More Tales from the Mines More Tales from the Mines
. Maximize Web VisitExperience Gold Rush (Shockwave)Onsite Adventures (QTVR)Gold Rush QuizMore Tales from the Mines
Gold Fever! The Lure and Legacy of the California Gold Rush 

Art of the Gold Rush: Painters and Prospectors 

Silver & Gold: Cased Images of the Gold Rush 

Alternate Pathways

spacer.gif (46 bytes)

New Orleans to San Francisco in '49

Family Information

By Russell Towle 

New Orleans to San Francisco in '49 describes a tragic journey to California by the Ferguson family. Their names are never given. The father was named William Ferguson; his wife, Marsalette (LeFevre) Ferguson; the eldest son, Aaron A. Ferguson, was proprietor of the Dutch Flat Opera House from ca. 1872-1903. The author, Tabetha (Ferguson) Bingham, was the eldest daughter, followed by Mary T. Ferguson, Martha E. Ferguson (who married, in 1859, Ellsworth Burr Boust, editor of the Dutch Flat Enquirer from 1860 to 1868), John William Ferguson (who took over the Enquirer from Boust, and moved the paper to Truckee, then Fresno, where it was known as the Expositor), and Sarah Ann Ferguson. Sarah died in 1849 while on board a refitted Peruvian whaler, the Callao. 

The senior Mr. Ferguson was a giant of a man, the better part of seven feet tall. He suffered from rheumatism. He knew a member of Fremont's expedition to California in the middle 1840s. This man would always tell Mr. Ferguson, "Go to California; that's the climate which will cure your rheumatism." So, when gold was discovered, the decision was made. It had already been contemplated for a few years. 

The Fergusons freed their slaves and left. 

The eldest son, Aaron, went immediately into the Sierra and mined gold, upon the family's arrival in July 1849. The mother, Marsalette, stayed in San Francisco with the other children. She raised her children well, providing them all with excellent educations, somehow. 

Aaron mined on the Mokelumne and later near what would be known as Malakoff, on the San Juan ridge in Nevada County. By 1859 he was at Iowa Hill in Placer County. There his mother and sisters and brother joined him. His sister Martha married Ellsworth Burr Boust. He was the editor of the Iowa Hill Weekly Patriot. He printed up marriage announcements for his wedding on the press, and sprinkled gold dust on the pages so the gold would become embedded in the paper and ink. A descendant still has one of these announcements. Boust was quite an interesting fellow in his own right, a teenage veteran of the Mexican War, he had been discharged in Los Angeles in 1847 and returned in 1849 by the Santa Fe trail. He was a gambler and a sheriff and was on a posse which pursued Joaquin Murieta. 

He had the good luck to marry beautiful Martha Ferguson, 17 years old. They had eight children. One of their granddaughters is still alive. The Bousts and Aaron and the rest moved to Dutch Flat in 1860. Martha was a frequent (almost always unattributed) contributor to the Dutch Flat Enquirer. I have copies of a number of her articles and letters. 

The mother, Marsalette, cast bullets during the Battle of New Orleans in 1810 or something, when she was about ten years old. The father was also distinguished in some battle or another. 

The Dutch Flat Opera House was the largest building in Dutch Flat, and if occasion arose for the whole town to meet at once, it met there. There the memorial service for Lincoln was held. The leading performers of the day performed there. Mark Twain lectured there. In about 1870 the dance hall began to be used also for a roller skating rink. Roller skating was very popular in Dutch Flat in the 1870s and later. Aaron was proprietor for many years. 

Aaron married a woman from another fascinating family. His mother-in-law was a professional musician from Germany. Aaron and his wife had three daughters, actually they had many other children, but the rest died very young. Aaron and his wife were not only special friends to the Chinese of Dutch Flat, but to the teenagers, and it was funny kind of open house they kept in their big old decrepit Opera House home. Lots of singing and music.

