Continuing George McKinstry Jr’s letter to Edward Kern, December 1851:
Old Louis Keseberg,* the Donner Party Man-Eater, has made a fortune and is now running a restaurant on K street in Sacramento City. I would like to board there, I wouldn’t.
Pierson B. Reading** is on his farm raising wheat and pumpkins in abundance – I camped on his rancho some six weeks last summer. He was the Whig candidate for Governor but could not make it. It was said his friendship with Captain Sutter cost him the Squatter votes. He has been wounded twice in Bear-Hunts since you left—shot in the hand two years ago and broke his leg badly two months ago. Next time it will be his head if he doesn’t quit. He plans to go to Philadelphia on the 1st of April next and marry; about time I think. . .
Old Snyder and Sam Hensley*** both married. Bidwell too damn prosperous to mention.
After all the death and disaster that befell the Sutter’s Fort “Old Guard” it is refreshing to hear McKinstry say “Bidwell too damn prosperous to mention.” At least someone was successful.
Sam Norris has made two or three hundred thousand, but is reputed hard up and thought to be busted. Sam Brannan, ditto. In fact I could fill up a foolscap sheet with the names of the busted Old Guard in this community, including your humble servant. I purchased the Chico Rancho of old William Dickey, who went to the States or Ireland—I don’t know where the hell he is. Old John Yates**** went to England. Sam Neal† is on his farm; he has built a large frame house and still loves horses—still rides the little grey.
Dr. Bates and his brother made a snug fortune—lost it—gone to practicing again. Old Nicolaus Altgeier made a city on his farm. The city blew up and I think the explosion bent him some.
*So much has been written on the Donner Party disaster that I have never thought I needed to cover it. Whether or not Keseberg was a murderer or a cannibal is still debated.
**Pierson B. Reading came to California in 1844 as part of the Chiles-Walker Party. He owned Rancho Buena Ventura at the site of present-day Redding. (Which is named after him even though the railroad changed the spelling.)
***Samuel Hensley came to California with the same group as Reading. Both men were close friends with John Bidwell, and Hensley’s grant, Rancho Aguas Nieves, lay just south and east of Rancho Chico.
****John Yates was an English sailor who came to California in 1842. In 1845 he was located on Rancho Chico with Dickey. Later he owned Yates Ranch, a few miles south of Oroville.
†Someday I need to write about Sam Neal. His ranch was south of Rancho Chico, where Neal Road is today.
Here is a picture of Sam Neal — who looks like he is being played by Clint Eastwood.
A truly fantastic read, Nancy. Thanks!