From the Diaries of Asa C. Call


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Asa C. Call's 1850's Diaries
Excerpts from site visitor
John R. Call

Dave, I have recently published my GGGrandfather Asa C. Call's
1850's diaries. They contain some interesting observations about and while
on various river boats. One I like the best is a race between the "OCEAN
" and the "TIME AND TIDE" on April 5, 1850 on the Illinois river. Here
is an excerpt from his diary: Where there are "*" in the text, it is because
the handwriting was difficult or impossible to discern.

Thursday. (April 4, 1850)
I felt rather down, after having seen A.A. start off alone, and almost
pennyless. I took a final review of all our circumstances, and prospects,
balanced hopes and fears, compared past, present and future and I was much

But I am determined to do my best, and if submit is the word, why, I will
still try to be a man. So I engaged steerage passage for St. Louis on the
steam packet OCEAN WAVE at $1.50, and giving old Inman a dollar, I left
him to his own destruction. By the way, I presume they called him an "in
and Inman" in contradistinction to "an out and out man". I saw him charge
an Irishman an enormous bill, and then charge him extra for hauling his
baggage to the Steam Boat. Paddy called him a pickpocket and he in turn
threatened to drown him in the river. But Pat was too willing, to justify
him in undertaking the job alone, and so the old imp was going to have his
hands do it. But I concluded from their looks that they didn't crave the
job. If they had undertaken it, we would have made fish bait of him and
old In and Inman with as hearty a good will as we would have drowned a mad
dog, or a litter of dirty* kittens*.

We left at 9 a.m. I was surprised to see the Illinois so small here. It is
scarcely wide enough to allow a boat to turnaround in but it soon gets larger.
It is a broad smooth stream in Peoria*. I have just found on the boat Mr.
Hearns* of Wolf Lake . He now lives in Iowa, & Gary Rowtins* and Wm. Rickett
are there yet*. The old Gentleman knew me & I found him first rate company.
He had been back to Indiana.

I have today made the acquaintance of a young Californian by the name of Hubbard
from Michigan. One of the Cattenaugh* H's and a nephew to Ruery* & Geo.
& Frank. He started with his father, and his father died at Ottawa of lung

The steerage is a filthy hole. I stay on the Hurricane deck or in
the cabin all the time. The Race of the "OCEAN WAVE" and the "TIME and TIDE"
Friday. (April 5, 1850) The banks began to look green today, and some shrubs
are begin to show their leaves. We passed Peoria and Pekin in the night.
The Illinois is muddy and high. It must have rained here. Beardstown is
a dilapidated mean looking place, but eggs are cheap, 4 cents a dozen and
cheese 15 cents. The banks have been flat and marshy the most of the way,
but I see a few bold promontories about. So guess I will call it *, as we
have just passed Rome and Naples.

The "TIME and TIDE" is chasing us. She left Naples about 10 minutes after we
did and has been straining every muscle to pass us. We had a low head of
steam on, when they started in chase, but we now make the old water boil to
some purpose. The Captain looks as red as Mars, and says "Gentleman! If you
on't want yon boat to pass us, you must all go aft. We are too heavy forward.
Don't you see we're down to the guards while they only draw four foot water.
Look! Look! By God, Mr. Civiney*! How they are poking the ton into her", and
so they are "poking the ton into her" and to some purpose too for every time
I look up, & that is pretty often, I can see that they have gained on us. I
went aft before the order, for I was afraid we should blow up.

The Engineer says our head of steam is 78 pounds to the inch and that the
boiler will bear 85. He is going to put on 83.

They are almost to us. --- The Captain says, "Charlie, cut 'em off then", and
the steersman has run our boat in towards the bank. I can hear them swearing.
They are mad because our Captain took the advantage of them. "Bear off then or
by God I'll run into you." "Run into Hell & be damned. I'd like to see yon old
thing run into the WAVE," shouts our fat old Captain. "What has she now Mr.

"80 to the inch Sir," replied the Engineer, and pressing his mouth to a long
thin tube that runs from him to the furnaces he says, "five up then, five up

The TIME and TIDE just now steamed past by even as our wake tapers* us, but she
increasingly fell back a * . We are going to stop at the next wood ***.

