A Pennsylvania Mennonite and the California Gold Rush

Lawrence Knorr


by Lawrence Knorr David Baer Hackman (1827-1896) a Mennonite from Millport, Lancaster County, PA, traveled west to California in 1850, seeking his fortune during the great Gold Rush. David wrote many...

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by Lawrence Knorr

David Baer Hackman (1827-1896) a Mennonite from Millport, Lancaster County, PA, traveled west to California in 1850, seeking his fortune during the great Gold Rush. David wrote many letters home concerning his crossing of the plains by wagon and his many detailed experiences in and around the gold fields of California. A vivid writer for such a young man, David captures images of the mining communities, the boom towns of Sacramento, Ringgold, Hangtown (Placerville), Mokelumne Hill, Columbia, Yankee Hill and Sonora and the lawlessness found there, including hangings and barfights. He writes of early San Francisco, the Lick Estate near Alveso, the local Indians, trouble with bears, and the great trees of Calaveras County. His journal then captures his return trip in 1854 by steam ship to Panama, across the Isthmus and then to New York City. He describes Acapulco divers, early Panama City, Gorgona and Aspinwall (Colon). He describes in detail life aboard steamships including the Pacific mail ship SS Golden Gate and the Atlantic steamer North Star. Lawrence Knorr presents the journal and letters in sequence along with their historical context, providing corroborating accounts where available. In all, an excellent primary source and piece of social history from one of the most exciting times in American history.


"In the midst of the matchless energy and enterprise by which I have been surrounded during my sojourn of four years in California, I have sometimes imagined that the scenes in which I was moving were not enacted in the world in which I was born and reared, but that by some unfathomable transmigration I had become the subject of a new existence. Here virtue shines out to dimly in contrast with the dark deformity of over-shadowing, stalwart vice, faces, complexions, customs, habits, and business intercourse, manners, trade, laws, skies, air, earth, and all things so strange, so peculiar and unlike my old associations, that the doctrine of the ancient philosopher seemed at times plausible..."

 "...they commenced to demolish everything inside, wine and whiskey bottles, glasses, lamps, tables, and chairs, and everything that could be broken. When that was finished some procured ropes and tied them to the corners of the house it being only a one and a half-story frame. They commenced to pull when they soon had it on the ground. They carried the whole thing on a vacant lot and set fire to it..."

 "...I was very much surprised to see so large a number of massive buildings which adorn many of the streets of this city, and in architectural beauty, many of them will compare favorably with those devoted to similar purposes at any of the Eastern cities. Nor does it lack in business, if I may infer from the crowds on the sidewalks, the rattle of drays, the display of hacks, the roll of omnibuses, the ringing of bells, the fruit stand on the corners, the various peddlers of small wares, the long wharves loaded with merchandise, and the spacious harbor dotted all over and alive with the shipping of every clime..."

 "...Now you will just imagine yourself to be down town, then turn around, and look up and upon your right, you will perceive a large building, upon the front of which is inscribed the name of the house, in large square gild letters 'The Ureka Hotel'. Finding yourself in front of its lofty doorway, you hear some very sweet music issuing therefrom. You will be desirous of knowing what is going on in the interior, a view of which cannot be had from the outside, on account of a larges screen being placed a few feet within the door. Entering therefore and passing behind the screen, you behold a spacious and oblong 'hall', about sixty-five by eighty-five feet in size, the walls of which are richly furnished with magnificent mirrors and pictures of various shades and sizes..."

Page Count: 196
Trim Size: 5.5 x 8.5
Publish Date: August 27, 2011
Imprint: Sunbury Press
Genre: History

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