Mule-Packing with Ed McIlhany

mcilhany bookIn the spring of 1850, after he had recovered from scurvy, Ed McIlhany relocated with his friends further up the Feather River at American Bar. They found a promising claim and decided to build a “race” to channel the water a quarter of a mile to their diggings. The weather was hot and the work was wearying, so McIlhany hired a substitute at $8.00 a day and went into mule-packing. He preferred being on the move.

We had to have goods packed into the camp from Bidwell’s Bar, and I told the boys that I intended to go to packing instead of working there. They agreed to get me to buy the goods and pack them into the camp, using several mules that belonged to the company. (p. 60)

McIlhany transported goods not only for his company, but for other miners along the river. He added mules and built up a successful packing business. Meanwhile his friends finished their race, and were ready to turn the water into it.

That night the dam broke, gave way, and everything went rushing down the river. The boys had worked so hard and faithfully, that they abandoned the idea of building the dam again and they broke up and scattered to hunt for different mines. (p. 64)

Some of them ended up at Rich Bar. They made a deal with McIlhany to pack supplies in for them, in exchange for a fourth interest in their claim. McIlhany bought supplies, loaded up his mules, and started out up the steep and rocky road to Rich Bar. By the time he got there, his friends were gone; they had sold their claim and moved on.

But McIlhany found that he could always make money packing in supplies to miners. Eventually he built a store at Onion Valley (about 20 miles south of Quincy) and went into the mercantile business, bringing up goods from Marysville.

By that time the mountains were getting full of prospecting miners, coming in by the hundreds, going in every direction, with packs on their backs and some with one mule pack.  (p. 67)

He knew that the prices of goods were high at Rich Bar so he decided to load up his six mules and make trip to Rich Bar.

My load consisted of twenty gallons of whisky in two ten-gallon kegs each. The other five mules were loaded with 250 pounds each of sugar, coffee, bacon, rice, and potatoes and a few other things. Very soon there were buyers to buy my goods. I sold the whisky for $16.00 a gallon, which brought $320.00. The balance of the goods I sold for $2.00 a pound which gave me about $3000.00 in gold dust. (p. 69-70)

McIlhany made $2000-$3000 in gold dust every trip he made with his mules, and he soon had a thriving business. Stay tuned for more adventures of Ed McIlhany!



About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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1 Response to Mule-Packing with Ed McIlhany

  1. Dianne Donoho says:

    Loved this first story about Ed McIlhaney. Will keep reading the rest of his story. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.

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