After Louis Hanson arrived in America in 1850, he probably resided somewhere in the Henry County area, perhaps in Bishop Hill itself. He didn’t stay long, though. His obituary says he went to the California gold fields from 1852 to 1856.We remember from our junior high history classes that gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, prompting the initial Gold Rush of 1849. Over 300,000 gold diggers flowed into California over the next six years, looking to make their fortune. About half came by sea and half came overland.
It is most likely that Louis took the overland route as there are many records of Illinois Swedes going overland from Henry County, Illinois to California. Gold-seekers in the midwest mostly congregated at St. Joseph, Missouri where they could join organized wagon companies. They typically traveled via the Oregon Trail through Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah and then branched off onto one of the “California Trail” options through Nevada and California to get across the Sierra Nevada mountains.
There are many excellent printed and online resources about the California Gold Rush, so I won’t attempt to describe it in much detail. But any one of those sources will tell you about the incredible difficulty and dangers associated with the overland route to the California gold fields. The most common cause of death was cholera. As we saw in the last post, Louis may have already escaped a cholera outbreak on his trip across the Great Lakes. He managed to dodge it again on his way to and from California. From the Wikipedia article about the Gold Rush:
Diseases like cholera were the main killer of trail travelers with up to 3% (or more) of all travelers (6,000 to 12,000+ total) dying of cholera in the cholera years of 1849 to 1855. Indian attacks were probably the second leading cause of death with about 500 to 1,000 being killed from 1841 to 1870. Other common causes of death included: freezing to death (300–500), drowning in river crossings (200–500), getting run over by wagons (200–500), and accidental gun deaths (200–500).
The year of 1852 was actually the peak year for the Gold Rush.
There was a statewide California Census in 1852 but we do not find Louis Hanson in the records. He may have been en route at the time of the census. There really aren’t many other records available to research…he didn’t get married or have kids while he was there. And mining claim records didn’t start until 1866. So unfortunately, it’s not possible to find out much about his experiences there.
Did he strike it rich? Well, the trajectory of his life suggests “probably not”. But maybe it was enough to get started in the farming business upon his return to Illinois in 1856.
While he was gone, the Hultman family emigrated from Sweden to Illinois. They arrived in 1854. More about them next time.