Footprints: Sailor jumps ship, joins search for coastal town

February 01, 2007 11:00 pm

By Dave Gray

James Brooking Jr. was born Sept. 28, 1828 on a farm in Grofton County, New Hampshire. At the age of 11, he left home to sail before the mast. He was a sailor.

On Jan. 13, 1849 at the age of 20, Brooking sailed from Boston on the brig Colonel Tayloe, under the command of Captain Charles Leavett. Their destination was Sacramento around Cape Horn. He was to be paid $1, of which 65 cents was to be held for "hospital dues."

It was a stormy voyage, and they had to wait five weeks off Cape Horn for the weather to ease. The ship reached San Francisco on Sept. 14 and continued up the river to Sacramento where the sailors expected to receive their pay. Brooking had informed the captain that he was leaving the ship to prospect for gold. The captain was irate and refused to pay Brooking and instead gave him a pick and a pan for panning gold.

Stranded

Brooking was stranded with no money and had to do odd jobs to earn enough to reach his destination. He finally reached Redding Springs, and after working for six weeks was able to purchase two oxen then proceeded to the Trinity River. His dreams of mining gold were realized and he left there in January 1850 with $5,000 in his pocket.

Brooking went to Salmon River and then on to Clear Creek where he contracted to build a dam. This undertaking proved disastrous. The soil was too sandy to hold water and washed out of the stone work.

That spring, Brooking started a stores in Yreka and Jacksonville. He sold his business in 1852 for $3,000 and went to Scott's Valley.

With the beginning of the California gold rush it became apparent that an ocean front settlement was desirable to transport supplies and materials to the interior mining operations.

Brooking had heard about the site along the coast and was eager to join a party to explore a route to the Pacific and found a new town. Around October 1852, he joined a party of 18 men and set out to find a location. After two weeks of travel in early winter storms the party returned to Waldo and split up, agreeing to renew their efforts in the next year.

Brooking went to Sailor Diggings on Illinois Creek with a man named Picket H. Kennedy. They set up operations to mine for gold. However, after three weeks J. F. Wendel showed up in Sailor Diggings eager to reach the coast and found a town. He formed a party of 11 men to cross the mountains and reach the coast. Brooking and Kennedy were among the party.

New settlement

Wendel had made arrangements for food and supplies to be shipped to the Point St. George area from San Francisco by schooner.

The exploration party left Waldo on Nov. 27. They reached what is now Crescent City on Dec.11. The schooner from San Francisco with the supplies never did arrive.

Kennedy and several other members of the exploration party returned to Sailor Diggings to tell of their success and to make efforts to get supplies and food sent to the party remaining on the coast.

David Gray is a Del Norte Historical Society volunteer.

•Next week in Footprints: What James Brooking does in Crescent City.