Remarks Upon the Ferguson and Boust Families

By Wadyne Bussey Lindberg 

I am the granddaughter of Ellsworth Burr Boust and Martha Elizabeth(Ferguson) Boust, both 49ers. The Overland Monthly article, by mygreat-aunt Tabitha, describing the journey of the Fergusons from Louisianato San Francisco in 1849, has been the subject of much discussion among hersiblings, who had first-hand knowledge of the events, and theirdescendants. As must always be the case, there are some matters ofdisagreement about what "really" happened. For my own part, I wish to offersome corrections and additions to the postscript of Russell Towle. 

1. My mother said Grandmother, her siblings, and their mother, oftendiscussed Aunt Tabitha's printed article about the journey to California in1849. They agreed she had forgotten the facts of many things and that insome instances, was too sick to be present to see and know the occurrencesshe reported in the article. The last five years of my mother's life (shedied at 96, sharp of mind), she was so concerned over Aunt Tabitha'spublication, she spent a great deal of time typing up, hunt and peck, thoseinstances about which Grandmother (Martha Elizabeth) told her. 

2. About William Ferguson: After a friend who had been to California withFremont wrote of the marvelous climate there and its healthy attributes,when news of the gold discovery finally reached Ferguson he was determinedto leave for there immediately with his family. 
With the intent to leave immediately for the gold-fields, where gold justlay around on the ground everywhere, he rushed around raising ready cashand putting his plantation in the care of a friend, and freeing some slaveswhile allowing the rest to choose their new masters and homes. His idea wasto make a two-year journey to get his health back, meanwhile the childrenwould enjoy themselves by picking gold up off the ground. 

Within days they were staying with a Lefevre sister (William'ssister-in-law) in New Orleans, none of whose family spoke English, nor didthe Fergusons speak French. With New Orleans under siege by cholera andmeasles, all the family became ill, except Marsoleet and 5-year-old MarthaElizabeth. The father, William Ferguson, had rushed around, makingarrangements for their passage and buying up the lumber, windows, andfittings for building a six-room house in California. While waiting twoweeks to embark for Panama, he too became ill. Stubborn as he was, heinsisted they must continue with his plans. He was carried aboard thePanama-bound steamer and never walked again, dying halfway across theIsthmus and forcing his wife to promise on her oath not to return home.Almost seven feet tall, he was buried in the coffin his 19-year-old sonAaron made from one of the packing crates. All the building materials hadto be left at the port of Colon. 

Residents of the small village near where he died were fearful of choleraand smallpox, and refused to let the family enter the town, so they tarriednear it for over a week until his death, on the banks of the Chagres River.On finally reaching the Pacific port of Panama City, they were forced towait there almost a month due to the enormous crowd of men waiting forpassage to San Francisco. 

3. In San Francisco, with their large amount of money for the journeyalmost gone because of delays and price-gouging on the trip, Widow Fergusonbought a tent on Nob Hill, to house her family and to serve meals to eagermen without families to prepare their meals. The children attended thefirst American school in San Francisco. Martha Elizabeth rode in the firstFourth of July parade there, guest of her future stepfather, ArthurMatthews, one of the volunteer firemen. 
Marsoleet's new husband was an assayer. In a year or so, because offrequent fires in San Francisco, he moved his new family to a farm whereOakland now stands. Later, the state capitol having been moved to Benicia,he moved them there because of his assaying duties. Later, for the samereason, he moved them to Iowa Hill where he assayed the gold the minersfound. His wife, Marsoleet, took in boarders-roomers, one of whom wasEllsworth Burr Boust. 

4. E.B. Boust owned several newspapers before the one in Dutch Flat. Beforethat one, he had worked on papers in the Sacramento and Marysville areas (Ibelieve, but would have to look it up), and was putting out the "WeeklyPatriot" in Iowa Hill when he met and married Martha Elizabeth Ferguson in1859. Boust was boarding and rooming in the Iowa Hill home of her motherand step-father, Arthur Matthews, a gold assayer. In 1860 He and Marthamoved to Dutch Flat. 

