Lot 65 of 701:
1850 letter, overland expedition to California gold fields led by a notorious swindler  

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Lot closed - unsold
$300 - $500

Letter about swindler Parker French's 1850 "Express Train" to the California gold fields


New Orleans




Parker H. French. Secretarial Autograph Letter Signed (by S.E.White), New Orleans, May 28, 1850 1pg. + stampless address leaf. To Mutual Insurance Co., Hartford.

About life insurance for one of the 250 “passengers” on French's ill-fated California “Express Train”, a giant scam organized by the most colorful of Gold Rush adventurers - entrepreneur, swindler, bandit, diplomat and California politician. As letters written by Parker French himself are virtually non-existent, this secretarial letter in his name, dated two days before the French expedition left New Orleans for Texas, is an historical rarity

Concerns $1000 “insurance upon the life of Austin Babcock of Cuyahoga Falls. Ohio, who had intended “to visit California by way of Shagress [Chagres], but “has now changed his route and taken passage in French's Express Train overland to California. He thinks this the safest and best route…if his Insurance policy does not provide for his going to California over this route, he wishes….a permit to go to the overland route..He…feels satisfied that on this line the risk is less.”

Both Babcock, later a paper manufacturer in Yuba, and White, who later died of cholera, made it to California – no thanks to 24 year-old Parker French, who cheated his passengers and merchant suppliers out of tens of thousands of dollars, promising a “comfortable and easy” 60-day trip by wagon train across the “gently swelling uplands” of Texas – a nightmare journey of lies, forgeries, blunders, hardships and disasters that stretched to six months for the fortunate survivors who finally reached San Francisco in December 1850. On the way to California, French led a bandit guerrilla band, had gunfights with some of his dupes and with Mexican soldiers, had an arm amputated, and spent more than a year in a Mexican jail; later, he became District Attorney of San Luis Obispo,  published a Sacramento newspaper, joined in the conquest of Nicaragua by “filibuster” William Walker, was arrested during the Civil War as a Confederate spy, and finally drank himself to death. His incredible life overshadows the uncommon, if ill-fated, overland route his unhappy band took on their way to the Gold Fields.

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Very good.

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