Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Naperville Goes West

The Gold Rush began in 1848 and nearly 300,000 people traveled to California to cash in on their share. Naperville folks were not immune to Gold Rush fever.

The Naperville settlement was only seventeen years old. In addition to the original group of Scotts and Irish, families from Germany and other countries had also made their way to the DuPage River, pushing the frontier even farther west.

This past summer we drove from Naperville to Los Angeles to visit our son and we were overwhelmed by the vast — and harsh — landscape. And that’s in an air conditioned car! We can only imagine what the trip must have been like for travelers in 1848.

Apparently Stephen Scott, who arrived in Naperville in 1837, organized a group of local folks who traveled together across the plains and deserts to seek their fortunes. Among them was John Stenger of the Stenger Brewery.  

Another man with gold fever was Morris Sleight, originally a ship’s captain like Joseph Naper, who spent four years in Placerville, California looking for gold before returning to his Naperville farm in 1854. 

Pierce Hawley, whose daughter married Willard Scott, Stephen’s son, had a farm in Kendall County, but lived for a time in Naperville as well. Hawley also went west, but for religious reasons rather than for gold.

Hawley was a Methodist who heard Joseph Smith speak and became a Mormon follower. When Smith was killed, a group of Mormons under the leadership of Lyman Wight went to Texas and Hawley went with them, taking most of his family. Caroline, already married, remained in Naperville.

One of Hawley’s daughters became a plural wife of Wight, but Hawley was starting to have his misgivings about his son-in-law. After his daughter died, the conflict grew and Hawley left the religious community. He moved to Cherokee Nation, Nebraska where he spent the last years of his life.

It seems no locals struck the mother lode. Looking out on those wide skies and dry plains during our trip, one can only admire the pioneer fortitude it must have taken to travel by foot, horse and wagon from the DuPage River to the California mountains in pursuit of their golden dreams.