Transcript of a video
presentation by Sara Duke
nearly a decade after the California Gold Rush, gold was discovered at
Pike's Peak in what is now Colorado. Argonauts, or gold miners, were willing
to head almost anywhere for precious metals. Since Pike's Peak was fairly
accessible and railroads were available to hasten the journey west, a great
variety of people, including men and women, were attracted to it. Daniel
Jenks was one of them. "Who is Daniel Jenks?," you might ask
yourself, thinking you have forgotten an important name in American history.
never made it into your history books. He was one of thousands of educated,
literate, middle-class men who migrated west during the gold rush. He was
raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, by a grocer who served as a deacon in
the Baptist Church. Like many young men brought up as evangelical Christians,
Jenks maintained a written account of his life. During his journey west,
Daniel Jenks used his eyes and ears to record frontier life in the pages
of his diaries for the amusement and information of his sisters and parents
back in Pawtucket. These diaries are now in the Elizabeth J. Johnson Pawtucket
History Research Center in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
his text with drawings, both within his diaries and on separate sheets.
The Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has twenty
of these graphite and ink drawings, some of which are enhanced with crayon
and watercolor. Let us use these fascinating resources to share in some
of Daniel Jenks's experiences as he journeyed westward.
28, 1859, Jenks set out by train for Chicago, and continued south to St.
Louis. From there, he traveled up the Missouri River on a steamer. On March
10th, he arrived in Kansas City, where he waited for his friend Loren to
arrive. By March 24th, Jenks received word that Loren was encamped along
the Santa Fe Road with his 18-year-old wife, Lissy, and other traveling
companions. Jenks joined them there, and on March 27th they headed for
the Arkansas River route to the Rockies.
several of the men walked each day, others drove the teams, and Lissy rode
in the wagon. As they traveled along the Santa Fe Road across Kansas Territory,
it was apparent that winter had not yet lost its icy grip. On April 13th,
in the middle of the territory, a snowstorm overtook them along Chavis
Creek. Jenks wrote in his diary: "Had not gotten far before it started
snowing and blowing. Three of us left the teams; and went on ahead. We
were hailed by a stranger who had left his teams to go off the road to
hunt. He had killed a buffalo and wanted us to haul it into camp for him."
found a suitable campsite, except it lacked water. Jenks wrote in his diary:
we must, for Lissy says "Oh dear I know I'm freezing," and
the balance of us felt it if we said nothing. About a mile below the
road in the heavy timber we found a rude log cabin built by the US Mail
Company as a station house for their men in case of such a storm as this.
Sixteen of us slept in this hut this night; and we thanked fortune for
favouring us so much.
people at home, who live a civilized life and have homes to go to when
it storms, who probably never in your life knew what it was to have old
mother earth of a bed and the heavens for a covering, can form no idea
how pleasant it seemed when we first struck a fire in this rude hut;
but it would have astonished you to have seen our crowd pitch into the
buffalo steak that the stranger brought in. We had it in all shapes,
fried, boiled and backed and for once we got a belly full. Such a time
as we did have, sixteen men and one live woman, young and pretty at that,
all hived up in a hut 10 feet square.
his party continued to head west along the Arkansas River. Within a few
days, they met a group coming from Bent's Fort who warned them of Indian
raids on the parties heading west. Tensions were high as tens of thousands
of migrants put pressure on the limited resources of the Great Plains.
Jenks and the other men in his party took turns keeping watch at night
and chose to elude Indian attackers by breaking camp under cover of darkness.
On the plains
between the Arkansas and the Pawnee Fork, Jenks noted, "Last night
after dark we could hear a grand pow wow, amongst the Indians away off
down the creek. They were singing and dancing, beating on their stretched
antelope skin drums, haloring and yelling and in fact making a 'devil of
a din.' As soon as Jud heard it he says boys get the cattle and be quick
about it if you don't want to have a fight; for as sure as you are born,
we must fight or run for it now. Those red devils are preparing for a fight
sure. So we got up the cattle and started as silently as possible out
onto the road again. Travelled all night and all the day till night before
we stopped. Tonight we are camped on a dry gulch, waiting for the moon
to rise to start again."
As they neared
Pueblo, in what is now Colorado, Jenks and his party met increasing numbers
of men disappointed at the lack of gold at Pike's Peak. Several newspapers
and travelers commented on the exodus of the argonauts for the States in
April and May, before the 1859 mining season began. Many of the men were
impoverished from a long winter without income and starving from a lack
of provisions. Disillusioned, Jenks decided to forgo Pike's Peak and push
forward to California.
May 10th, he and his party arrived in Pueblo, where Lissy and Loren rented
a cabin. Jenks wrote, "About dark she gave birth to a boy, and there
was a grand drunk came off in honour of the event. This is the first native
born white child in the Pikes Peak County and its name is Dan Jenks. What
an awfull honour to be sure." The next day he notes, somberly, "My
namesake, owing to its not being able to bear up under its great weight
of responsibility in assuming the name, I suppose, quietly slipt its hold
upon this world and returned to Heaven."
