The Diary of Thomas Rankins was transcribed from the original and contributed by Willis Rankins. Migration and migratory routes have become "hot topics" on GenWeb sites and mailing lists. Thomas's diary is an account of approximately 7 weeks spent taking the sea route out to the Gold Rush of '49, meeting familiar Herkimer County neighbors and relatives along the way. This particular sea route required crossing Panama to take another boat on the Pacific side.

Thomas makes several comments that readers will find offensive. As historians don't deny ancestral attitudes and perceptions of those who were different to them, or change historical documents, neither did we. All commentary has been left as in the original diary.


March 15, 1849
Memorandum of events for California

March 15--Left home on the fifteenth of March, the day rainy all-------in packing up for the journey.

16 March, left Albany in good spirits, 17 March in New York, 18th in New York as was 20 & 21 of March.

22 March left New York in good spirits seen a whale, 2 porpesses.

23rd a good stif breeze running about six knots an hour.

24th I am sick so I am. George S. Feeter aboard of ship South Carolina also Henry Cartiz.

April 13th 1849
This morning at 4 o'clock the natives was ready for to start so we bid goodby to the Barque Santee and sailed up the Chagres river in 4 canoes that will carry more than a ton apiece. Dan Rankins, David Plumer, John Hungersford and myself was in one of the largest of the canoes, we had 5 natives to manage our boat, 1 steersman and 4 at the oars or until we came to shoal water then they took polls the same as the old Mohawk Boatman used to do.

We had not got up the river more than four or five before we saw lots of alligators. Hungersford shot one small one with his Bulldog. You have always heard in the state of N. York that an alligator was slow in moving or getting about but that is all stuff for they are as quick as gunpowder and very nimble. I saw one as we were coming along setting on a log that day with one end in the water and the other out on top of the bank. He was about 2 feet from the ground. I shot him and hurt back, you would have laughed to see the jump he made to reach the water, but he fell short and fell into the bushes and I expect he died there. About a dozen sharks followed the canoe for 3 or 4 hours. We stopped at Crocadile Point and took out our dinner consisting of hard bread, one cheese and dried beef. The boatman and natives ate sugar cane for dinner the most part of them live on sugar and rice altogether. We stopped here about 3 hours until it began to grow cool. We then went as far as Alligator Harbor and put up for night. We made 18 miles the first day. After we got our grub we took our lodgings, some went into the shantys and some lay on the ground. I and Dan made up a bed in the canoe and made a canopy over it and laid ourselves down to dream of home and about our friends that we had passed so many happy hours with. I was to home and among them a dancing at the Hotel I thought it was the happiest time that I ever saw when the canoe gave a lurch caused by one of the boatman jumping into her and I waked up sadly disappointed only to find myself in the same old place that I had laid down in

April 14th, 1849
This morning we was awakened by the boatman as soon as it was light enough to proceed on our journey and started off without putting any provisions into our boat and our boat was the largest of the 4 so we was behind the most part of the time. We did not come up to the other canoes until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I was nearly starved not eating any breakfast and I did not feel very good natured you can bet on that. I shot one small alligator today that was laying on the bank he was 4 1/2 feet long. The boatman got him and dressed him for supper. I also shot one large squirrel. The squirrels are fat here and are a fat red, no black or grays here. When the boatman stoped to eat there diner I and John took our guns and went out in the woods to hunt, they warned us not to go to far off as there was a good many bad beasts that would kill us. John and me had not gone far when a little bush struck his head and he gave a bound that made me laugh rite out, he thought it was a snake.

When the boatman sprang out of the canoes and came rushing into the thicket scaring me about as bad as John was by the supposed snake. When they heard me laugh they mistook it for holloring and came to our assistance thinking the tigers or panthers had sprang upon us. Today we did not get along quite so fast as the day before on account of the rifts and swift current of the river.

Today we stopped at Monkeys Paradise for night it was about 5 o'clock as we had worked hard. I went up to some of the shantys for milk but could get none. I sat down before the shanty and began to talk to the woman as I had got so that I can understand some parts of there lingo. When they saw that I was friendly they began to be more four one of the girls was cooking some sausages she gave me a piece and my shirt collar being unbuttoned she began to feel of my neck and finely unbuttoned the balance of my shirt and commenced feeling of my chest and ribs and called up the rest to look.

