Preparing for California

Submitted by Lela Hite Newell
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Written by Mary Fetter (Hite) Sanford
My father, Alexander Hite farmed in Illinois in 1852. My brother Abram was 22 years old and worked for a neighbor for 12 dollars a month, with room and board. Abram heard of the the gold in California and asked our father to help him outfit a wagon for a trip West.

The family decided to all go rather than split up the familly. Alexander asked Abram to wait one year while the whole family got ready to go.

My father sold his horses and bought oxen, horses could not last the long haul and the prairie grasses were to dry for them. He ordered two wagons, they were old and needed a lot of work and painting. One of the wagons was pulled by 2 horses and was for Mother and the littlest kids to ride in. The other was a large wagon to carry all the supplies needed for the trip.  It was about 11 feet long and 4 feet wide, the men placed 3 bows of  hickory on each wagon high enough in the middle so you could walk from end to end, supplies were stored on both  sides, and there were pockets sewn inside the tops for storage of different things. We wove heavy domestic cloth, sewed together by hand in 3 widths to cover the bows, then 2 more were soacked in oil and added to the top to keep out the hot sun and the rain. Out of the same domestic cloth we hand sewed a 9 by 11 foot tent for the men and boys to sleep in.   The children and the women slept inside the wagons.

We packed flour, peas, hard biscuits, cornmeal, dried beef and put sides of bacon in bran to preserve them.  We hired a strong German girl named Doris Rhodovolt, she spoke no English and was hired for 75 cents a week.  Father paid her a dollar a week at the end of the year because she was such a good worker. The family all worked together making dried fruits and vegetables, peas, beans, applebutter, pickles, 5 gallons of vinegar, 5 gallons of  honey, 100 pounds of maple sugar, 5 gallons of butter, coffee beans, tea, and salt.  We wove clothe and made heavy clothes, knitted sweaters, mittens and socks.  Doris could knit one sock a night after chores.

Three young men were hired for 100 dollars and room and board, Bob Mack, James Snyder and Richard Kirkman.  They in turn would help drive the teams of oxen and would have a way to travel to California.

Mother talked to the local doctor and he helped her fill a medicine chest for the trip.   Mostly it was filled with roots and herbs. Cholera, Dipheria, Typhoid and Dysentery were the common illiness of the time.

We started for California, 2 P.M., March 28th, 1853,  4 covered wagons, 2 more haveing joined us,  12 yoke of cattle, 2 milk cows, and several horses.   I was 13 years old.

The first day we traveled only a few miles.  We stayed with our nearest neighbors.  They had a fine feast for all of us and had all 12 of us inside to sleep in their home.  My Sunday school class walked half the way there before saying goodbye.

On day 2- Harrison Hite, father's brother, met us and traveled with us all day, then turned back with a sad face and we never saw him again.

Copyright 1999-2001 Lela Hite Newell; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright must appear with the information.

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