In St. Louis, he boarded the JULIA for the trip up the Missouri.
See excerpt below: We got in about 4 o'clock this morn. I remained on board
till daylight, and then engaged a steerage passage to St. Joseph on the Julia,
at $2.50--cabin fare is $8.00.

The Captain, a fat old Southerner who says, Bar, and whar, and thar, and
tobacca, exactly like the Negroes, tells me that he can run up in five days.

I got my things aboard and left my principal valuables in charge of the clerk
and started in search of the Post Office. After much ado, I found it in a Crevice
of the City called Chestnut Street, and I mailed my letters. I got some papers
of a news boy and learn that John C. Calhoun is dead.

3-31-50. 5 o'clock p.m.
The JULIA will not start till morning. I have been up to see the water
works. Their principal feature consists of two immense reservoirs or vats,
about 50 feet deep and 800 in diameter, built of stone and banked up most
to the top. Into these the water is forced by a steam pump from the Mississippi,
whence it is distributed to all parts of the City.

There are a great many Boats engaged in the Missouri trade, and they are all
loaded with Californians, many of whom take their teams aboard. I can see
dead oxen floating down the river almost constantly. There is a fatal distemper
among them, something like the murrain ---.

The levee which is about 200 feet wide, is completely covered as far as the
eye can reach, with Horses, oxen, men, mules, drays, boxes, bags, negros, lumber,
and every thing else, so close that one can scarcely move.

On the Missouri River Sunday. (April 7, 1850)
So we are on the Missouri! The rough, turbulent, relentless old Missouri. The
fickle Missouri! The Grand Missouri! How nobly it rolls along. It has forced
its way for thousands of miles through mountain and desert, forest and plain,
scorning control and despising all established usage and etiquette. Conscious
of its own strength, it seems to take a pride in its rude contrariness.

It is a genuine "Reformer". Here it bends an ancient bank and there it rears
a white head. This year it chooses its channel in one place, and next year
in another. It is so muddy. It is enough to kill a man to drink it. I have
a small cholera today but I have taken my allowance of bread and dried beef
and unless I get worse, I think I shall be apt to get better. We have some
200 persons aboard and they generally have the cholera more or less. I believe
if all the cholera there is aboard was boiled down, there would be enough
to kill at least 50 men. It is occasionally fatal, but there have been no
deaths on our boat. But we are entirely too much crowded. Besides over 200
biped passengers, (I can't say Human) we have about 50 horses, oxen & mules.

I am very surprised to find the navigation of the Missouri so bad. I always
heard that it was a bad stream, but I never dreamed of its being so bad
as it is. I supposed that we should see no material, *inviolate difference
between this and the Mississippi, but even at the mouth it is entirely a
different stream cut up by islands and sand bars, shallow, irregular and
full of snags. They have been sounding at least half the time, and in some
places they find only 5 feet water. Our boat draws 4 1/2. We have touched
bottom several times already.

We left St. Louis today at 11 a.m. I went all over town this morning. It looks
like a large place and it is. It contains half as many people as all the rest
of this state. I find that the streets back, are wider and more regular than
those near the levee but all the streets in the principal business part of the
city are narrow alleys, barely wide enough to allow two waggons to pass and
paved mostly with a rough cobble stones, though there is an abundance of good
stones at hand. The city is built on a lot of very good building stone, and the
stone that is taken from a large cellar will almost build the house. I believe
that all the retail establishments are kept by Jews, who have no regular prices
for anything.

On the whole, I rather dislike St. Louis. There are many valuable buildings
in it. In fact, the Town is almost one solid block of brick five stories
high without streets or lights, but there are very few handsome buildings
and the public houses are generally mean looking and I should think badly
kept. I presume of course that "Planter's House" is the best, but that is
"no great shakes". The lower story is all rented out to shop keepers, etc.----
I got a good bed on the boat last night, as they promised to start yesterday.
I made then keep me free* as part compensation for the *delay. --- Monday.

