Joseph Blundell, traveler, Civil War veteran

Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.

Long before his 30th birthday, Joseph Travers Blundell had lived and traveled enough for three men. Maybe that is why he found such comfort in whiskey. In his later years, he became a teetotaler, but as a young man, it was claimed that he often ran up a tab for whiskey as high as $80 per month. Joe's mother felt the first pangs of labor on Nov. 4, 1840, inside the crowded four walls of a hotel room located along the Dutchess (original spelling) Turnpike in the lush countryside of Dutchess County, N.Y., which was bordered by the Hudson River. His only distinction as a child would be that he was the very middle child of John and Mary Blundell's nine sons and daughters.

When he was a one-year-old, the family began their itinerant wandering, staying for a while in Housatonicville, Mass. and Norwich, Conn, before sailing from the east coast. Joe was just 12 on Christmas Day, 1852, when the family sailed around Cape Horn, bound for San Francisco. Probably due to the constant moving, Joe and his siblings were not well educated. It would be up to him to educate himself.

March 1853: The Blundell's arrived in Placerville and immediately procured supplies and set off for Lotus, where they went into business for themselves, renting the New York Hotel from Harry Lau for $250 per month. At the time, there were also two stores in town. Due to the gold mining in the area, the Blundell's found themselves earning $10 a week from each of the 90 men lodging in their hotel. At least 2,000 were calling the area their temporary home.

The little gold rush town nestled along the south fork of the American River had seen much change in just a few short years. It had gotten its start as Marshall, after James Marshall, but then in 1850 the name was changed to Uniontown. However, that name would also change. Lotus, which it was renamed when its post office was established, has stuck to this day.

When Joe was 18, he threw his things together and headed for the Frazer River in British Columbia, where gold strikes were being reported. That strike would not reach its peak until 1862. Joe turned around and went home where he took sick for the next year.

April 1862: The first shots fired at Fort Sumter heralded the official beginning of the Civil War, which had been brewing for years. That January, Joe had become one of the nearly 16,000 men from California to sign up. He and the other new recruits assigned to Company F, 4th California Infantry, gathered with their leader, Col. Judah, at Camp Siegel, near Auburn. Right away, they were moved to Camp Union in Sacramento, and on to San Francisco on April 28. From there, they journeyed to Camp Latham in Southern California and thence to Camp Drum, at Wilmington, where they remained for awhile. The Union feared that the lure of the state's gold and its harbors would be very attractive to a Confederacy that was running up against Union blockades in the east and needed the western coastal access to European markets for the exportation of its cotton.

The summer before, a group of Texans, led by Confederate Lt. Colonel John Baylor, had captured the southern half of both New Mexico and Arizona territories and named it the Confederate Territory of Arizona. In the fall of 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Henry Sibley was given permission by Jefferson Davis to open a wider corridor to California through the upper New Mexico and Arizona territories, and to capture the gold fields in San Francisco.

All in all, Joe would spend three years in the army before being discharged at Fort Yuma.

After a return trip to Coloma, he turned back to mining, traveling south again to spend a little time along the Colorado River in Arizona. Back again in California, he spent the next years in quartz mining near Marysville at Brown's Valley.

Again he returned to Coloma, where he engaged in surface mining in the Stuckslager Mine, located a mile southwest of Lotus. This mine, which continued to be worked through the mid-1950s, consisted of veins and pockets of gold-bearing quartz, measuring up to two feet in width.

In 1880, Joe met up with an old friend, Oscar Osborne. The two men joined forces and bought the Pioneer Nursery, which is the oldest developed property in Coloma, having been established by a Mr. Weimer, who was with Marshall at the discovery of gold. It was considered a beautiful piece of property.

Blundell and Osborne's gardening venture paid off in record crops and prize awards from as far away as the San Francisco Mechanic's Institute Exhibit. Fancy grapes, plums, cherries, figs, persimmons, peaches and pears are the main crops. Both men became pillars of their community, joining fraternal organizations and, as charter members, helping to establish the Champion of the Red Cross in California which, incidentally, was known for its campaigns against demon alcohol, one of Joe's old vices.

On April 15, 1900, Joe passed away and was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery, located on Cold Springs Road, across from the Vineyard House in Coloma. Somewhat secluded, the old cemetery winds through the trees around a hill, and is the final resting place to some 600 pioneers, many of them gold miners. Apparently, Joe never married, but he left two sisters, recorded only as Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Stearns.

Permission is granted by the author to use or republish this article, but proper attribution to the author -- Joanne Burkett -- is requested.

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