Carleton Watkins                       The Living Present


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intuitive as on analytic methods. . .history is a kind of art,"[5] he wrote.  Adherents to Hayden White's school of thinking believe the historical process moves away from science and toward the realm of art when the tool of inference[6]—the process of connecting the dotted lines between isolated factual benchmarks—is applied.[7]

          One of the peculiarities of the Otsego County boys' journey to California via the Spanish-speaking Americas is that not a single one of them kept a journal or diary chronicling the adventure.  If any of them wrote a single letter home during their time on the isthmus of Panama it has not survived.  The absence of letters, diaries or journals is unusual because the pattern followed by thousands of Gold Rush era emigrants was exactly the opposite as explained by Oscar Lewis, who made a thorough study of Gold Rush travelers:  "The Argonaut who failed to commit his impressions to paper was decidedly an exception. . .rarely was he without a notebook, a quill-pen, and a bottle of ink."[8] [Fig. 2a]  Jessie even observed that almost everyone on the steamer Panama kept a journal and expressed great curiosity about what they were writing.[9]

           Most of the emigrants of 1849 realized the journey on which they had embarked could prove to be the most momentous happening of their lives.  Thus it would have been natural for at least one of the five Otsego County boys to want to preserve some record of the great adventure.  The journey to California via the isthmus of Panama was surely the most momentous happening of their lives, yet for unexplained reasons, no record of the   experience has survived.  There are several possible answers to the question, Why? 

           One possibility is they were too busy. During the first two weeks on the isthmus they were faced with the process of crossing from the Caribbean side to the Pacific Ocean and were sleeping at night on the ground or in rented native hammocks.  Once the cargo transfer operation was underway they were occupied day and night with its logistics.  It is thus understandable why between mid-March and mid-May there were few, if any, opportunities to engage in the introspective process of writing. 

          Letters, journals and diaries were typically written by the forty-niners to pass time while they were at sea, for example the letter Carleton's friend,


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[5] Hayden V. White, "The Burden of History," History and Theory, 5 (no. 2, 1966), p. 111

[6] Robert Brandom, Articulating Reasons: An Introduction to Inferentialism, Cambridge and London:  Harvard University Press, 2000, pp. 10-12.

[7] Robert Brandon, Making it Explicit: Reasoning, Representing and Discursive Commitment, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994, pp. 6, 9, 91, 614.

[8] Oscar Lewis, Sea Routes to the Gold Fields,  New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1949, p. vii.

[9] Pamela Herr, Jessie Benton Frémont: A Biography, New York: Franklin Watts, 1987, p. 196.