Sunday April 15
This morning we started as soon as the moon rose. We went on until about 11 o'clock when we stopped to take our rations at a small place on the river 6 miles from the place of our destination. Here we found out that we could go across the woods to Galgona. Three of us came across while the canoes went round up the river. I saw more game in going thru six miles through the woods than I could see in three years in state of N.York.

Wolsad and Kirch saw a large tiger today in the woods as they was coming across the woods. There is plenty of game here Patridges, Pidgeons, Sqirrils, Hawks, Eagles,Parrots, Monkeys and Babboons, Wild Turkeys, Alligators, Crockadiles besides a great many American birds. The boys shot one alligator that was 11 1/2 ft. long and last night I saw a Patridge not ten foot from the tent he sat on one of the shantys. One of the boys threw a stone at him he ran in among the bamboo leaves that the house is thatched with. One man got killed by the tigers between this and Panama he strayed to far off the road and lost his life through the mean of it.

The natives and Spaniards are very treacherous here they will stick a knife into you for one picaune if they could do it slyly. I have not made a practice of carrying any arms about me excepting my large jacknife that Sanford Rankins gave me but the most part of the company carry these pistols about them every minute of the time. Galgona is a town on the rite side of the Chagres River as you assend. It contains about 50 shantys and about 600 inhabitants including men women and children and it is very sickly here the natives are dieing off very fast. One was buried the day we came to town and there is no less than 3 dead this moment as I am informed. They all die with the Native fever. Although it is a grand country for it is a harvest any part of the year. I have saw ripe fruit on one side of the tree and green fruit and blows on the other and green corn on one part of the field and ripe corn on the other and three different kinds of leefs on one tree. The weather is most insufferable warm in this country it will rain about every 2 hours in the day and the sun will come out hot enough to scorch.

The engineers have been here laying out a railroad from Pasto Belo to Panama which is to be in operation sometime in the year 1850. Stockholders Aspenwald & Co. of N.York. Instead of mules as I before stated the freight and baggage is carried on Mustangs, a small Spanish horse. They will carry a 1/2 bbl. of pork on each side of them and a trunk an bag between the two and I do believe I could shoulder one of them up on a pinch. One of the natives will take a 1/2 bbl. pork on there back and travel off 2 miles an hour.

Monday April 16th
Nothing of any consequence we are all washing our clothes today. I and Dan went down to the river where the native women washes among them, they strip stark naked when they go to wash excepting tying a handerchief about there hips in the shape of a brick lath. I and Dan done the same as they did and bounced in to the water among them and went to washing but we soon had cause to put on our duds for the sun burnt our backs and arms to a blister.

Tuesday April 17th 1849
We all are lounging about the tents at night we went to the Fangdango there is lots of gambling going on here shoot boards and farrow banks and they are sweating the natives out of there dimes to.

Wednesday April 18
Nothing going on today with our Co. all sit lounging about under the canoes and in the shade.

Thursday April 19th
Today we made a contract with one of the Spaniards to carry out goods to from here to Panama and paid a part of the money down. We gave him 50 dollars and are to pay 200 dollars more when safe delivered at Panama, the distance is 24 miles. An American was robbed yesterday between this and Panama. He was stabbed in his tent and all his money taken.

Friday April 20th 1849
Today it was rainy bad weather we all are getting ready to start for Panama. Every thing upside down today similar to a moving day in my own country.

Saturday April 21st 1849
This morning the natives was on hand with there pack horses or mustangs. 18 mustangs and 6 large bulls. We put 2 bbls. of hard bread on one mustang for a load. The bulls will carry 1 1/2 bbls. of flour at a load. They will carry from 150 lbs. to 300 lbs. to a load. Today we travelled 24 miles and encamped at 5 o'clock within 6 1/2 miles of Panama for night in a small opening or common and 9 rolled ourselves in our Indian blankets and laid down under a Guaveen tree with our guns by our sides with nothing but the heavens for our canopy and him who created us to protect us from the storm. Some of the boys very very loose after walking all day over mountains and through ravines. 24 miles you can well imagine they would not be very particular in choosing a place to lay there carcasses down on.