Lissy decided to stay in Pueblo to farm. Jenks purchased their wagon and
divided the provisions so he could move forward with the remaining members
of the party. Jenks went north to Denver where he and his group took on
other passengers traveling west on the California trail. One night, the
Englishman in the party confronted Jenks on the size of America. "My
John Bull wants to know if I had any idea before what a devil of a big
country this U.S. was. Why, says he, there is room enough here for the
world to settle."
moved through what is now Nevada, he encountered a group from Iowa and
Kansas headed toward Oregon. It included antislavery men who had fought
with John Brown in Kansas in 1856. He found the women as rough and fearless
as the men. Jenks agreed to travel with them as far as the road through
Shasta Valley, near Yreka, California, where he intended to settle.
As the party
traveled along the Humboldt River in what is now Nevada, Jenks related
in his diary:
we are encamped at the foot of a mountain we will have to cross to avoid
a bend of the river. Women are scolding, young ones squalling, girls
are singing and some of the men are cursing, around the camp tonight.
It looks like a little town to look down from the mountains where I write
this into our camp.
where the devil did you put my pipe, bawls old Nelse King. None of yer
business, look for it yerself, don't you suppose I have enough to do,
without keeping the run of your traps is the mild reply of sweet Susannah
. . . Solomon Wade, do you come right here and help me cook this "tiger" if
yer want yer supper tonight, and don't be foolin away yer time, loafing
round where yer haint wanted, bawls out the lovely Mrs. Wade . . . and
look off yonder, at the other end of the camp, out in the tall grass,
see how fondly our six-foot lover Abe Jobe, assists Miss Rachel, to milk
As a bachelor,
Jenks himself was courted by several eligible young women.
Jenks and the leader of the Oregon-bound party, Howard Paris, rode ahead
of the teams to select a suitable campsite further along the Humboldt River.
As they watched the arrival of the teams, Jenks conveyed in his diary an
image of agreeable camp life:
awhile they begin to file in and drawing the wagons up in a line on the
banks of the river, the cattle are unyoked as soon as possible and turned
loose to pick their daily allowance of feed. Whilst a part of each company
are thus occupied, the rest are busy collecting wood for the different
fires at the end of each wagon.
fifteen fires are lighted all in a row, and the cooks are busy preparing
our suppers. Those who have women along are well suppered with cooks,
but as for us poor California bound batches, we have to do our own cooking,
although we occasionally get a helping hand from one or other of the
girls. Supper cooked and stowed away, the night guard are called, they
start out collect the cattle and horses up, drive them up to camp, where
they generally lay down around our wagons until daybreak, when the guard
turn them out again to graze.
the guard are sent out, we gather around our fires in groups, and chat
with the girls till bed time, listen to storys of the great Kansas War,
or perhaps, some other train having camped near us for the night, we
get up a dance by the light of the moon. Anyway such a camp as ours,
presents a lively, romantic picture at night.
of bright fires, the white wagon tops glistening in the background, the
large herd of cattle and horses in the foreground, and the groups of
men, women and children gathered around the different fires or scattered
around camp, the singing, laughing and gay talking of the men and girls,
interrupted occasionally by the squalling of some of the numerous tribe
of young ones, take it all in all has to be seen and heard, to be appreciated.
confess there is a romance, a wildness about it that amply repays me
for the many hardships and trials one endures on such a trip. In one
word, I like it. At an early hour, the fires are put out and men, women
and children seek their pile of blankets, spread upon the ground in around
and under the wagons, where we sleep as sound, and awake in the morning
as refreshed, as though we had a bed of feathers, to lie in and a roof
to cover us. I have never enjoyed as good health before.
A few days
later, Jenks parted company with the Oregon-bound party and headed toward
Yreka, California, declining the offer of farming life and presumably a
young bride. He arrived in Yreka on August 25, 1859, where he sold his
stock and began working as a clerk in a grocery store. He soon purchased
a claim on Long Gulch outside of Yreka and began prospecting for gold.
Jenks used his free time to transcribe his diaries and draw pictures of
what he had seen en route. He sent them home to his sister Maria for safekeeping.
A few months later, Jenks sold his claim on Long Gulch at a loss. He then
worked for several years as a clerk for a grain merchant.
never found riches from gold, but worked hard as a laborer in California,
Oregon, and Idaho before returning to Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He died
in 1869, at the young age of 41, still a bachelor. We invite you to explore
the drawings of Daniel Jenks in the Prints & Photographs Division of
the Library of Congress. They offer a unique perspective on the challenges,
hardships, and pleasures of frontier life and provide us with the opportunity
to experience what life may have been like for thousands of "argonauts" journeying
west in search of their fortunes.