On November 2, 1850, Jeremiah Root published a “Notice” in the Sacramento Transcript offering a reward for the arrest of his wife, Emeline, who had absconded with a younger man, twelve thousand dollars, and their two-year-old daughter, leaving Root and their five sons to fend for themselves at the roadhouse they ran along the American River. When Emeline and their daughter were found three months later on a bark in San Francisco preparing to leave California, Jeremiah met with her and the couple quickly reconciled. Charges were dropped against Emeline and her associates, and Jeremiah and the rest of their family joined her on the ship to travel east. The Transcript editorialized against the apparent tawdry nature of the affair, but a deeper inspection of the history of this forty-niner family reveals in intimate detail how Jeremiah and Emeline's personal struggles emerged from the incredible physical and spiritual turmoil experienced by early Mormon emigrants, who played a seminal role in Gold Rush–era California. Emeline and Jeremiah Root were early converts to Mormonism and arrived in California having survived a twelve-year odyssey that began in Kirtland, Ohio. They were expelled first from Kirtland and then from Nauvoo, Illinois, after the murder of their church leader, Joseph Smith. They persevered through starvation and malnutrition at Winter Quarters on the Missouri River while following Brigham Young to Salt Lake. They struggled with spiritual allegiances as the practice of polygamy and economic inequities became apparent among church leadership, and they ultimately defied Brigham Young by taking the physically demanding overland route from Salt Lake through the Forty-Mile Desert and over the Carson Pass to Gold Rush California in early 1849. Finally, they lived through a tumultuous year on the lower American River, surviving among unruly miners, deadly shootouts over property rights, and a rampant outbreak of cholera. These pressures erupted into a personal crisis when Emeline escaped, escorted by a family friend who was perhaps her lover, taking her only daughter and the family fortune with her. Emeline and Jeremiah's eventual reconciliation and the way Jeremiah ultimately lived out his life revealed them to be people of personal and spiritual integrity who, in this one incident, were overwhelmed by the struggles of the times. Their story illustrates the incredible resiliency of early California pioneers and integrates in vivid detail the physical, spiritual, and emotional challenges facing families in Gold Rush–era California.
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Research Article| May 01 2016
Emeline and Jeremiah: Strains on a Mormon Forty-Niner Family
California History (2016) 93 (2): 31–56.
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Thomas J. Savage; Emeline and Jeremiah: Strains on a Mormon Forty-Niner Family. California History 1 May 2016; 93 (2): 31–56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2016.93.2.31
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