Nimrod Headington Journal, 1852, part 22

This is the final installment of the transcriptions of Nimrod Headington’s 1852 journal, Trip to California.

In his journal Nimrod Headington details his 1852 voyage from New York to San Francisco and his search for gold in California. [1] [2]

Nimrod, with several others from Knox County, Ohio, set sail from New York on 16 February 1852, traveling on the clipper ship Racehound. After 5 months at sea, on 18 July 1852, they docked at San Francisco and shortly afterward Nimrod began his search for gold in California.

Nimrod Headington (1827-1913)

Today’s blog post begins in early July 1853. After panning for gold for nearly a year, Nimrod is ready to head back to Ohio. Nimrod’s story continues:

Leaving the Claim for Home
A fellow came along that had some money and wanted to buy into our company. The thought of waiting for another season for snow to make water stared me in the face. And the thought of the hardships that we had during the last winter and the thought of my wife and little boy at home all came up before me. And I sold out to the fellow and bade Moffitt and Bunce good-bye after a couple of days, which I had to stay to settle up some business. I had a partner that I hated to leave. Moffitt was the soul of honor—honorable and upright in everything and always in good humor.

On the 7th day of July, I had to go over the Table Mountain about 5 miles to see a man that owed me some money. And I traveled over snow on the north side of the mountain that was perhaps 20 foot deep. The snow never goes off on the north side of Table Mountain.

On the 8th of July I started for San Francisco on a mule, along with the American Express train. The first night on our way, we stopped at a ranch, and the room that I was in had two beds in it. Sometime in the night, the fellow in the other bed came to my bed. I was awake with my revolver in my hand. I asked him what he wanted, and he said that he was cold and wanted to get in bed with me. I punched him with my revolver, and he jumped about 6 foot back and begged me not to shoot. I told him to crawl into his bed and lay very still. If he attempted to get up again, I would shoot him. He layed down and was perfectly still the rest of the night. The next morning he apologized for coming to my bed, and I let him off. But I am sure he wanted my gold dust.

Nothing further happened to mar my peace on the way to San Francisco. When I arrived at the city, I went and got me a new suit of clothing. And after a bath, I donned them and then looked in the glass to see if it was really me, as I had been in rags and dirt for so long. I then went to the office of the steamship company and purchased my ticket for New York. The ship was not due to leave for two days. So I had a chance to see all the sights of the city.

On the sixteenth of July 1853, I went on board the ship Brother Jonathan, and at 3 o’clock we weighed anchor and passed out through the Golden Gate. Soon after starting, I noticed a rather roughly dressed and sickly looking fellow watching me. But I did not think much about it, and when we had gotten outside the harbor, I was standing with my arm around a bannister, looking down into the water. And this fellow came up on the other side of the banister and stood there a moment. And I thought to draw him out a little, and I remarked to him that this was a pretty rough sea. And he said, “Yes.” The [he] said to me, “Ain’t your name Headington?” He startled me. He had great big tears in his eyes, and I had not heard my name called, except by my partners while in California. He said to me, “Don’t you know me?” I told him I did not. He said, “I am Monroe Stark.”

We left New York on the Race Hound together. He had two uncles with him, and they were among the party that left our ship at Rio de Janeiro and went on board the ship Prince do Johnville. And they were shipwrecked someplace on the South American coast. His two uncles died, and he managed to get on some other ship that took him to San Francisco. I set down, and he told me how unfortunate he had been and how long he had been sick. I did not ask him how he got his ticket to New York, but he had a ticket. And after hearing all, I took him to my room and gave him a new suit of underclothes, and when we got to the isthmus, I bought him a transit ticket, which entitled him to a mule to ride instead of having to foot it—a distance of 20 miles. And when we landed in New York, I gave him money to buy him a good suit of clothes.

He had some friends in New York that he called on, and the next day we started for home. His father and my father lived in sight of each other. His father was a well-to-do farmer, and they were nice people. And in a day or two after arriving at my father’s house, for that had been the home of my wife and little boy while I was gone, the father and mother of young Stark came over to see me and handed all the money I had paid out and given to their son and thanked me so kindly for all I had done for him. I never told the circumstances in the neighborhood, and nobody knew that Monroe Stark came home with plenty of money.

I want to relate a few things that happened on our voyage home when we dropped anchor at Rio del Sud, which means St. John’s of the South. There being no piers at that port, ships are compelled to anchor out in the bay, and passengers are taken partway to shore in small boats. When within wading distance, we were met by hundreds of naked natives, which we had to pay a quarter to ride on of them to shore or wade out. Almost all paid their money and took a ride. I rode a little yellow, sickly looking individual that I could have picked up and threw him up and thrown him over an eight-rail fence with ease. But the little fellow landed me on shore all right. It was a laughable sight to see some fine-haired New York ladies squirming at the sight of those naked natives and them having to ride one of the ashore. But we were in Rome and had to do what Rome did.

