A common theme appeared when I researched information about my California gold rush ancestors. They and many of the others who heeded the call of Gold didn’t head to California alone … or at least they didn’t remain alone without family for too long.
Such was the case in the life of my great grandfathers and in many cases in the lives of their hometown friends that traveled west with them.
My great grand uncle, Charles Henry Drew followed his older brother, David Lewis Drew to Calaveras County from their home in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Both brothers married young women that had also migrated to Calaveras County with their families.
Charles married Emma Louisa Burger, a diminutive but spunky preachers daughter. Charles and Emma had four children, two of which died of diseases at a young age. Not long afterward, pneumonia took Charles life as well leaving Emma a widow, still in her 20’s with two young daughters.
Emma eventually married Willard Clinton Mead from Illinois, another gold rush veteran. Joseph only lived a few years before he too passed away.
In our first trip to the cemetery in Copperopolis, California, the first ancestral graves we discovered was those of Charles, Emma and a family friend, Joseph Morrow, all buried side-by-side in the hard rock soil of the old cemetery.
After taking photos, touching the stones and recording their epitaphs in my journal, I noticed a smaller headstone behind Joseph’s grave. The inscription read, “Amzi H. Morrow. Died Mar. 4, 1899, Aged 51 years.
Who was Amzi? I hadn’t encountered that first name before. He had to be related to Joseph. Joseph died on 21 Dec 1897 aged 73. Amzi died less than two years later, aged 51. I enjoy the stories associated with the acquaintances of my ancestors. It helps me understand their lives a little better. I needed to find Amzi’s story.
Joseph and Amzi both appear in the 1850 census in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, sons of William and Eliza Morrow. There were eight children in the Morrow family. Why had at least two of the sons traveled across country to make their lives in California?
We know the stories about the call of gold that lured so many hoping to make their fortunes in short order. Few of them did. Most were like my great grandfather, David Lewis Drew. they worked long hours in terrible conditions in the gold fields for several years and if lucky broke even financially, ending their quest for gold with tired bodies that hopefully had no permanent disabilities.
Several Tirrill uncles of Helen Farrar Drew, wife of David Drew moved to California from New Hampshire following their brother-in-law, Thomas Farrar, who was Helen’s father. Like Charles Drew, Joseph and Amzi Morrow, one of the Tirrill’s died as a young man in the Calaveras.
Luck wasn’t in their favor. Their breakeven was a return to their maker after dying far from their families back home.
Amzi Henry Morrow first appears on the California Voter Registers in 1873 at the age of 25. His residence is listed as Nevada / California. He wound undoubtedly working as a miner in both states. I haven’t found a marriage record or mention of children for him in my research.
Like my Tirrill uncle, he probably lived his life in hard labor, eating beans and sleeping in a tent in the summer and where ever he could during the winters. The size of his headstone is an indicator of his fortune. I even wonder if he paid for it or if aunt Emma paid for it out of her meager funds as she arranged for the burial of the brother of the family friend.
I’ve envisioned all kinds of stories in my mind about the lives of these men who opted to forego lives as farmers, sail makers and sawyers for the hard luck quest for yellow metal. At times I may be close to the truth basing my ruminations on accounts from journals and diaries of the survivors of the great quest for gold. Other thoughts may be more closely related to a Hollywood tale.
Whatever the truth of their stories, certain facts are readily evident. Their lives were hard and they overlooked the real gold that could have been in their lives in the form of a loving wife, children and descendants.
Perceived wealth and real wealth are based on very different value scales.