(April 8, 1850)
We have* to* tie* up nights* caught * bars etc., and we get on very slowly.
We passed St. Charles this noon but didn't stop. I *see signs* of* little*
cattle* where* the river now for* and they say the country is not very good
back. I saw men digging up stumps and digging terraces in the bank of the river
for grape culture. We have come to some fine bluffs today lime* rock* I believe.

My cholera is rather worse today. One poor fellow has died. Tho not a Catholic,
poor fellow, one would have supposed that he would be willing to exchange this
life for a happier one, but he seemed to dread his Heaven and was as reluctant
to step into the threshold of Paradise as I should be to enter the unknown
future* that awaits me.

--- Tuesday. (April 9, 1850)
Our boat is completely crammed. We take some at every landing. We have today
430* aboard. I never go into the steerage. It is awful. One sight is enough to
make me shudder. We have had some fine scenery today in the lofty battlements
of rock, stands *of Cedar. ** a fine contrast with the rich flat alluvium of
its mouth*.

If I only had a brother* or a friend* with me, and all who said at *** Jefferson.
It is nothing, nothing at all. A State prison and a handsome* State* house* on
a promintory* that* commands* an expansive* view of the river, and all is told.
A few * houses and shanties and a few grinning* negro boys, one tavern* with
the paint all off the side and Jefferson is all told. It is about like Fulton.
I am nearly well today but there is much sickness aboard. I have made the
acquaintance of 3 tall Pennnsylvaniamen today, & I think some of rigging
up a team with them. They are brothers and average* about* 35 years*.

Wednesday. (April 10, 1850)
We grounded about 7 last evening, which saved us the trouble of tying up, but
we found no great trouble in getting off again. We passed Boonville this morning.
It is something of a place, the most respectable that I have seen since I left*
St. Louis. It is rather larger than Albany.

The Missouri is in many places very shallow, and there are frequently immense
tracts sand, lying adjacent to the river that are flowed in high water.
These are dotted over with huge rafts or piles of flood wood, from 10 to
20 feet high and sometimes covering 3 or 4 acres. If this wood was all charred
it would make a fine coal bed. But I should hardly venture to undertake
the job of making good stove coal of it. Though if Professor Agasdig wishes
to try it, I have no objection whatever.

Some of the Californians went ashore today. I am glad they are gone. I wish
they would do so some more. If they don't, I think I shall, in a day or two.
It is too bad here entirely. Every place is * * and much sickness* though* not***.

Thursday. (April 11, 1850)
It is cold this morning. It froze some last night. I am tired of this creeping.
Besides we are all getting sick. I have nearly recovered from my Cholera
but as Asa Thomas said, "I don't feel very well yet." As I sit here on the
hurricane deck, I see some of the guards below making a coffin for a woman
who died last night, and there is a man below who cannot live many hours.
They are stuffing him to death with everything from *peppermint drops to
*. He has been in the habit of drinking too much.

---- 12M. The man is gone, and there is quite a panic on-board, as most all
have more or less diarrhea. I have been talking with a few of the more sensible
fellows and they have continued to be sane. But the most of them are dosing
with everything you can think of. It makes good times for the Barkeeper. I firmly
believe that our 450* passengers have taken stuff enough this morning to kill
fifty men.

Lexington, Missouri - Disembarking Friday. (April 12, 1850)
We reached Lexington this morn about 6 o'clock, and the Thompsons and I concluded
to go ashore and fit up our team here and go the Southern route, as we shall
grass* some two weeks earlier than they will at St. Joe. We shall intersect
that road some six hundred miles from here, a little this side of Fort Laramie.
Vegetation is scarcely as forward here now as it was at St. Louis a week ago. ---

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Asa C. Call's 1853's Diaries
Excerpts from site visitor
John R. Ca

The wreck of the "Winfield Scott" is part of the Channel

Islands National Marine Sanctuary

I have sent Asa's first person account of the sinking to the Santa Barbara
Maritime Museum, Santa Barbara, CA.. - - John R. Call

The WINFIELD SCOTT - Dec. 5th, 1853.

A rock in the Pacific, 20 miles from the coast - Monday, Dec. 5th, 1853.

