Lot 60 of 627:
1849 letter, Tennessee 49er in New Mexico, bound for California  

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Lot closed - Sold For (Includes Buyer's Premium):$1,200
$900 - $1,200

Letter, Tennessee 49ers cross the Rio Grande, en route to the gold diggings
New Mexico - Mexican border

Autograph Letter Signed. “Camp on Rio Grande”, July 11, 1849. 3pp.+ stampless address leaf. To his wife, Mary E.A. McEwen, Fayetteville, Tenn.

Early in 1849, 37 young Tennesseans in Fayetteville, near the Alabama border, had formed a company to make their way overland, to California. Farmers, blacksmiths, machinists, clerks, a Doctor, a Presbyterian Minister, even a daguerreotype photographer,  they had elected as leader a lawyer who had been a Major in the Mexican-American War. Governed by their own constitution, each man paying $250 into the company treasury, they left on March 3 with six wagons, 40 mules, six tents, and 2000 pounds of bacon, first traveling from Memphis to Fort Smith Arkansas, the departure point for thousands of adventurous 49ers.  In April, they set out across the Plains –  reaching New Mexico three and a half months later, in mid-June. Two weeks after that, McEwen wrote his wife:


“We have gotten a cross of the Rio grande in safety, we lost nothing in crossing the River. We are all in good health, we are about 150 miles South of SantaFe and ten miles north of Secorah.” The week before, one of his hometown friends had been “expled” from the company by “unaninmous vote” for murdering another man. The outcast had left, heading east “with a company of Traders. I hope he will reach the States in safety…” At Santa Fe they had “got a supply of provisions” from Army stores, “the Commanding officer was ordered by the War Department to supply the emigrants with Provisions at cost…” (10 cents for bacon).That day, they had ridden only 6 or 8 miles as “some of our mules is vary much jaded…” This reminded him of “a little smutta joke” on the clergyman in their group:  “Whilst we was crossing the river several Mexican women came to camp… we pitch our tents near there, one of them fell in love with Marshall and offerd him a mule to sleep with her that night. Several of the company … insisted in Marshall taking up the offer as we needed mules vary much…”  In a month, they expected to be resting at the Pima Village…of Indian[s] as they are vary friendly, we can get supplies of meet and bread stuffs, they are not as savage as the Mexicans… they are the most degraded set of beings on earth worse than any Indians I ever saw…” It was dangerous country and he had no sympathy for two other men who had just voluntarily “withdrew from the company” to make their way westward on their own, “which I would not have done for all the Gold in Calafornia…”

In August, moving across rough, dry terrain, they would come to the edge of the Guadalupe Desert, stop at Tucson to buy mules, cross the Gila River, and then the Colorado River on Sept. 19, where, after the last mule was safely across, one man would die of fever. At last, in October, they would catch a first glimpse of the ranchos, mountains and valleys of southern California. At Los Angeles, the company would divide up, some men sailing by steamship to San Francisco and Sacramento, others continuing by land to the gold diggings, reaching Placerville on December 1 – nine months after leaving Tennessee.

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