The Story of Henry Rice Mann by Michaela Bishop

On August 10th, 1814 in Middlebury, Vermont my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Henry Rice Mann was born. He had two brothers and one sister. Most of the Mann children lived into adulthood except Martha, she only lived until she was three. Not much is known about Henry’s early life after his mother passed away and his father remarried in 1825. Somehow both Henry and his future wife Olive Lucinda moved around during their respective childhoods and eventually met in Sandstone, Michigan. They got married on February 26th, 1839. This is what their marriage license said:

This may certify that in the village of Barry, Jackson Co.., Michigan, I have this day united in marriage Mr. Henry Rice Mann, age twenty four years, and residing at Marshal, Calhoun Co. and Olive Lucinda Trowbridge of Sandstone, Jackson Co. age twenty years. Present as witnesses:  Giles Bloomfield, Henry C. Whipple, and James Trowbridge, all of Sandstone.

Signed Jason Park

Barry, February 26, 1839

The two lived happily together in Michigan and they had four beautiful children. At least that was until the spring of 1849. Henry had spent years thinking of striking it rich panning for gold and to make a life for him and his family out in California.

Henry left Michigan to go to St. Louis, Missouri to join the wagon train and the other families making passage out west. He started writing in journals and taking notes about his journey, however the early part of his notes was lost and the only journals the family has started on June 22, 1849. He wrote in his journal every day and ends each entry with how much distance they crossed during the day, sometimes it is as high as 52 ¾ miles, whereas others can be as low at 5 miles. Many times, Henry describes the scenery that he saw while traveling,


June 29th

…the Wind River Range of mountains burst upon the view, with their lofty peaks of eternal snow glittering in the morning sun. The snow seemed to come to the very base rendering it strikingly picturesque and beautiful – dotted ever and anon with dark foliage of pine and cedar, it was the most beautiful sublime spectacle I ever saw. Surpassing any thing conceived of by anyone who has not seen similar sights.


Henry continues along his journey with the company, writing in great detail all the things he sees and the people he meets. He even talks about how the water taste from the different areas that he collected them in. Henry also mentions the few interactions he has with others also traveling out west.


July 4th

The glorious fourth has at last arrived. The rising sun and its first rays shot a thwart the plains from snow clad peaks of the Rocky Mountains was not greeted by the sound of the deep mouth cannon on the merry Peal of bells yet, we all felt that we were Americans though, thousands of miles separated us from the land of our birth and our happy homes. Many a heart beat in unison with those who, surrounded with all the luxuries and comfort of civilization, were celebrating the day in good old fashion style. The weather was very cold last night, there being a heavy frost this morning and ice nearly an inch thick.


As Henry continued on his journey to California, he saw many things and talked in great detail about the sights he saw but not much on whom he was traveling with. The company continued west and as the got closer to the Utah Mountains they started seeing more and more people on their way, especially as they got closer to Fort Hall. They even have started seeing more Indian and Indian camps along their way.

At the end of July the company has learned that as many as 800 wagons are traveling behind them but they haven’t encountered many coming East from California. The company purchased cheese and 50 cents a pound but then it gave them all a headache because of the treacherous road conditions and decided it was best to stay to hard bread and plain food. Along the way the cattle even became mysteriously sick which has slowed the wagon train down a bit until the cattle were better.

On August 10th, Henry woke up on his 35th birthday to the sound of the wolves howling. It sounded like hundreds of them and some were not far away, luckily one shot was all it took to scare them off of the camp. On that same day Henry and Hopkins (another traveler) went out hunting and Henry learned to never go hunting with Hopkins without a horse to carry all the game back to camp.

By August 25th, Henry decided to leave the ox team and walking with three other men to make it to California by September 1st. He only packed one shirt, a blanket and some 10 pounds of hard bread, a little coffee, tea and sugar.


August 29th

The weather was quite cold last night, ice forming ½ inch thick in our cups, notwithstanding a large pine log fire we could not sleep comfortable and long before day we were up and boiling some rice in our little coffee pot, our encampment was in the Donner Valley. The place where he and his family perished, and as we looked upon our scanty supply of provisions with no prospect of recruiting it, we could not help feeling that they were in a horrible situation. Ten-miles walk in the cool air this morning brought us to Cannibal Cabins, where another part of the Donner party tried to winter and nearly all perished.

The cabins are situated in a dense thicket of small pines about three miles below Truckee Lake.

The trees are chopped off about 10 feet from the ground. Showing the depth of the snow, at the time the cabins were built.

Bones and remnants of clothing are scattered all around, presenting anything but a pleasing sight to the passing emigrant.


On that same day Henry and the others he was traveling with made it to the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, they didn’t think that they could breathe freer but were awarded the sight of the valley sprawled out beneath them. By August 30th the men have finally made it to the heart of the gold region.

However, tragedy struck as Henry suddenly became violently ill when he came into Sacramento and was sick until September 16th. The journal ends on September 18th when he sends it back to his family, however, his story doesn’t end there.

Eventually Henry made it to an area around Jackson, CA and panned for gold along the Mokelumne River by Middle Bar Bridge. He soon realized that he wouldn’t make a lot of money panning for gold and went into Jackson for a suitable job. He became Jackson’s first post master in 1851 and along with his business partner, William McKim, opened the Astor House, a boarding house for miners and travelers.

Henry and William ran the Astor House together and even had a bear that was chained to a tree near the hotel, either in what would be the backyard or out front. The two men found the bear as a cub and decided to bring him back to the hotel as a pet. On May 17th, a wild boar came into Jackson and spooked the bear. Henry decided to go outside and calm the bear down and the bear gave him a “bear hug”. The bear cracked quite a few of Henry’s ribs and the bear’s claws punctured Henry in many places. It took three days for Henry to die, on May 20th  1952.

His wife Olive (sometimes known as Lucinda) around that same time was being to travel out west to join her husband in California with their four children. Olive was traveling with her sister in law and brother with their two children. When they about halfway through the journey, Olive received word that her husband was dead and she would be arriving in California as a widow. She decided to keep going out west to the uncertain future that awaited her there. When she arrived, seeing what Jackson was like, Olive and her sister in law started the first Methodist Church and the first school in Jackson.

About a year after Henry died Olive remarried the business partner William McKim on May 17th 1853. William greatly helped Olive and her family when they first showed up and over time they fell in love. A few years into their marriage Olive became pregnant with their first shared child. She gave birth on Nov 1st 1857 to a daughter that they named Birdie Olive, however, the baby did not survive and died on November 9th, eight days later. Then Olive herself died on November 20th 1957, leaving William to take care of her four children that she had with Henry. And he did a good job keeping them alive because if he didn’t I would not me here today.