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Hoping for a pile of gold

“We came over the Plains very well,” John Tice said. “I am not settled yet, but will be by the time the next mail goes out. I like the country very well and I think I can do very well here.”

John Rappelyea Tice had arrived in Oregon City, along the Willamette River, in September 1851, a month after his 19th birthday. The child of Jacob and Elisa Tice, he had grown up in western Indiana on the banks of the Wabash River in the small village of Covington, where his father was a shingle maker.

For over a year, John had read about the California Gold Rush, and just days after his 18th birthday he decided to join the thousands of other young men heading west to make their “easy” fortune.

“The boys are fools for living in Covington all their lifetime and seeing nothing,” he said.

With youthful ignorance he believed it would only take a year, maybe two, to not only begin sending money home to the family, but also to return to Indiana a rich man.

On March 24, 1851, promising to return soon, he left a crying mother and angry father and joined a wagon train leaving the United States and headed for Oregon Territory.

It was a six-month trek, a hard walk across a treeless landscape into troubles he had only read about, but John had been lucky.

“I suppose you have heard of a great many Indian depredations this year on the Plains among the Snakes,” he wrote in one of his first letters home after arriving in Oregon. “We were not troubled any, but there were some before and behind us that were killed. There were some deaths, of course, but still, it was a healthy season on the Plains. Tell Fred (his younger brother), when I come back I will bring him to Oregon.”

A year after he left Indiana, he was mining near Weaverville, California, along the Trinity River, his dream of striking it rich wrestling with reality.

“As to money,” he said, “I have made none yet. But I am still in hope; [although] if I had known as much a year ago as I do now, I would not have left the States. I am here and I am going to make some money before I come back.”

He moved closer to Oregon, working a claim on Humbug Creek, about 30 miles south of the Oregon state line. He and his partner were earning about $7 a day.

“I am in good spirits and expect to make my pile this summer and winter.”

The “pile” never came, and when the winter snow and rain ended mining for the season, he decided that starting a pack train business in Southern Oregon was a more reliable way to make a living.

He arrived in Jacksonville in August 1853, just in time for trouble.

“I write this in great haste,” he said. “Everything and everybody is in great excitement about Indian war.”

The war quickly ended, and John was back to packing.

“Packing is dirty, disagreeable work but it pays us good wages. We have brought in wheat seed to this valley from Umpqua. There is a great deal of wheat going to be sowed this season.”

When temperatures in July 1854 soared to over 104 degrees, John took a rest from packing and boarded with the William Wright family. There, he found a new interest.

“Mr. Wright has three girls that make us good company.”

In the spring of 1856, he again apologized to his parents for not returning home. “I could not sell out my interests here for what they were worth and I have worked hard, too hard, for what I have got to sacrifice.”

What he hadn’t said in his letter was he had fallen in love. On June 5, 1856, he married Margaret, one of those three girls he had met in the William Wright home.

He took a 160-acre share of a land claim, began to grow wheat and raise a family of 12 children. Not until 1882 was he able to return home for a visit with his still-living parents.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.