The stories in this section are both from the 1890s. This is a time when travel was improving, but still remained difficult when heading to faraway places like Alaska or Japan. These two local residents wrote many letters that provide a unique insight to their adventures.
Alaskan Gold Rush
Born in 1851, Preston Jones moved from Little Falls, New York, to Sycamore in 1858 when he was seven years old. Preston became a pharmacist to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the family business—a drug and grocery store named Jones and Hebbard. When news of the Alaskan Gold Rush came to Sycamore, the younger Jones decided to sell his share of the business and seek his fortune in the Klondike.
Leaving his wife in Seattle with family, Jones, along with two other Sycamore residents, traveled north from San Francisco on the Northern Light in May 1898. A year and ten land claims later Jones had suffered an injury to his knee, a case of scurvy, and a life-threatening fall through the river ice, but he still had found no gold. Jones utilized his skill as a pharmacist to barter for a trip home on the US Revenue Cutter Bear. By September of 1899, Jones returned to Sycamore and found a job as a pharmacist in Belvidere. However, Jones’s health had been negatively affected by his adventures. Jones died in April of 1910 in Belvidere, Illinois as a result of nephritis and paralysis.
Georgia was the daughter of Amos and Eleanor Townsend, a prominent Sycamore couple. On November 7, 1889, at age 23, she married Captain John (Jack) Yates who was 44. The details of their courtship are not known, but within a few months, Georgia and Jack moved to Round Pond, Maine. Soon afterwards, they started planning their voyage to Japan. Yates owned the ship William Reed, and the couple left for a trip to Japan and Singapore on September 4, 1891, with their infant daughter Dorothy. Georgia regularly wrote letters home to her mother. Those letters document a unique story of life at sea for a Sycamore woman who traveled with her husband to the other side of the world.
This was not an easy adventure. There were a total of 31 on board, including the Yates family. In January 1892, several of the sailors were part of a mutiny where one man was shot. This was most likely due to the combination of whisky, extremely warm temperatures (over 100 degrees), and lack of rain, causing most of the crew to be dehydrated. The mutiny was quelled, and the ship was able to continue on the journey without another incident.
There were also numerous storms heading to Japan as well as during their return home, which extended their trip by months and also caused the crew to stay up for twenty-four hours or more at a time on a several occasions to ensure the ship’s safety.
"Jack is having rather hard work now, but there is no help for it—There are so many islands and reefs through here. We passed an island today that has a live volcano on it—it is the first live one I have seen, though there have been plenty of extinct ones."
Georgia did have a sense of humor in her letters. She also recorded some of the daily activities that became part of her responsibilities during the trip. After talking to other wives traveling with their husbands she wrote,
“I have learned a great deal from the ladies with children I have met. I take things a good deal easier than I did...I find that it is pure foolishness to iron...Aren’t you shocked!”.
In addition to traveling on the seas for over a year, the Yates also had their young daughter Dorothy with them. Georgia shares moments full of laugher, fear, and cabin fever:
“I am afraid she will never be a model baby, the way she lies down and kicks when she can’t have her way looks bad, but she is so sweet and she has so many cunning little tricks it is a shame her grandmothers shouldn’t see them.”
They returned to Sycamore on January 5, 1893, after a brief stop in Chicago where Georgia delivered twins on December 22. Jack sold the ship, and there were no more adventures on the sea. They eventually moved to Boise, Idaho, and became active in their new community.
After Jack’ death and several other family tragedies, Georgia moved to Seattle to be near her son Fred. While Georgia fell out of the spotlight and disappeared from the public record, her family cared for many treasures and preserved this amazing family story.