I knew where Solomon was I would write to him. I saw Dr. Barnes while I was in San Francisco. He lives in Petaluma Valley, about 50 miles across the bay from the city.
    Remember me to our relatives all & to Stevenson & all other friends.
    I hope Father & Mother has gone east for a visit this summer. I am willing to furnish some money should debts be incurred on acct. of their visit. Give my love to them--and believe me
Your Affectionate Brother
    H. G. Ferris
    Mrs. Francina R. Tyler
        Fountain Green
            Hancock Co.
Hiram Gano Ferris Papers, Bancroft Library Mss. C-B 307. Transcribed from photostats in the collection of the Siskiyou County Museum. The Bancroft holdings include Ferris letters not transcribed here.

Death of a Prominent Man.
    Hiram G. Ferris, president of the Hancock County National Bank at Carthage, died at the age of 73 years. He had been in failing health for several months. Mr. Ferris had lived in Carthage since 1832. In 1864 he organized the bank, of which he has always been president. He was mayor a number of terms, had always been one of the leading men in educational and financial affairs of the city, and a Royal Arch Mason since 1850. He leaves a wife and eight children.
Belvidere Standard, Belvidere, Illinois, September 6, 1893, page 3

Last revised May 10, 2022