Sunday April 22nd 1849
This morning I arose at daylight feeling very stif caused by traveling the day before and had gone to bed hungry the night before. The morning before when we started in the hubbub our provisions had been misplaced and the native that had the care of it did not overtake us untill the next afternoon leaving 3 or 4 of us without anything to eat for a day and a half.

We stoped at our old encampment until 4 o'clock in the afternoon before we started for the city the other boys had all gone on early in the morning leaving me and James Norton to see to the baggage. About 4 o'clock the men with our provisions overtook us and came in to the camp. Well youd have laughed to see the way the hard bread and cheese flew about our heads it was equal to gingerbread on a general training day. Tonight we encamped within two miles of the town. It being dark when we arrived. We did not pitch our tent but lay down as we had done the night before on the ground.

April 23rd 1849, Monday
Today my feeling was lonesome and I was down in the mouth and all most give up to melocholy. I sat down on a log and gave my thoughts full scope and they soon wandered towards my own native home. Just five weeks ago tonight I was at home and on the old Mohawk River a skating with all the boys and neighbors together as jolly as might be not dreaming or even thinking that in five weeks from that time I should be three thousand miles from home and deprived of an enlightened society and all the comforts of a good home and hazard happenings and probably my life. For an uncetainty I do not feel so lonesome at any time as on Sunday for then I begin to think of my friends at home and the happy times they are having sideing to church in the afternoon while I am in a country where nothing but Roman Catholic doctrine is preached and where a wagon was never known to be and what kills all the most part of the inhabitants are negroes running about naked. But after all I do not want to back out like a dam crab as some has done out of fear I would rather lay my bones down on the shore of the Pacific than to have my friends or relatives ever hear that I had done a sneakish or cowardly action.

Monday April 23rd 1849
Last night as I said before we laid down in the open air upon the ground but was disturbed about 2 o'clock in the morning by a panther or a tiger. He came out of the thicket from behind us and came within one rod of where we lay and stopped for a few seconds. Jim Norton whistled at him and he started down on the opposite side into the bushes and in a few minutes we heard him growl. I grabbed (my old woman, who is always at my side) My gun I have given that familiar name one barrel was loaded with buckshot and the other with a ball and it being dusk I dare not venture to far from the camp. The road from Gargone is not half as bad as I expected it is not as the road from Jacksonburg to Paines Hollow if the same route was in the state of New York in one year the stages would be rattling along instead o the slow and wearisome progress of Carves Bulls and Mustangs for carrying baggage. There is a road that goes from Panama to Crusis that is within six miles of Gorgane that is paved all through but it is not wide enough for a wagon to run on and it is only traveled in the rainy seasons of the year on account of the horses not being shod it hurts there hoofs. The road was paved or built the same time the Castile was at Chagres nearly two hundred years ago. In the rainy season it is impossible to travel the Gargone road there is so many creeks that cross and it is all miry the most part of the road is white clay and no wider than our cow paths in the states.

Tuesday April 24th 1849
Today I went into town and of all the towns that is the --------. The buildings mostly are built of stone old fashion and every house is a fort of itself having ports and loop holes to fire through into the streets and they are built the same as the old American block houses as to be built one story high and then project out over the side walk the gutter runs through the center of the street instead of the sides and the streets are not more than twenty feet wide. They are built very strong thick walls and big heavy double doors. The town is about as big as the Falls (meaning Little Falls, NY) and is walled in and a deep trench inside of the -------a high ramp to as battery surrounds the whole town and some of the large guns or cannon are still there. The roofs of the buildings are covered with tiles instead of shingles. But it ------could stand as much of a try as Chagres the whole town is owned by some 8 or ten sick old Spaniards and they tell me that some of the buildings have not been opened for the last 25 years before this California excitement. There is some regular old Spaniards in town that is perfectly white and good looking but the most part are Negroes and Indians.

It is very sickly hear at present the Americans are dying off very fast. I saw two coffins pass up the street yesterday and one today. They tell me it averages two deaths a day and a great many is laying sick this moment. This warm weather creates a fever and a great many eat too much fruit as there is an abundance of it here, but an American apple is worth one dime in this place. Pork is worth 60 dollars per barrel, Board is two dollars a day. The water is fetched from a creek out of town. I have saw dead horses laying in the same creek and saw twenty women stripped naked sitting in the creek washing their dirty sweaty clothes and the dam niggars would fill there kegs with the same water and take it into town and sell it for one real a keg. We have to pay for water here or walk two miles after it.

Wednesday April 25th 1849
Today I found some Americans that I Knew. I saw Tinker from Gray and Jim and Washington Jacobs from Rome and Ely Peck of Little Falls, he is not well. Last night they had a hell of a row in town. There was a Fandary at some of the houses and the Americans went there and began to throw Maidea or five cent pieces onto the floor and the natives would all dive for the money and that would stop the dancing where upon the Spaniards got mad and hopped onto the Americans who had left their knives to their boarding place and cut two or three most horribly so that it is expected that they will not soon recover.

Thursday April 26th
I staid at the camp today all day and wrote two letters home, one to Sanford Rankins and one to Helen Mar Rankins.

Friday April 27th 1849
Today I rote one of the letters for Daniel Rankin to his brother H. Rankins. Today two large ships arrived in to this port and the Crescent City arrived in Chagres from N.York.

Saturday April 28
Today we all went before the American council and had the Barque Santee protested on account of bad fare and mean conduct of his first mate and himself.

Sunday morning April 29th 1849
This morning another of our company was taken sick with the Chagres fever and this afternoon another that making two in one day one of them Wm Carpenter was very bad of crazy matters looked desperate to me this afternoon three of the best men of our company came down sick and without the kind aid of a mother or sister or even a woman to nourish or assist them and far from home living on a ------- and tented in. I might say the wildness I sat down by them and tried to administer to their wants but not knowing anything about the nature of the sickness I dare not prescribe anything for the fear of hurting them but there they lay rolling and tumbling with pain. You can imagine what my feelings were without my describing them to you. I soon began to think of home but that was of no avail in this case.

Monday April 30th
We were all busy taking care of the sick ones

Tuesday May 1st 1849
Today we had a hard days work we struck our tents and moved into town and as I was weying my backload along I was thinking of the Canal (Erie Canal) and all the boys at home.

Wednesday May 2
Today we had as much as we could attend to for to get along with the sick ones. 4 of the company under the Doctors care at one time and a sorry time at that.

Thursday May 3rd
Today the sick one seems to feel better. Today a native Captain of the guard died with the Cholera not more than 8 rods from our room directly across Plaza He was buried with all the Mortial pomp imaginable.

"This diary ended like this with no other entries. I don't know when Thomas returned to the states, but he had entries for employment in Dec. 1849. He also married in the year 1852 in the town of German Flatts. The spelling is as it was written, and there were a few words that were unreadable as it was all done in pencil and some what smudged".

"In the beginning of this diary there were some other entries; the year 1848"

Rec. of P.P. Mathews for services in the month of May on Packet boat Mohawk $18.00
Rec. of P.P. Mathews for services in the month of June on Packet boat Mohawk $18.00
Rec. of P.P. Mathews for services in the month of July on Packet boat Mohawk $18.00
Rec. of P.P. Mathews for services in the month of Aug. on Packet boat Mohawk $18.00
Rec. of P.P. Mathews for services in the month of Sept on Packet boat Mohawk $18.00

"This Thomas was a grand-son of Thomas Rankins, Pensioner of the Revolutionary War. His father was Peter. Thomas was a carpenter, boat builder, and for quite some time had a Pilot boat which operated in New York Harbor pulling sea going vessels into port. He also operated a tugboat drawing grain and other items. His first two children were born in New York City. This last information was in a letter to me by Thomas' grand-son's wife Doris Rankin. Grand-son's name was Herman. Doris and Herm lived on Shoemaker Hill in the town of German Flatts until they moved to San Antonio, Tx. around 1960. They had no children, and Herm was an only child."

Willis Rankins
Descendant of Thomas Rankins
April 1999

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