While publishing the "Dutch Flat Enquirer" in Dutch Flat, he startedanother newspaper in Meadow Lake, the "Sun," going there with his familyfor periods at a time. Their baby daughter died of diptheria there. 

After the Bousts married, her young brother, John Ferguson, about 14, cameto live with them. Boust taught him the printing trade and, on leaving in1868 to publish another paper in Santa Barbara, left his press with John,rather than ship it at exorbitant cost to Santa Barbara where he'd bought apress. It was said this Dutch Flat press was one which John took to Fresno,where he published the "Expositor." 

E.B. Boust owned a large cemetery plot in Dutch Flat and buried the littledaughter there. Subsequently, when several of brother-in-law Aaron 'schildren died of diptheria, all at same time, E.B. Boust gave Aaronpermission to bury his children in the plot. In time, since Aaron'schildren were there, the plot was known as the Ferguson plot. He surroundedit with an iron fence, leaving the Boust baby's grave outside the coping. 

5. The gold dust on the newspaper print, announcing my grandparents'wedding, has worn off, years ago now. In the 1960s it had disappeared. 

6. E.B. Boust was not discharged in Los Angeles. After being shot in theleg during the Mexican War, and contracting typhoid fever, he was left "inhospital" at Vera Cruz, Mexico, and subsequently discharged at New Orleans,to return to Alabama where he had moved from Virginia a few years beforeenlisting, to live with relatives. It was from Alabama that he and somefriends set off on horseback, heading toward California and adventure onthe Santa Fe trail, consequently having to proceed by "ride and tie"because one of their horses drowned crossing a river. 

He was never a gambler, as stated in the early census. At first he pannedfor gold at Columbia, then "merchandised" until, falling ill and nearlydying, he awoke from delirium to find his partner had stolen all his goldfrom his chest and, leaving it nailed to the floor of the cabin, departed,for parts unknown. After that, having once served apprenticeship on TheRichmond Enquirer (in Virginia), he turned to journalism, first asreporter, then as one-man owner, printer, publisher. 

He was not a sheriff but was deputized with a posse to ride out afterJoaquin Murietta. They never caught up with him. The two rifles, Spensers,that Grandfather carried during this duty, and as a Vigilante before therewas a sheriff, remain today with his descendants. My daughter has ours. 
I have already explained, above, about his newspaper experiences in theMother Lode Country. While there, a fellow journalist with similarbackground, a young cub named Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) came often tovisit and swap yarns with my grandfather. My grandmother disliked thefellow so much, she made Grandfather conduct his meetings with the man atthe newspaper office. He was uncouth, she said, and used profanity, drankand chewed, and put his feet on the table. She disliked him so much she cuthis face from a photo made of him and Ellsworth. 

7. My great-grandmother, Marsoleet Lefevre Ferguson, helped out by passingout bullets for rifles and by helping make bandages "during a war: when shewas a little girl --but not in the Battle of New Orleans." She lived, wasborn, raised, and married in Natchitochres, quite a distance from NewOrleans. Her father, a native of Montreal, was a sergeant, with nooutstanding career. All male residents of Natchitochres, from its firstdays as a French fort countering a similar Mexican fort, were required tobe citizen-soldiers. 

Marsoleet's name was spelled in various ways, though it actually was"Marcellite" in Louisiana French. Her husband refused to allow the childrento learn French, and he spelled her name "Marsoleet". One record in a VAcourthouse spells her name "Marolest"; two of her grand-daughters werenamed for her, with one spelled "Marsaleeet" and the other spelled"Marcelitte". Her tombstone is inscribed with "Marsalete," if I recallcorrectly (I could look it up, if need be). When I met the onegrand-daughter, then in her sixties, knowing I knew much about our people,the first thing she asked me was, "How do you spell 'Marsaleet'?" She hadborne that name all her life. 



spacer.gif (46 bytes)
HomeGuest BookSearchSite MapCreditsGet Involved
© 1998 Oakland Museum of California. All rights reserved.