I embarked on the Steamer WINFIELD SCOTT last Thursday, and at 12 o’clock we
left Vally’s St. Wharf for Panama. We had fine weather till Friday evening, when it became foggy. One of the boilers had been leaking through the day
which had retarded our progress, and the Sierra Navada had passed us, but it
was repaired on Friday afternoon, and we were running about twelve miles an
hour, when I went to bed on Friday night.

This was about 9 o’clock. I had just got to sleep, when I was awakened by a
tremendous shock. I knew we had struck a rock and hurrying on a part of my
clothes I hurried up on deck where I found a general panic, but the steamer
was backed off and with the assurance that all was right the most of the
passengers retired again to their rooms. But I didn’t believe she could have
struck a rock with such force without sustaining some injury, and not knowing
what the upshot of the matter might be, I went down to my state room and put
my money and all other valuables in my trunk into my saddle bags, and went
into the upper saloon intending to be ready for what was to come next.

I had hardly taken a seat when the steamer struck again, and with such force,
that it seemed as if the ship was breaking into a thousand fragments. I
again hurried on deck, and went forward to see if I could see land. It was
so dark I could see nothing, but I could distinctly hear the roar of the
breakers ahead, and on the larboard side. The steamer was unmanageable, and
the order was given to let off the steam and to extinguish the fires to
prevent the ship's taking fire.

The decks were densely crowded but considering the circumstances the people
behaved remarkably well. It was a perfect jam. And all I could distinguish
was an occasional small shriek as the ship lurched to one side giving
evidence that she was sinking. About ten minutes after we last struck the
long boat was lowered, and I heard the Captain call for the ladies to go
aboard. Some men pressed towards the boat but the Captain’s orders were
“knock the first man overboard that attempts to get into the boat”.
Meanwhile some life preservers were got up and were being distributed among
the passengers.

There was now a great breach in the steamer and the water was pouring in like
a river. Our only hope was that she might not sink entirely, as we could feel
her sliding down the side of a ledge of rocks. Pretty soon the fog began to
break away a little and we could see the light in the long boat as she was
coasting along in search of a landing. We could also see the top of a high
peak just ahead of the ship and pretty near, but it seemed perpendicular and
the white foam and the roar showed that we could never hope to land there.

As soon as the life preservers were distributed, the other ships boats (five)
were lowered, and filled with passengers. They all held about one hundred
and fifty, and there were five hundred and twenty on board. After being gone
about half an hour the long boat returned, having found a landing. And in
about two hours all hands were taken off, and were landed on a rock about
fifty yards long by twenty five wide.

The next day we came to a larger rock or Island, about half a mile long by
100 yards wide. We have succeeded in getting provisions and water enough
from the wreck to do us so far. The sea has been quite smooth, or we should
have been all lost. A boat went off to the mainland day before yesterday and
returned last eve.

An express has been sent to San Francisco and I shall look for a steamer in
three or four days. Robbery and plunder has been the order of the day since
the wreck. But today we appointed a committee of investigation and have had
everything searched. A good deal of property has come to light, and two
thieves have been flogged. I have recovered a pair of revolvers, a Bowie
knife, and some clothing, but I am a good deal out of pocket yet. But
probably my other things never came ashore.

We are on short allowance, but I today shot a seal with my pistol, and we
shall have a luscious dinner. We are expecting a schooner from the main land
with supplies of water and provisions.

December 9th 7 p.m.

The old steamer CALIFORNIA came to our rock sometime in the night last night,
and made her presence known by firing cannon. We climbed to the top of the
rock and made a large fire of weeds, which is the only fuel we have on the
rock. The sea was very rough which made it dangerous getting on board, but
we finally accomplished it without any very serious accident.

It is now supposed that there were one or two men lost when we were wrecked,
as they have never been seen since. One was a Mr. Underwood, a butcher by

December 10, 7 a.m.

It is cold and foggy this morning, and the sea is rough. I stand in want of
my India rubber coat and several other things I lost on the wreck. We are
now a little below San Diego.

December 11, 10 a.m.

It is pleasant this morn though the ship rolls a good deal. We had a stormy
evening, and a good deal of rain. This is an old steamer and something
under my stateroom creaked all night, which made me dream of wild cattle
bellowing and grizzlys growling all night.

