William B. Lorton the the Goldfields

It’s a shame that William B. Lorton’s California journals are lost. He was such a lively and candid writer — I am sure his tales of adventures in the goldfields would be a delight to read. Unfortunately they are lost in the sands of time.

We do get a glimpse of Lorton in northern California from the journal of another gold seeker — Dr. Charles R. Parke of Pennsylvania. Parke and his company had taken the northern route and arrived at Sacramento on September 15, 1849. They went north to mine on the Feather River and staked their claim “5 miles above Bidwell’s Bar and half a mile above Oregon Bar.” (quoted in Troubadour on the Road to Gold, p. 279.) They called their claim Union Bar; the location is now under Lake Oroville (or maybe not, with this dry year).

William Lorton arrived in the spring of 1850, as recorded in Parke’s diary, and met up with his cousin David Cairnes.

May 8. Dave Carns accidentally met his cousin today. He left Illinois last year in the Holt [Knox] Company train. Arrived in Salt Lake last summer, where they spent six weeks, sold their oxen, and bought mules and horses, and with a guide took the South Trail for California with one hundred horses. Thermometer today stand 900 in the shade.

Lorton had some good tales to tell.

May 15. Mr. Lorton (Carns’ cousin) entertained us today with many anecdotes about the Mormons.

And he hadn’t lost his musical talent.

June 8. Had some fine vocal music last night from Mr. Lorton, reminding me of home.

A week later some of the men went off seeking the fabled “Gold Lake” but failed to find that phantom source of riches. Parke, Cairnes, Lorton and the rest of the Union Bar Company built a dam to divert the middle fork of the Feather River. All their hard work yielded a poor return, so they left for Sacramento.

September 6. Left Feather River in August in company with Capt. Sampson and Wm. B. Lorton and came to this city where I have been loafing until a few days ago . .

Dr. Parke practiced medicine for a few months and then returned to the States. Lorton stayed on in California until 1853 or ’54, when (according to his obituary) he returned to New York City “with a handsome fortune.” He went into the business of making clocks. He planned to turn his journals into a book, but never completed the project. (Too bad!)

William B. Lorton died in 1893.

Here is a sketch he made of himself in the goldfields, all skin and bones and bushy hair.

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 William B. Lorton the the Goldfields

  1. Charles Smay says:

    Have enjoyed your posts from Lorton’s diary. Was sad when I learned he went to Southern California. Was selfishly wishing he was headed to the Feather River, or even Bidwell’s Bar! Then this latest post containing data from Parke’s diary finally places him and others in Butte County and on the Feather River. Sounds like Lorton was early enough in the gold rush so he did well in his mining adventure. Parke’s success was not so fortunate, except he was able to make it back home and tell of his adventure. Glad you located and share this interesting information.

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