John Steele Goes Home

John Steele left California in June 1853, after almost three years as a gold miner. His intention was to land at Acapulco and journey to Mexico City, and then to the Gulf where he could take another ship to the States. He wanted to see something of the country and people, and practice his Spanish. But the day he left San Francisco the papers announced that a military coup in Mexico City had thrown the country into a revolution. It was not a good time to tour Mexico. He took the Nicaragua route instead.

John Steele — photo from

In the introduction to his narrative Steele writes:

Returning to Wisconsin, the author spent some time in study, and was engaged in teaching in southwest Missouri when the Civil War began; joined the Union Army, and at the close of the war became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal church; and is now a member of the West Wisconsin Conference.

This journal, written without thought of publication, has been laid aside through all the busy intervening years. Recently, having occasion to refer to it, the author was impressed with the fact that here was faithfully delineated the everyday life and experience of the average miner, and under conditions which only California, in that early day, could furnish. (p. 117-118)

He spent the last dozen years of his life in Lodi, Wisconsin, where his account was published in 1901 as a 90-page pamphlet. It has become a classic of California Gold Rush literature.

Here are the various incidents, just as they happened: ludicrous, solemn, serious, tragic, inexpressibly sad, but always interesting. (p. 118)

John Steele died in Lodi on October 6, 1905.

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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2 Responses to John Steele Goes Home


    I have enjoyed your John Steele series of posts. As an adjunct to my family research I have read a number of ’49er memoirs and diaries. One of my favorites is that of Jacob Wright Harlen that can be found at
    Harlen was a contemporary of my great uncles that emigrated to California in 1846 (travelling for a short distance with the ill-fated Donner Party) and joined Fremont’s California Battalion that disbanded at San Gabriel after the Mexican War.
    Keep up the good work. Your posts brighten my day when they pop up in my email.

  2. nancyleek says:

    Thanks! That LOC collection is a treasure trove, but I have never read the account by Harlan. Thanks for the recommendation.

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