We passed a number of whales yesterday, and immense numbers of porpoises.
The wind is ahead this morning, and I think we shall have more rain.

I find it very inconvenient to have strangers for room mates, as it compels
me to wear my gold on my person, and twenty pounds is not particularly
comfortable on ones breast, if it is gold.

December 12, 10 a.m.

A fine morning, lots of whales, wind aft, sails set. Passed a ship yesterday
evening. See land occasionally. I have made the acquaintance of Monsieur
Jouan, the Emperor Kurbidi’s* land agent, who is about to locate five million
acres of land for his heirs in Lower California. I have a good mind to go
with him. I think I might do well.

December 15th.

Fine day, here in the torrid zone, a little below Cape St. Lucas .- There is
a crazy man on board who went down into the steerage last night and told the
passengers the ship was sinking, "but" he says, “Keep cool, be quiet, don’t
get excited, it can’t be helped, go up quietly”. But they didn't keep quiet.
In about two seconds they were all on deck, and then the panic communicated
to the cabin, and we took our turn. The passengers are like sheep that have
been stampeded a time or two.

I am homesick.

Herbs, Vitimins and Minerals

December 18th.

We reached Acapulco yesterday at 2 o’clock a.m. and left at 12 M. Much of
the Town has been lately shaken down by an earthquake.

I found much more that was novel and interesting than I had expected. The
vegetation is altogether different than that of Cal. I know the names of but
five trees, one variety has large yellow flowers, and green fruit, and ripe
fruit all at the same time. There are a great many palm trees, and cocoa
trees, and orange, and lime etc.

The streets are narrow and crooked and there is a blind beggar kneeling at
every corner, and several lepers showing their disgusting carcasses, and
plenty of old hags begging for the church and lots of little boys and girls
with pans and curious baskets of coral and sea shells for sale, and if you
decline buying they will urge you to take a trifle as a present, filling your
hands and pockets exclaiming "yo presenta" "yo presenta" and afterwards they
will follow you holding out their hands and whenever they can catch your eye,
it is “one little pickyman.” They have learned so much English.

And there are plenty of baths where bright eyed senioritas officiate, as "uno
peso no mas" and all seem to derive their whole support from the California

The harbor is small, but very secure. The shore is bold, the town is shut in
by high hills, and not a breath of wind can ever reach it unless it blows
directly down from heaven.

The weather is hot and sultry. With nothing on but cotton pants and linen
shirt, I am sweating like a fireman.

December 19th 1853.

It is cool and comfortable. We had a strong breeze last eve and the sea was
rough. Something in the engine got out of fix in the night and we stopped
for two hours. We are crossing the gulf of Tehuantepec.

December 21st.

The sea is very rough. Our old steamer labors terribly. The wind nearly
ahead and we get along, but slowly.

They got up a sail this morn thinking it would hold the ship more steady,
but the wind soon tore it to shreds. I think we have rather a hard voyage.

A man in the steerage died today, and was buried in the sea. Poor man, the
hope of collecting a little sum with which he might return to his childhood's
home had sustained him for four long years through toil and disappointments,
and now when he was thinking that in two weeks more he would be at home with
the means to make his home comfortable and happy, he had to die. Poor man.

December 24th.

We are now almost to Panama. Yesterday the Captain gave us a champagne
dinner, and we gave him a testimonial, and raised 250 dollars to present him
a memento. Capt. LeRoy of this steamer and Capt. Blunt of the WINFIELD
are Gentlemen but Capt. Doll of the COLUMBIA in the same line is a

Heading Home Aboard the ILLINOIS
December 27th.

We are at sea, going north, towards home. Thank fortune, we got aboard of
the ILLINOIS last night at dark. The railroad is uneven. Aspinwall is in a
swamp, every place stinks. No man but a fool would stop there to live.

December 29th, 1853 3 p.m.

Very pleasant, water smooth, Jamaica in sight on our left and St. Domingo
streaming away on our right.

I am excited, full of strange enthusiastic feelings. We see that Island now
as Columbus saw it 360 years ago. The same, and yet how different. What a
glorious country our fathers have created since then. I am full of Pride
and hope and enthusiasm.

Hope you found all of this interesting.
John R. Call

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