When we landed on the isthmus, there were perhaps a thousand mules and ponies, all having saddles and bridles on. And all we had to do was to take our pick out of the bunch. I found a pretty fair-looking horse, and I mounted him. I was not more than seated in the saddle when a native came running up. I said, “Quanto?” and he answered, “Treis cincopaco”—fifteen dollars. There was a great clamor [over] who could get the best mule or horse, and some of the party would start out just as fast as the poor animals could run. And by the time they got halfway across, their mules would give out, and they had to leave them and walk, while those that took it slow on the start got along fine until we got within two miles of Virgin Bay. And then all of a sudden, we started pell-mell, and it was best fellow to reach the town first.

A man by the name of Farmer from Vermont that rode a sorrel pony distanced all the rest of us and [made] the town first. We went into that town whooping and hollering at a rate that would frighten a big town, let alone a few bamboo shacks. A steamer was in waiting to take us across Nicaragua Lake and down the river of the same name. We went down the river on Sunday, and if we seen one alligator, we seen a thousand, all laying on the sand close to the edge of the water with mouths wide open. Nearly every man on board had a revolver, and a constant fire was kept up all the way down the river.

We landed at San Juan del Norte, which in English is St. John’s of the North. Now we are at the ship Star of the West, one of the finest steamers that ever floated upon the ocean. In four days we sighted and on the East Coast of Cuba. And in eleven days, we landed at pier no. 28, New York.

The foregoing is copied from my diary that I kept on my trip to California and is given to my daughter, Mrs. Thetis o. Tate.

Very respectfully submitted,
Nimrod Headington
April 1st, 1905  [3]

This is the final installment of Nimrod Headington’s 1852 Journal, Trip to California. I hope you have enjoyed this interesting and historical account of a mid-19th century Ohioan who sailed from the east coast to the west coast and back, around Cape Horn, to pan for gold in California. What an adventure!

As several of you have commented, Nimrod was quite a story-teller.

[1] Nimrod Headington at the age of 24, set sail from New York in February 1852, bound for San Francisco, California, to join the gold rush and to hopefully make his fortune. The Panama Canal had not been built at that time and he sailed around the tip of South America to reach the California coast.     Nimrod Headington kept a diary of his 1852 journey and in 1905 he made a hand-written copy for his daughter Thetis O. Tate. This hand-written copy was eventually passed down to Nimrod’s great-great-granddaughter, Karen (Liffring) Hill (1955-2010). Karen was a book editor and during the last two years of her life she transcribed Nimrod’s journal. Nimrod’s journal, Trip to California, documents his travels between February of 1852 and spring of 1853.

[2] Nimrod Headington (1827-1913) was the son of Nicholas (1790-1856) and Ruth (Phillips) (1794-1865) Headington. He was born in Mt. Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, on 5 August 1827 and married Mary Ann McDonald (1829-1855) in Delaware County, Ohio, in 1849. Nimrod moved to Portland, Jay County, Indiana, by 1860 and during the Civil War served in the 34th Indiana Infantry as a Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, and Major. Nimrod died 7 January 1913 and is buried in Green Park Cemetery, Portland. Nimrod Headington is my fourth great-granduncle, the brother of my fourth great-grandfather, William Headington (1815-1879).

[3] Nimrod Headington’s journal, transcription, and photos courtesy of Ross Hill, 2019, used with permission.


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    • Debra Reichard on July 17, 2020 at 8:59 am
    • Reply

    Thank you for sharing Karen. Wow, what an interesting adventure. I marvel at how our pioneer ancestors chanced everything they had to improve their lives. We take so much for granted. Have you ever thought of sharing this journal with the Fort Wayne Allen County Library? Maybe they would be interested.


    1. Thanks, Deb. And that is a good idea about sharing with the Allen County Library.

    • Virginia Britten on July 21, 2020 at 3:36 pm
    • Reply

    Karen, thank you so much, for printing this journal. I have read every one with much excitement, just like waiting for a friend to show up in another installment! Yes, Allen County Library would really be a good place to share it with. I can’t imagine the fortitude it took for him to last that long in an impossible environment.
    Virginia Britten

    1. You are very welcome and I am glad to hear that so many enjoyed reading it. Before I send a copy to the Allen County Library I will contact the owner of the journal for permission. I don’t think he will have a problem sharing it with them, but I want to be sure. Thanks for writing!

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