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Thomas Rhoads

Thomas Rhoads, with his wife, Elizabeth Forster Rhoads, led a large family wagon train from Missouri to California in 1846. His family settled in the area south of present-day Sacramento, where they contributed to the early discovery and mining of gold. Family members were instrumental in rescuing members of the Donner Party as well as eventually establishing productive businesses, homes, and the Rhoads Schoolhouse. Eventually Thomas Rhoads settled in Utah, donating a significant amount of gold, portions of which were used to mint coins in the Deseret Mint. The boundless determination of Thomas Rhoads is memorialized in areas throughout the high mountain country: Rhodes Valley, Rhodes Plateau, Rhodes Peak, and Rhodes Creek. The latter three were near Wolf Creek Pass, close to the entrance to the present-day Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation.

Additional Details on Thomas Rhoads

The Rhoads family lived in Illinois in 1834 when they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Persecution of church members increased and the Rhoads family suffered tragedy as well. One Sunday, while they were attending church, a mob burned the Rhoads family home and also killed one of their good friends. Consequently, Thomas and his wife Elizabeth determined that their family would join the Saints in their journey west. All but one of their surviving 16 children left Missouri. Thomas and Elizabeth’s son, Forster Rhoads, stayed to look after family interests.

April 21, 1846, Brigham Young called a general council to discuss the western migration of the Saints. During that meeting, Rhoads requested the opportunity of leading an exploration party to the area of Upper California. He was granted that permission by Brigham Young.

The Rhoads family, a party of 38 people in 12 wagons, included 15 of their 16 surviving children, their spouses, and grandchildren children. While the family was camped on the Missouri River, another group emigrants in 20 wagons were gathered nearby. The leaders of this wagon train were George Donner and James Reed. As Thomas and his family had extensive experience with overland travel, Donner and Reed asked the Rhoads family to travel with them.

The combined groups moved west until they neared Fort Bridger, where they faced a decision on which route they would take to reach California. The ill-fated Donner-Reed company chose to take a little-known shortcut called Hastings Cutoff rather than a slower, well-traveled route. Thomas decided that the family wagon train would travel the accepted route to California, which followed part of the Oregon Trail up to Fort Hall in Idaho. The California trail headed southwest down to an area north of the Great Salt Lake, moved alongside the Humboldt River (in the present State of Nevada), crossed the Truckee River multiple times, and wound up through Emigrant Gap. The Rhoads family stayed for a month at Johnson’s Ranch on the Bear River, three miles east of Wheatland (near the present town of Marysville) before finally arriving at Sutter’s Fort.

Rhoads’ family wagons passed through Emigrant Gap almost a full month ahead of the Donner/Reed party, entering the Sacramento Valley on October 5, 1846.

After working for John Sutter at Sutter’s Fort, Rhoads family members, consisting of Thomas F. Rhoads and his extended family obtained a sizeable land grant between the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers (near what is now Sloughhouse).

Elizabeth Rhoads had borne 19 children and, after the long, arduous journey to California, she struggled to endure the hot Sacramento summer. Less than a year after their arrival, Elizabeth’s health became so poor that her son, Caleb, asked the captain of a ship traveling on the river near their home to take Elizabeth to San Francisco in hopes of finding medical assistance. Sadly, Elizabeth passed away near Benicia, California, where the captain and crew buried her on a hillside. Two weeks later, tide water had washed away Elizabeth’s grave marker and Thomas was never able to locate her burial site.

The Rhoads family were closely associated with John Sutter before the Gold Rush and eventually became very successful in the gold fields at Coloma and Placerville. At the end of one week, they mined $17,000 from their “diggins”.

Within a short time the Thomas Rhoads family became well-established with new spouses and more grandchildren. After the loss of his wife and having suffered through the growing influx of rowdy gold seekers, Thomas received a welcome request from Brigham Young to return to Utah. Thomas loaded up his two youngest children and two grandchildren and joined the “Gold Train” of wagons that left Sutter’s Fort in August of 1849. Rhoads brought with him several sacks of gold, one that weighed in at 60 pounds.

On October 9, 1849 Thomas Rhoads’ gold account was credited with a deposit of $10,826 in raw gold, which was considered a fortune at the time. Much of this gold was used to start the Salt Lake City Mint, where gold coins were minted from 1849 to 1852. The Mint produced the first twenty dollar gold coins in the United States.

Most of the Thomas Rhoads family remained in California, adding their exemplary efforts towards building the new State.

Reference information from “Sierra Saints” by Dennis Holland

Read on our website about the RHOADS SCHOOLHOUSE, named after a son of Thomas Rhoads, now located in Elk Grove Regional Park.