Inspired by the limericks from a few weeks back, this week we’re highlighting another humorous book from our collections: Journey to the gold diggins, by Jeremiah Saddlebags. This book of comic drawings was published in 1849, at the height of the gold rush, and pokes fun at the over-eager would-be gold miners.Journey to the Gold Diggins depicts the tale of the sad-sack 49er Jeremiah Saddlebags. In the sequence below he sees a poster advertising 500 tons of gold in California, looks at a specimen with a banker, and decides to go for it. He has heard that miners use “cradles” to mine for gold and so he immediately buys a large baby cradle, which he will tote through much the rest of the book. Of course a real mining cradle was a rocking sluice, such as the one shown below in an 1883 magazine illustration.
Anyway, Mr. Saddlebags evaluates his options and chooses the quickest route to California: sailing south by sea, disembarking at the isthmus of Panama, crossing Panama overland, and picking up another ship on the Pacific side to take him to California. Contemporary guides promised that this journey would only take a month, which was faster than taking a ship all the way around the southern tip of South America or the five or six months needed to cross the United States to California by an overland route.As you might anticipate, Mr. Saddlebags hits one snag after another. He gets seasick on board ship, then attacked by an alligator as he crosses the isthmus. He eventually reaches the Pacific side and boards a new ship, only to have it attacked by pirates. He manages to talk his way out of walking the plank by joining the pirate crew, but that turns him into a prisoner when a navy ship stops the pirates. Saddlebags reaches California as a prisoner, where he is narrowly saved by a friend who vouches for him. He does eventually manage to stake out a claim and finds a huge lump of gold, only to be set upon by other miners who try to take it for themselves. Mr. Saddlebags eventually regain this gold, after the other miners kill each other off, but he then loses it to gambling. He does win back a smaller lump and sets off for home. En route he is attacked by Indians, who, like the pirates, spare his life on the condition that he join them. When he eventually returns home, more dead than alive, his banker tells him that all the gold he brought back is “rubbish.” In the end, instead of great wealth, Mr. Saddlebags has to settle for amusing “his lady love” by recounting his adventures.