“I have not come 20,000 miles,” Yankee trader Franklin A. Buck wrote to his sister Mary on November 25, 1849, “to turn around and go right back again like some persons who have been here and gotten homesick.” Just twenty years old, Buck had left his job in New York and set sail for California the previous January. The young man was one of 40,000 people who traveled to California by sea during the gold rush of 1849. He arrived in the boom town of Sacramento City in October, and along with his partners, Buck opened a supply store. Business was brisk.
“…week before last,” Buck boasted to his sister, “we sold out of our little store $1500 worth of goods. All cash trade in one day. Tell Joseph to beat that…. The flour that I bought in San Francisco for $18 per sack (200 lbs) we sold for $44 and are all out.” As 1849 drew to a close, Buck noted Sacramento consisted of “…over 800 framed buildings, besides the tents.”
Broadcasting his good fortune, Franklin Buck extolled California’s temperate climate. “Today is Sunday,” he wrote. “Gloomy November, probably, with you, but here the weather is splendid, not cold enough to need a fire. Although this is the winter or rainy season it has rained about 15 days out of this month so far.” Despite enthusiasm for his new life, Buck could not conceal his homesickness, and nostalgia for the past crept into his letter:
I should like to be at home on Thanksgiving Day. I suppose you have had or will have one about this time. (Bake me a turnover!) Be sure and write me all about it. I look forward with great pleasure to spending a Thanksgiving with all the family once more in my life…. We were blest, Mary, with the best of parents and a happy home. Probably they were the happiest years of our lives—those that we spent at home.
Franklin A. Buck to Mary Sewall Bradley, November 25, 1849. In A Yankee Trader in the Gold Rush; the letters of Franklin A. Buck, compiled by Katherine A. White. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin company, 1930. “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900
- California as I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900 documents the formative era of California’s history through eyewitness accounts. Explore the collection by browsing the author, subject, or title index. You can also search the collection by keyword. Early California History: An Overview provides an introduction to the era.
- Read additional recollections of life on the frontier by searching American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 and Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 using the keywords pioneer or settler.
- Learn about ranching life yesterday and today. Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945 to 1982 documents a Nevada cattle-ranching community, with a focus on the family-run Ninety-Six Ranch.
- Search Today in History for the names of states like Utah, Kansas, or the Dakotas to learn more about settling the West.