The honor which belongs to the “forty-niner” in California is conceded to the prominent resident of Mokelumne Hill, Calaveras County, whose name is above. Henry Atwood is descended from old English ancestry who settled early in New England was born at Boston, Massachusetts, March 15, 1819, a son of Zerubbabel and Nancy (Craft) Atwood, who were of the highest respectability and were members of the Universalist Church. The father was a merchant tailor and lived to be eighty-seven years old. The mother died in her eighty-first year. They were both natives of Boston and their entire lives were spent there. They had three children. Mr. Atwood was educated in the public schools of Boston and began his active life there, meeting with success in business.
Soon after the news of the discovery of gold in California reached Boston he and eleven others bought the ship Colonel Taylor, laid in an ample stock of provisions, and hired its captain and crew to sail it to California. They left Boston February 15, 1849, twenty-three persons on board all told. The thermometer registered thirty-three degrees below zero and the salt water was frozen nine miles from land. The voyage was without noteworthy incidents until they approached the Strait of Magellan. The weather was rough and they came near being driven upon the rocks and were obliged to anchor and abandon their purpose of passing through the Strait of Magellan and make the passage by way the of the Strait of Lamar. They were caught in a storm off the mouth of the river La Plata, and their topmast was carried away and they came near being swamped.
They celebrated July 4 on ship-board and arrived in San Francisco September 17, after a voyage of seven months lacking two days. They found Sacramento a city of tents, but it afforded good facilities in the way of provisions. Mr. Atwood had six barrels of pork on board the vessel and sold one of them for sixty-two dollars. He had also brought out to California six pairs of knee-boots and was paid ninety dollars for one pair of them. They sold the vessel and left their supplies on the wharf under guard, only to lose them by high water which washed them out to sea. They hired an ox team to take their stuff to the diggings in Oregon Gulch, near “Hangtown,” where they took out fifty to sixty dollars worth of ore per day.
In the spring of 1850 they went to the mountains and two years mining at Todd’s Ridge netted them eleven thousand and five hundred dollars each, and one day during their stay there three of the party with a cradle took out three thousand and one hundred dollars. Fearful that they might be snowed in, they went to Placerville in October. In the following spring they returned and found that a rush of miners had claimed everything in sight, and after working out his claim there Mr. Atwood went back to Placerville, whence, May 1, 1853, he came to Mokelumne Hill, where he bought the Union Hotel, in which he began business July 19. August 20 the town was burned to the ground and Mr. Atwood, who had no insurance, estimated his loss at twenty-five thousand dollars. While he stood looking at the ruins of all his hard-earned worldly fortunes, thinking that his prospects were indeed gloomy, A. W. Mitchell came up behind him and placing his hands on his shoulders said, “If you wish, I will let you have the money to rebuild.” He erected a fine stone building on his own lot and did a splendid business for eleven years, when he sold the property, and a year later that second hotel at Mokelumne Hill was burned. Mr. Atwood kept the Big Tree Hotel for four years and after that bought and kept the Sperry Hotel, at Murphy’s, for four years, making considerable money.
He sold this last hotel, and returning to Mokelumne Hill, went from there to Grass Valley, Nevada County, where he put in the succeeding four years as the proprietor of the Holbrooke Hotel. Subsequently he lived for a time at San Andreas, but came back to Mokelumne Hill and bought the Quartz Glen mine, out of which he has taken considerable gold and on which he has one of the best quartz mills in Calaveras County. He retired from active life ten years ago and now, in his eighty-first year, is hale and hearty and in possession of all of his faculties, frequently reminiscent of the days of forty-nine and respected as a pioneer and as a citizen. He has never married, nor has he ever joined any secret societies. In his early life a Whig, he affiliated with the Republicans at the organization of that party and voted for Lincoln and for every subsequent Republican president.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.