Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin
Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin was born on April 3, 1828, in Hamilton, Ohio, the fourth child of William Alexander Crooks Baldwin and his wife Elizabeth Nancy Baldwin (nee Miller). William Baldwin operated a small farm and served the community as a preacher. He was well thought of by his neighbors. In 1834 William sold the family farm and moved to an eighty acre farm just outside of Terre Coupee Town (soon to be changed to Hamilton), Indiana. Young Elias Baldwin helped with chores around the farm and particularly liked working with his father's horses. By 1840 the young man was buying and selling horses on his own and making a small profit by so doing. In 1844 the family moved to Crawfordsville so that their children could attend school. Elias stayed in school one year and then turned away from it to concentrate on his horse trading business. He was sixteen years old.
The family moved back to their farm and William allocated a few acres of the farm to each of his sons to cultivate for their own profit. Elias did well with his small acerage and his horse trading and accumulated a bit of capital. In 1846 he won two hundred dollars in a horse race at South Bend and with the money in his pocket proposed marriage to Sarah Ann Unruh. He was eighteen and she was younger. Because they could not obtain her parents consent to the marriage they eloped to Bertrand, Michigan, lied about their ages, and were married. He continued to work on his father's farm and his own small acreage and he continued to do well. In 1847 he rented a nearby farm and made that profitable as well. His capital now amounted to several thousand dollars. He was nineteen years old. Sarah and Elias moved to Porterville (soon to be changed to Valpariso), Indiana, and opened a small grocery store and saloon. On May 14, 1847, they had their first child - Clara.
Business in Valpariso was not very good and shortly after Clara was born Elias moved his family to New Buffalo, Indian, where he opened a hotel and general store. When the Illinois Canal was completed Baldwin built three canal boats and went into business hauling freight on the new waterway. His new business was profitable but boring. In 1849 he sold all of his property in New Buffalo and moved to Racine, Wisconsin, where he bought a grocery store and opened a hotel which he named the Racine House, Both the store and the hotel made money, but once again he found life to be monotonous. He decided to go to California. He sold all of his business interests in Racine and organized a small wagon train They departed Racine in March 1853. Baldwin had four wagons. Two of the wagons carried household possessions and his family. A third wagon was loaded with nothing but brandy and the fourth wagon was loaded with tobacco and tea, In addition he had a score of horses The Baldwins were accompanied by seven other men and one young lady of eighteen. Elias was elected captain of the party.
They traveled across southern Wisconsin and Iowa to Council Bluffs in one month without incident. While they waited for their turn on the ferry across the Missouri River Elias met D.A. Shaw. Shaw was making his second trip to California and offered his services as guide. Baldwin accepted and the two parties combined. There were now thirty wagons in the train. They took the Carson Trail safely across what was to become Nebraska to Fort Laramie where they resupplied and rested for three days. A few days past Fort Laramie, Baldwin, while hunting, became separated from the rest of the party and was lost for several days. Indians eventually helped him get back to his own wagons just as his wife and friends were about to give him up as dead. After celebrating his return they continued on to catch up with the other wagons led by Shaw at the junction of the Sweetwater and North Platte Rivers. The reunited party then crossed the Rocky Mountains at South Pass. Feed was sparse along the way and the party had to break up into smaller units travelling and camping separately so that sufficient grass could be found for all of their livestock. Because of the quality of their animals Baldwin and Shaw led the way to Fort Bridger.
After resting for a few days at Fort Bridger, Baldwin's party crossed the desert into Salt Lake City without incident. Baldwin met Brigham Young and sold his tobacco tea, and brandy to Mormon traders, one of whom was Brigham's brother. Baldwin made between three and four thousand dollars on the transaction and used part of the profits to buy additional horses for sale west of Salt Lake City to emigrants needing to replace exhausted mounts. Elias decided to leave Salt Lake City ahead of Shaw's party who were still straggling in. He loaded barrels of water into the wagons that had transported the tobacco, tea and brandy and headed out. They took a trail recommended by Brigham Young's brother and two days out of the city were ambushed by Ute Indians. They successfully fought off the attack with a few wounded but none killed. Baldwin later said that he suspected that Mormons had instigated the ambush and that Brigham Young's brother participated in it disguised as an Indian. Their motive was thought to be the recovery of the money paid for Baldwin's trade goods. Once on their way again they were again attacked by Indians - this time Paiutes. They fought off the initial charge, circled their wagons, and waited for other emigrants to catch up with them.
Within a few days their party had swelled to fifty wagons and one hundred members and they were able to continue on to Rag Town on the Carson River without further incident. From Rag Town they went on to Mormon Station. While the party waited at Mormon Station Elias went on to Genoa to sell his extra horses. On the way he was once again attacked by Indians. He made it through the encounter unhurt but lost two of his horses. In Genoa he sold the wagons and the remainder of his extra horses for a handsome profit and returned to Mormon Station. From Mormon Station he and five others rode saddle horses and led pack animals past Gold Canyon where a few prospectors were searching the barren ground for gold and up over the Sierras into Hangtown (soon to be changed to Placerville). It was August and they had been on the two thousand mile trail the best part of six months, but they had finally arrived in the California gold fields. After a few days in Hangtown, Baldwin moved on to Sacramento and then on to San Francisco. In San Francisco he sold his horses for a considerable profit and began casting about for a business in which to invest. Unlike most emigrants, Baldwin had made his trip to California pay. He now had about seven thousand dollars in capital - double what he started out with in Racine.