In his tenth year he traveled with his parents to St. Louis. The family party went by rail to Fredericktown, Va., by stage coach across the Alleghenies to Wheeling, and by steamer down the Ohio and up the Mississippi to St. Louis. At their arrival, steamboats were at the landing in such numbers that they had to cross the decks of two other boats to get to the Levee.
In the ’49 Gold Rush.
For a time the family lived near Hannibal, Mo. In March, 1849, Leonard Matthews started in a wagon caravan for the California gold fields as one of a party which varied from 13 to 21 in number. The rate of travel averaged 25 miles a day, and Sutter’s Mill, Cal., scene of the first gold discovery, was reached Aug. 5. An incident of the journey across the plains was an “attack” by Cheyenne Indians, greatly outnumbering the party of gold seekers, but, as it proved, not actuated by hostility to the whites. They merely were celebrating the slaughter of some Pawnee, their tribal enemies.
On the Platte River the travelers saw a vast herd of buffalo, and they saw some smaller herds of buffalo and a few groups of elks, but game in general was less plentiful than they had anticipated.
By his first six weeks’ work in the gold fields the young prospector netted about $2500. He lent the money at 5 per cent a month, the rate current at that time, and undertook a shipping enterprise, which increased his capital to $25,000. He invested most of this money in the same manner, and it was lost in the collapse of the borrowing firm. He journeyed via the Isthmus of Panama to New York and reached St. Louis in August, 1851, with about $800 in his pocket.
Entered Drug Business.
He went into the apothecary business with his two brothers, and they established a retail store at Fourth street and Franklin avenue. The main profit came from putting up preparations, which were sold to wholesale druggists, and, after three years, the brothers went into the wholesale drug business on Washington avenue, between Main and Second streets. The firm tool in a Baltimore relative, and became Matthews, Levering & Co. After the panic of 1857, Levering withdrew, and John Matthews, father of the partners, joined them, in the firm of J. Matthews & Sons, moving to Second and Locust streets.
In his book, “A Long Life in Review,”
Mr. Matthews has related that, in the early 50s, Chicago was almost unknown.”
It was his be__ that, in the early 50s, “Chicago was a business
and railroad center, at the expense of St. Louis, originated in Civil
War conditions, which he described thus: