Pinkerton and the Smartest Criminal in History


Most have heard of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from their investigations and actions taken during the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Pinkertons actually filled the void between vigilante action and official law enforcement. You could say they augmented the investigations of local law enforcement which was typically much understaffed. Most of their investigations were at the behest of railroads, banks and large commercial interests who required their investigative expertise.

Crime Museum / Washington D.C.

Before we detail a very interesting old Pinkerton investigation carried out, one you’ll enjoy reading, we want to make a mention about one of the newer museum attractions in our nation’s capital.

The Crime Museum in Washington D.C. is a must stop for anyone wishing to learn more about how crime was fought and investigated over the previous decades and centuries. Visiting the Crime Museum, a very unique venue indeed, is a learning experience. You’ll see some amazing exhibits and view information about crime and justice.

The museum’s stated goal is to provide guests of all ages with memorable insight into our nation’s history of crime and its consequences, law enforcement, forensic science, and crime scene investigation through a captivating, interactive, entertaining, and educational experience.

The Crime Museum is located at 575 7th St. NW | Washington , D.C

Pinkerton and the Adam Worth Case…The Smartest Criminal In History

The case of a man named Adam Worth, sometimes spelled W-I-R-T-H, is an amazing story of non-violent thievery along with an incredible tale of a relationship developed between he and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

Adam Worth

Worth was born in 1844 in Germany and moved to Cambridge Massachusetts at five years of age. He grew up in poverty and decided early on to make himself rich. During his criminal years, Adam Worth worked out of London England and to some extent New York. London however was where Worth owned mansions and had stature in the late 1800’s as an independently wealthy Victorian era gentleman. Something he could never hope to attain in America.

It Was All About Money

The life of Adam Worth was a textbook case of moving up the ranks in the criminal underworld. From being a penniless crook he moved up to be tremendously wealthy albeit from other people’s money.

In his heyday Worth had a mansion, a steam yacht, a fast sailing yacht as well as all the attire of a typical Victorian era English gentleman. One robbery led to another robbery and the stakes got higher every time. The amounts stolen grew larger and larger with each crime. Whether it was blowing up safes or robbing gem shipments, Adam Worth was considered the master.

Pinkertons founder Allan Pinkerton

He was the man who planned meticulously and had his associates carry out the act. He covered all bases and no solid evidence could ever be traced back to him.

Adam Worth operated in the United States and in England and on the continent for almost thirty years during the latter 1800’s. He pulled off a daring diamond robbery in South Africa.

Adam Worth was considered literally a one man crime wave by the Pinkertons, Scotland Yard and police agencies throughout western Europe. Adam Worth and his abettors kept up with advances in safe manufacturing. It seemed that whatever new foolproof safe was manufactured, Worth and his friends stayed one step ahead, developing tools and methods to blow the best safes available.

Adam Worth…A Cautionary Criminal

Adam Worth did everything in his power to both pull off a successful theft and to make certain nothing pointed in his direction. Many people who sought him out for work were turned away. Perhaps the difference between Worth and other criminals before and after him was that he was very good at it. He was smart. By the same token, forensic evidence gathering in the late 1800’s was not what it is today.

Gainsborough's Duchess of Devonshire

Adam Worth was noted for his absolute distaste for violence of any sort. He felt that violent crime was the result of stupidity on the criminal’s part. He relied solely on brains, not brawn. Most of his crimes were planned so well and went off so cleanly that, in effect, he left his signature which the police and detectives. The law however could do little about it because of lack of evidence. This is a good example...the Pinkertons trailed Worth for some thirty years and never made an arrest.





The Biggest Adam Worth Theft

There is an excellent book that has been published, “The Napoleon of Crime, The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief“, by author Ben Macintyre. It’s a terrific read including some very interesting facts regarding William Pinkerton and his relationship with Worth. The book offers a lot of insight into both the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and Scotland Yard. You may be surprised at some of the events depicted in the book. It’s an eye opening description of the art of 1800’s crime.

The most famous theft that Adam Worth was connected with was that of the painting,”The Duchess of Devonshire” . The painting was considered an English masterpiece from the master artist Gainsborough. The Duchess’ popularity with the British public during the latter 1700’s was somewhat similar to Princess Diana’s popularity in the latter 20th century. The theft in fact was committed by Worth personally which was very rare. Worth eventually became emotionally attached to the painting, which is a story in itself, and ended up keeping it hidden for some twenty-five years.

Historians of the literary works of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, fairly all agree that Doyle’s character Dr. Moriarty was modeled after the Napoleon of Crime, Adam Worth. In fact, many believe that Doyle received some information on Worth from none other than William Pinkerton

The most common characteristic between the real life Adam Worth and Doyle’s Dr. Moriarty was that both were playing the role of upstanding Victorian gentlemen. Both had dual personalities which is the theme of many Victorian stories

Links to two additional articles you’ll enjoy from Trips Into History include:

Charlie Siringo, Pinkerton Detective

Mark Twain / A Journalist and Virginia City Duel


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Smartest Criminal Slips Up

Even the smartest criminal mastermind of the late 1800’s can make a mistake and that was the case with Adam Worth. Most likely from a combination of boredom and depression from a romantic relationship gone bad, Worth became careless.

On a spur of the moment decision while on the continent heading for Switzerland, Worth along with two acquaintances tried to pull off a daylight robbery of a coach filled with money traveling between a Belgium train and a bank in Liege.

His demise came when a bystander happened to see Worth himself breaking into the strongbox aboard the coach. His lookouts failed him, the police were immediately summoned and Worth was chased down and arrested. He was caught red handed. Adam Worth broke two of his lifelong rules. Choose your associates carefully and have others do your robbing.

Worth was tried for the crime and sent to prison in Belgium. He received a seven year sentence at hard labor.

It seems that the world renown detective, William Pinkerton, had developed over the years some sort of respect for the talents of Worth while at the same time keeping tabs on him throughout Europe and North America.

Professor Moriarty. From the Sherlock Holmes story "The Final Problem",

Pinkerton’s sympathy for criminals such as Worth, much to the concern of his brother Robert Pinkerton, was a story not entirely understood. Perhaps some of it had to do with the fact that Worth wouldn’t tolerate violence. Perhaps it had to do with Pinkerton’s heritage as compared to Worth’s childhood poverty. In any respect, William Pinkerton failed to send the Belgium authorities requested information they had on Worth.

William Pinkerton Does Adam Worth a Big Favor
The story is quite interesting in that had William Pinkerton forwarded to the Belgium authorities, as they had requested, all information on an Adam Worth, aka Henry Raymond, Worth would have received more prison time and additional charges from Scotland Yard. Pinkerton did not forward the requested information as a personal favor to Adam Worth.

It’s a good subject to explore further. When Adam Worth later met with Pinkerton at his offices in Chicago in 1901 to ask for the detectives aid in arranging the return of the Duchess of Devonshire masterpiece, he could have been arrested on the spot. He wasn’t. He came back for more discussions with William Pinkerton the next day,and during these discussions regarding the masterpiece portrait, Worth essentially confessed personally to Pinkerton for thirty years of criminal activity. The Pinkerton’s would never arrest Adam Worth.

The Gainsborough is Returned

In the end, Adam Worth successfully returned (through intermediaries) the Gainsborough masterpiece to it’s rightful owners in London.

It could not have happened without the aid of William Pinkerton, probably Worth’s only friend near the end of his life. Worth ended up with about $25,000 in exchange for the portrait. He needed the money desperately to support his two young children from a previous long relationship. Adam Worth died peacefully at his home with his children present on January 8, 1902.

(Photos and images from the public domain)


Battle of Palo Duro Canyon Texas


If you have the opportunity of visiting the Texas Panhandle you’ll want to be certain to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This stop make a great addition to your Texas vacation planner.

battle of palo duro canyon

Battle of Palo Duro Canyon Historic Marker

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located about twenty-five miles southeast of Amarillo and about twelve miles east of Canyon Texas.

One of the things that make Palo Duro Canyon an amazing destination is it’s historical significance. Not only does Palo Duro Canyon tell the story of ancient geology, and in a quite beautiful way, but it also is the site of a very significant military campaign which for all intents and purposes ended the Indian Wars in the southern plains.

Visitors to Palo Duro Canyon today will see the exact location along with a Texas Historical Marker where one of the most, if not THE most, significant southern plains Indian Wars battle took place.

The exact site is along the state park’s loop drive. The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon was a decisive event. The year was 1874 and the main participants on both sides had a most interesting background and even a more interesting and surprising future. This interesting story is told below.

palo duro canyon state park

Scenic Palo Duro Canyon Texas


The growth of Texas meant the encroachment upon Comancheria, the land of the Comanche Indian. Comanche raiding upon white settlers in what is now the state of Texas was violent and went back to the Spanish era, the Mexican era, the Republic of Texas era and lasted for about a decade after the end of the Civil War.

During the Republic of Texas years the Comanches went as far as raiding all the way southeastward to the Gulf of Mexico and the port of Indianola. That demonstrates how intense the Comanche conflict was.

Quanah Parker, Ranald Mackenzie and Palo Duro Canyon

When the decades long conflict between Comanche and Texan came to an end, two names involved with this historic event stand out from all the others.

Quanah Parker, perhaps the fiercest and wisest of all Comanche leaders, and Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, the head of the Army’s Fourth Cavalry at Fort Concho Texas, were destined to meet in battle at Palo Duro Canyon on September 28, 1874.

palo duro canyon battle site

Palo Duro Canyon Battle site

Both men who met in battle came with unique backgrounds. Quanah Parker was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a child who was kidnapped from her Texas home and whose parents were killed during an 1830’s Indian raid. Cynthia Ann Parker would spend much of her life living among the Comanche who she grew to regard as family.

Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, a Civil War veteran who fought under Grant and leader of the Fourth Cavalry. Mackenzie had a high reputation within the army and has been recognized as being perhaps the most successful Indian fighter in the U.S. Army. Not a household name as George Armstrong Custer but arguably more successful.

The Red River War of 1874-1875

The Indian Wars in the West were essentially a series of wars that were settled for brief periods with treaties until hostilities began anew. Usually the cause of a flareup was a broken treaty and/or white settler encroachment. The geographic epicenter would vary from time to time but overall would continue on an east to west line.

palo duro canyon visitors center

Palo Duro Canyon Visitors Center

The military and the white settlers wanted land and they likewise wanted the Native Americans placed on reservations.

The Native Americans of Texas and all other regions of course desired to keep their historic lands and just as importantly their culture. Considering this reality conflict was inevitable.

Reservations historically were located on the least desirable land and the Indians were aware of this. The last big effort to place the remaining Comanche, Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne on reservation land was what the Red River War was all about. This was the conflict that eventually led to the historic Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, not far to the south and west of the then Indian Territory which is present day Oklahoma.

The Red River War ended with not just a single battle. It was an on again off again fight over nearly two years that eventually moved remaining Comanche, Southern Cheyenne and Kiowa inside Indian Territory.

The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon was decisive for the fact that after the skirmish Comanche leader Quanah Parker agreed to lead his people to the reservation and for the fact that this battle involved so many Native Americans.

palo duro canyon scenery

Canyon view from Visitors Center

During the battle the Fourth Cavalry, led by Col. Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, broke up a large encampment of Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne in Palo Duro Canyon, killing only a few Indians but capturing and slaughtering about fourteen hundred horses.

At the time only Quanah Parker and a leader named Mow-way were still being sought. As a result of the battle and loss of horses Quanah Parker’s band came into Fort Sill on June 2, 1875, marking the end of the Red River War.

The Red River War represented the official end of decades upon decades of conflict in Texas between the Native Americans of white settlers.

Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie…The Years After Palo Duro Canyon

Quanah Parker after relocating to Indian Territory eventually accepted the white man’s culture and was known to even dress accordingly. Parker went on to befriend noted ranchers as Samuel Burk Burnett and Daniel Waggoner as well as Theodore Roosevelt in later years.

Quanah Parker was also instrumental in urging his people to adapt to the white man’s culture much as possible. He is also credited with helping to establish the Native American Church. Quanah Parker died in 1911 at the age of fifty-nine in Oklahoma.

ranald mackenzie

Ranald Slidell Mackenzie

Ranald Slidell Mackenzie

Ranald Mackenzie was appointed brigadier general and assigned to the Department of Texas in 1882.

After buying a ranch in Texas and becoming engaged he started to have medical problems. Mackenzie had injured his head in a prior wagon accident at Fort Sill.  He eventually began experiencing mental difficulties and the accident he had was thought to be the cause.

The marriage never occurred and after showing more signs of mental instability he retired from the army in 1884. Ranald Mackenzie moved to his sister’s home on Staten Island New York and died in 1889 at her home at the age of forty-nine. He is buried at West Point.

Links to articles from our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy include:

The Battle of Slim Buttes

Exploring the Red River Valley Museum

Wagon Train Ruts from the Santa Fe Trail

Western Frontier Generals / Crook and Miles


hiking trails palo duro canyon

Palo Duro Canyon hiking trail

Visiting Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located a short drive south of Amarillo Texas and is easy to reach via the Interstate Highways. The park was opened in 1934 by the efforts of the Conservation Corp and contains over 29,000 scenic acres.

Upon entering the park you’ll want to stop at the Visitors Center and see the exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of how the canyon came into being. After the Visitors Center  you’ll want to make the loop drive where you’ll be able to explore some excellent hiking trails, see the site of the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon and view some amazing scenery. The park contains both day camping and overnight camping facilities.

Palo Duro Canyon is also well known for the musical TEXASThis outdoor musical drama and the official play of the state of Texas runs Tuesdays through Saturdays during the summer season in the Pioneer Amphitheater within the park. For more information regarding the musical see website

Two good books about the Red River War, Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie include Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by author S.C. Gwynne.

Also, Bad Hand: A Biography of General Ranald S. Mackenzie by author Charles M. Robinson III.

(Palo Duro photos are from author’s private collection. Ranald Mackenzie photo from the public domain))

The Successes and Trials of Samuel Colt


Samuel Colt is known to many as the father of the repeating firearm. His successes and setbacks were many. The story of how he overcame adversity and tragedy is one of the most remarkable you’ll find.

samuel colt

Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt’s ultimate success in patenting and producing repeating firearms came only after many false starts and failures. It was a rocky road. The story is not as simple as that however because along the way Samuel Colt experienced personal trials and tribulations that many may not be aware of. Aside from the fact that his life was short, having died from gout at the age of forty-seven in 1862, Sam Colt found himself embroiled in family tragedy some people don’t experience even if they lived to be one hundred. Following are a few of the least known things about Samuel Colt on his way to being king of the repeating pistol.

The Nitrous Oxide Entertainer

Samuel Colt was merely in his late teens when he traveled the east and south entertaining crowds with nitrous oxide demonstrations. Colt did this to earn money to send to his gunsmiths who were working on building prototypes for his repeating weapons. Being an entertainer was a way to make a slim living and keep his larger dream alive.

Nitrous oxide was also known as “Laughing Gas“. Sam Colt would typically run an ad in the local paper, charge perhaps twenty-five cents per ticket, and after calling himself Dr. Colt (he often used the ancestry spelling of Coult) would demonstrate with volunteers from the audience the crazy and funny things people would do after inhaling the gas. Entertainment choices were not nearly what they are today and the nitrous oxide show was a huge hit.

1843 colt pistol

1843 Colt reproduction pistol

It was estimated that Colt may have demonstrated the gas on over 20,000 people and on himself perhaps a thousand times. There are no records as to how much Colt earned as a nitrous oxide entertainer but it appeared to be enough to keep his gunsmiths working.

Perfecting the Underwater Explosive Mine

Sam Colt had experimented with chemistry since he was a boy. While he tried to both patent and sell his repeating pistol during the early years the going was slow. While not being able to convince the army of it’s effectiveness or need, Colt began working on underwater mines using electric current to help protect the nation’s harbors, especially from possible invasion from England.

Sam Colt actually made this weapon work on a small scale when he demonstrated the underwater bomb as a youth during a Fourth of July town event. While his firearms business was stagnating, he took up this effort again in a serious way and even did procure experimental funds from Congress. In all, Colt put on a series of demonstrations for the army and other government officials, mostly in the waters of New York Harbor, and did succeed in impressing his audience. Each demonstration showed how his underwater mine, connected by insulated wire, could demolish some of the biggest vessels the government supplied him to use as targets.

colt lightning pistol

Authentic .38 Colt Lightning

While Colt’s experiments succeeded the government lost interest in the project, mostly because the threat from England had diminished, and the underwater devices were never ordered up by Washington. Never however, during his work on the underwater weapons, did Sam Colt give up on promoting and refining his repeating pistols.

Sam Colt’s Older brother and a Sensational New York Murder

Samuel Colt had three brothers. Christopher, John, James and Samuel were the sons of Christopher Colt Sr.

Older brother John C. Colt was involved in killing a New York printer by the name of Samuel Adams in 1838. John Colt had a degree of success in writing and lecturing on the subject of “double entry bookkeeping“. Not exactly the most exciting subject matter but in the early 1800’s it was something merchants and companies in America’s rapidly growing economy were in need of and could put to practical use.

The murder of Samuel Adams on September 17, 1841 who had been involved in printing a set of Colt’s books was bad enough, but Colt had tried to crudely hide and ship away the corpse in a small box and was ultimately caught and arrested. The crime was horrible and became a big sensation with the New York press. Stories of the crime even spread to papers all across the country.

Samuel Colt, struggling with his firearm manufacturing company (selling firearms on a retail basis without big government contracts) and in the midst of developing the underwater explosive mine, stood by his brother and helped financially and otherwise with his defense. In fact, Sam appeared as a witness for the defense with a pistol demonstration shooting balls with cap detonators without gunpowder. This has gone down as one of the more unusual courtroom demonstrations in history.

1851 colt navy revolver

1851 Colt Navy Revolver

John C. Colt was ultimately convicted and sentenced to hang on November 18, 1842. All subsequent appeals had failed. On the day of the scheduled execution at the Tombs jail in New York City, John took his own life in his cell by stabbing himself just an hour or so before the hanging was to commence. The means by which he obtained the knife was never solved.

There is much more to this story. There are revelations concerning Samuel Colt and a prior marriage producing a son that is all connected to an unusual wedding in John Colt’s jail cell on the day of his scheduled execution in 1842. I would recommend the fascinating book Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend by author Harold Schechter. While the book goes into great detail about the murder and trial it also gives a sweeping background about the Colt family and Samuel Colt’s efforts to make a success of his repeating pistol and rifle. You’ll find it a great read.

colt armory hartford

Colt Armory

Links to two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy include;

Western Frontier Generals / Crook and Miles

Pullman Railroad Cars

The Firearms of Annie Oakley

When Samuel Colt passed away in 1862 during the midst of the Civil War he was one of the wealthiest men in America. His Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company was an industry leader. He was at the forefront of America’s early industrial revolution. As a side note, the wife of Samuel Colt, Elizabeth Jarvis Colt, experienced not only the death of her husband in 1862 but also the tragedy of having two sons and a daughter dying in infancy just a short time earlier. Another son born in 1858 did live until 1894.

Upon Samuel Colt’s death, Elizabeth took over the management of the company and the years from the Civil War through the end of the 1800’s were some of the company’s best.

armsmear hartford


Sites to Add to Your Travel Planner

Armsmear, the mansion built by Samuel Colt in Hartford Connecticut is an excellent example of Italianate architecture. The home is now a National Historic Landmark. The home is located at 80 Wethersfield Avenue and is used today as a “51 unit apartment complex for retired single women.” Also on the same street is the James Colt Home which is also another example of Italianate architecture.

The Museum of Connecticut History is located at 231 Capitol Avenue, Hartford. The museum includes the Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company Factory Collection which was given to the museum in 1957.

Along the Connecticut River is the old Colt Armory where Samuel Colt manufactured his firearms. The site is a National Historic Landmark. The building today includes the original forge shop and foundry. Another excellent book on this subject is The Colt Armory: A History of Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Inc. by author Ellsworth S. Grant.

(Photos of Colt firearms are from the author’s own collection. Remaining photos and images are from the public domain)



Six Month Voyage Chasing for Gold

The Gold Craze Takes Hold

When gold was first discovered at Sutters Mill in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, a mad dash like this country has never seen was put in motion. Thousands of people in the eastern United States, not to mention the world in general, suddenly wanted to be in California. The gold discovery of 1849 was like no other and it just happened to occur at the same time that California was taken over, thanks to the end of the Mexican American War, from it’s former Mexican rulers.

california gold rush poster

California Gold Rush Poster

Not only had the U.S. taken possession of the Southwest and California, but now this new land so far away from the east promised riches of the kind that Coronado had hoped for during his Spanish expedition of 1540. The timing for the United States and it’s citizens couldn’t have been better.

How to Get to the Gold Fields

The problem or difficulty in the year 1849 was simply how to get there. There were really three ways to accomplish this and all three were filled with danger. It was basically a case of choosing your own poison.

The first was overland. The second was by ship to Panama crossing the jungle of Central America and then again by ship up the west coast of North America and into San Francisco Bay. The third option was also by ship, sailing down the Atlantic Ocean, navigating around Cape Horn, and then sailing north all the way to San Francisco. All three presented perilous journeys and there wasn’t one option which was clearly better than the other.

Traveling Overland to California

san francisco harbor during gold rush

Harbor at San Francisco, 1850-51

The overland option exposed one to Indian attacks, breakdown on the remote trail or mountains and of course the elements.

In the 1850’s the Indian situation in the west was volatile as diaries from Oregon Trail pioneers detail quite well. One only had to recall the fate of the Donner party in the snow covered Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Steamer to Panama

A trip by steamer via Panama meant a trek through the jungles which also could mean malaria and other afflictions.There was also uncertainty of whether ship passage was available when you finally made your way to the Pacific coast.

Rounding Cape Horn

The third option, a sea voyage around Cape Horn meant two things. Probably a six month journey ( average was about 200 days) and the very good chance of trying to ride out ocean storms not to mention the dangerous passage around Cape Horn. The exception was the Clipper Ship which started the California run in early 1849 and reportedly could make the voyage to San Francisco in about 120 days. It was thought that a regular vessel at the time could make about 4-5 knots where a clipper ship might be able to do 6-7 knots.

The Enticement of Gold

ss california

SS California, first Pacific Mail Steamer between San Francisco and Panama

The clipper ships carried mostly valuable freight and not many passengers.

The gold certainly was enticing, the work to get oneself there most likely wasn’t.

Amazingly, people from all walks of life headed to the gold fields. Farmers left their farms, storekeepers closed up their shops, doctors left their practices, clergymen left their flocks and many other people simply left home.

It was reported that in the United States during the year 1849 alone about 42,000 people struck out to California by land and about 25,000 by sea. Another interesting fact is that people from all of the then 31 states headed to the gold fields as well as people from 25 different nations.

Sailing to the Gold Fields

Let’s just say you really were hit with the gold bug and decided to journey to California from the American east coast in 1849 or 1850. Some bought passage on the next steamer bound for the Pacific and others actually signed on as seamen to gain passage west. There was another endeavor which was the creation on cooperatives to send vessels to California. The dual purpose was to journey to the California gold fields and also to carry supplies, if possible, from the east to sell to the thousands now in California.

The Cooperative…One Way to Make the Journey West

gold rush clipper ship

Clipper Ship Sovereign of the Seas, 1850’s

One exceptional story which really illustrates the frantic scramble to make it to the California gold fields concerns the vessel “California Packet“.

Captain George Kimball, working out of the seacoast town of Cutler Maine, lacking the funds to purchase a vessel, went into the Maine woods and cut the timber necessary to build his ship. Kimball’s project became a cooperative.

Meat and provisions were gathered together by farmers who would join the expedition. While other companies were already underway on their voyages to California, Kimball of course was still putting his vessel together. The sheer adventure of such a project as Kimball’s attracted experienced joiners and shipwrights. In place of wages for these workers, shares of the cooperative were issued. The 144 foot long California Packet with a 15 foot beam was finally launched off the Maine coast on November 29, 1849.

gold rush steamers

Gold rush steamer sign in Old Town Sacramento CA

The passengers on this historic voyage were a bit different than those on some of the ships that had departed earlier.

The California Packet carried one hundred people including twelve married women, sixteen unmarried women and fifteen children. The remaining passengers were young males eagerly heading to California to find their fortune.

The wide variety of passengers were most likely due to the ship being a cooperative rather than a commercial vessel simply selling passage. In fact, it was reported that everyone on board the California Packet was a shareholder. The ship was very fortunate to pick up cargo worth some $15,000 in Boston. The vessel sailed around Cape Horn and made safe passage all the way to San Francisco.

California was a wild place in 1850 and while the cooperative worked quite well during the planning stages and during the actual months long voyage, once the ship reached it’s destination the cooperative tended to fall apart. People went their own ways.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you’ll enjoy;

The Amazing Story of the Gold Rush Forty-Eighters

New Gold Towns Overnight

The Stolen Boat

Airships / The California Gold Rush

Dangers Were Always Lurking

The shorter sea route which traversed the Panama jungles had it’s perils. People took sick and died during this crossing. It was not until years later with the completion of the trans-Panama railroad that the dangers were lessened. This shorter route was popular because Cape Horn and the six month sea voyage was avoided. Probably what wasn’t fully realized was the difficulty in crossing through the jungle with the chance of picking up an exotic disease.

sutters fort buildings

Historic Sutters Fort structures, Sacramento CA

Sea travel required two important things. A competent captain who knew not only how to keep the ship off of rocks but also how to navigate in general. The second thing was to have adequate food supplies. The long voyage to California around Cape Horn required careful planning to either store enough food or know where to stop to replenish the supply. Among diseases on a long voyage was scurvy so fruits were an important food to have along.

The San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

One of the best ways to learn about the ships of the California Gold Rush is to visit The San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park located adjacent to Fishermans Wharf. For more than 60 years, San Francisco Maritime National Park Association has worked to bring maritime history to life for visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area.

An excellent website to give you a precise chronology of the California Gold Rush years is

Three books I’d recommend regarding the travel endured, the people involved and the mining towns themselves include Anybody’s Gold: The Story of California’s Mining Towns by author Joseph Henry Jackson, The World Rushed In by author J.S. Holliday and  California : Romance of clipper ship and gold rush days by author James W. Travers.

(Photos of Sutters Fort and Steamer Sign is from author’s collection. Remaining photos from the public domain)



Carnegie Libraries


The story of the Carnegie Libraries details one of the more interesting philanthropic endeavors the United States has ever experienced. It’s under reporting may be due to the fact it occurred so long ago and many of today’s generation may not even be aware of it.

Thousands of Libraries Built

andrew carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Between the years of 1883 and 1929 no less than 2,500 libraries were established thanks to the donations from Andrew Carnegie and steel. By the year 1919 nearly one half of all the public libraries in the U.S. were erected due to Andrew Carnegie’s efforts. The Carnegie Library structures were often times the most impressive buildings in town as the photos in this article demonstrate.

A Fortune from Steel

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland and emigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1848. Working first as a telegrapher and later as a bond salesman, he made wise investments in railroads and other emerging industries and amassed wealth.

Those of us who know the biography of Andrew Carnegie realize that his fortune was derived from the the emerging steel industry of the 1800’s. In America, Andrew Carnegie and steel were much the same thing. Andrew Carnegie began producing steel in the 1870’s and after acquiring additional mills formed the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh in 1892. The company was sold to U.S. Steel in 1901.

The Carnegie Formula

Almost all of Carnegie’s libraries were established were built by what was called “The Carnegie Formula“. Simply, this meant that the town that was to receive a donation from Andrew Carnegie would have to also make a financial commitment to the project. In other words, the grant from Carnegie would be augmented by money from the community itself. Carnegie felt strongly that by having the community financially involved would maintain their keen interest in it’s implementation.

carnegie library photo

Carnegie Library Building in Livermore California

The Carnegie Formula was fairly simple. Communities were required to show a real need for a library, provide land for it’s construction, make it’s use free for to the general public and contribute ten percent of the construction costs. Money donated from Carnegie was distributed piecemeal as the project moved forward. Often towns needed to arrange added taxes to raise their ten percent stake.

The Impact of the Carnegie Libraries

Today, public libraries are essentially a given. Most communities have them and we generally take them for granted. This wasn’t the case at the turn of the twentieth century. In many cases the Carnegie Libraries represented the first time people could freely browse over books and periodicals. Both the rich and poor could have free access to literary material. They could learn on their own and do it for free. This was a big deal during the early years of free libraries. Prior to that, a seeker of free reading material would often need to ask a clerk to search for the title in a closed book collection. As a result, the new and easily accessible Carnegie Libraries were often the town’s cultural center.

carnegie library in healdsburg california

Carnegie Library building in Healdsburg California

If you look at the years when the Carnegie Libraries project were unfolding, these corresponded closely with the period when towns and cities were realizing great growth. Although Carnegie Libraries were built all over the nation, newly thriving western towns were major beneficiaries of the steel magnate’s philanthropy. The libraries were built in the decades immediately following the last of the western Indian Wars and population was streaming westward like never before.

Links to two additional Trips Into History articles you’ll enjoy include;

World War Two Attacks on America’s West Coast

The Pullman Railroad Cars

Some of the Old Carnegie Library Buildings we’ve Visited in the West

From the few photos featured in this article, you can clearly realize that the Carnegie Library buildings appeared quite impressive. The Carnegie Libraries today are utilized for a variety of purposes, mostly historical related including as local museums. Visiting one of the old Carnegie Libraries when visiting a community usually will fill you in about the town’s past. If the town you visit happens to have an old Carnegie Library you would be wise to add it to your trip planner.

petaluma free library

Free Public Library, Petaluma Calfornia

The Carnegie building located in Livermore California is now home to the Livermore Heritage Guild. The address is 2155 Third Street. Carnegie Library funds were requested in 1908 and $10,000 was granted in 1909. The construction was completed in 1911. The architecture is Classical Revival.

The old Carnegie Library located in Healdsburg California, a short distance north of San Francisco and in the beautiful Sonoma County wine country, was built in the Neo-Classical Revival style. Today this building houses the Healdsburg Museum. A total of four Carnegie Libraries were constructed in Sonoma County. The museum address is 221 Matheson Street.

The Carnegie Library building in Petaluma California, a relatively short drive north of San Francisco, is now a very interesting local museum. The building is now called the Free Public Library of Petaluma, the Carnegie Free Library and the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum. Construction began in 1904 in the Classical Revival style. The library and museum is located at 20 Fourth Street .

(Photo of Andrew Carnegie is from the public domain. Remaining photos of Carnegie Libraries are from author’s private collection)

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