SAMUEL W. PEARSALL
Samuel W. Pearsall, deceased, of Mokelumne Hill, was one whose memory covered a long period of advancement in American history. He was a veteran of the Mexican War and a California pioneer of 1849. He was born in New York City, on the 22nd of August, 1821, and on the 26th of September, 1846, he joined the American army for service in the Mexican War, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Burton, of Stephenson’s regiment. They sailed from lower California in the steamship Lexington and landed at Santa Barbara on the 4th of July, 1847. A small party was sent to hold that place and they were besieged there for thirty-one days. The United States frigate Independence afterward landed troops at San Jose and they were taken prisoners. Four months later Lieutenant Hallock arrived from Mexico and thirty-one veterans were called for to go and rescue the prisoners. Mr. Pearsall was one of the men who started on horseback, under the command of Lieutenant Hallock, at two o’clock in the morning on this difficult mission. They rode sixty-five miles, passed the enemy and rescued their fellow soldiers, who were Lieutenant Duncan, Lieutenant Wallace and Sergeant Boyd of Company A. On the return trip they succeeded in capturing a number of the enemy, but the others afterward ambushed the American troops and a fight ensued, in which Mr. Pearsall was shot in the side. However, they fought their way back to Santa Barbara, although they had had no food or drink for thirty-six hours. There were about one hundred and two American soldiers at Santa Barbara and the enemy numbered twenty-five hundred, of whom twelve hundred fought them in the daytime, while the remainder of the Mexican force engaged them in battle at night. The American soldiers became so exhausted that the men would fall asleep standing up; but soon ships came to their relief, one being the Independence and another under Commodore Jones. Both landed men for the relief, five hundred in all, and the besieged Americans were thus permitted to obtain some rest. The fighting, however, continued for six weeks before the news was received that peace had been declared.
The discovery of gold in California attracted Mr. Pearsall and others of his companions to the mines, they being among the first to engage in the search for gold. Our subject prosecuted his mining operations on Big Bar, on the Mokelumne River, and experienced all the hardships and trials of the times. Prices of provisions were very high, bacon selling for two dollars and a half a pound, flour at a dollar per pound, oysters at sixteen dollars a can, while shoes sold for twenty-five dollars a pair, boots for eighty dollars, blankets for one hundred dollars and wash-pans brought from sixteen to twenty dollars each! Fifty cents apiece was paid for nails and twelve dollars for a dozen eggs; but Mr. Pearsall and his partner secured from sixty-four to sixty-seven ounces of gold daily and thus were able to afford the exorbitant prices asked. In 1851 a number of Frenchmen secured a rich claim at Mokelumne Hill, but some trouble arose between them and the Americans and a fight ensued, which resulted in the Americans obtaining possession of the claim. Mr. Pearsall did not think the matter entirely just, but after the Frenchmen left he secured a claim at that point, out of which he took a great quantity of gold. Subsequently he conducted a saloon, which proved a very profitable venture, bringing him from two to five hundred dollars every twenty-four hours! Subsequently he dissolved the partnership and had charge of the bar of the first Parker House. After the fire at that place he removed to Mokelumne Hill, where he resided until his sudden death, August 2, 1900, from heart failure, in the eightieth year of his age, while his memory was still clear and filled with many interesting reminiscences.
During the Civil War Mr. Pearsall served his country against the Apache Indians, and the California troops had many fights with those blood-thirsty savages, the commander going on the supposition that “there were no good Apaches unless they were dead.”
He was one of the oldest survivors in the first miners of Mokelumne Hill, and the early settlers and the native sons of California every regarded him with much respect. The government paid him a pension of twelve dollars a month and he occupied pleasant quarters, a bedroom and living room, furnished him by Frank W. Peek. There he lived in peace and contentment with a record of service in the Mexican War and as a ‘49er that few could equal.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.