Orleans to San Francisco in '49
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
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.