Posts Tagged ‘1851’

Alvan Clark: Artist, Astronomer – Telescope Maker

August 18, 2011



The Story of His Useful and Busy Life.

How He Became an Astronomer — How His Telescopes Were Manufactured — His Honors at Home and Abroad.

Alvan Clark, whose death at Cambridge, Mass., at the age of 83, was recently recorded, did more to advance astronomical science than any other person of this century. As a telescope maker his reputation is world wide. when Dom Pedro, of Brazil, visited this country some years ago he said there were three persons in Cambridge whom he wanted much to see. These were Longfellow, Professor Agassiz and Mr. Alvan Clark.

At the age when most persons think they are too old to begin any new business or learn anything, or even go on energetically with what they do know, Mr. Clark began the work which made him famous. He did not so much as know anything about it. Nor did he ever see a lens in process of construction outside of his own shop. He lived on a farm until he was 22 years old. His early education was such as the common schools afforded. In his 23d year he went to Lowell and became a calico engraver. He had a talent for drawing which he developed unaided. For nine years Mr. Clark was a calico engraver. Meanwhile he took up portrait painting. He located in Boston and painted heads for twenty years, earning over $20,000 with his brush, without ever having been taught anything about art. Though he grew famous in quite another field, it was to his days of artist life that he always went back in memory with the most affection. And during his later years he again took up the brush and found pleasure and recreation in the work of his young manhood.

He was more than 40 when he became interested in telescopes. Assisted by his two sons he afterward produced the most accurate and the two largest instruments in the world. His oldest son, George B. Clark, while in college at Andover read a treatise on “Casting and Grinding the Speculum.” Inspired by that he conceived the idea of making a telescope. He consulted his father, who at once became deeply interested in it. They worked together at the experiment, and from this small beginning came the great work which brought them fame and wealth. Both sons were later included in the business, and the firm was known as Clark & Sons, and they worked together nearly forty years.

Grinding lenses is a work which requires the utmost nicety. Often, after months of careful labor, a flaw is found and all the work must be lost. Once when Mr. Clark was giving the final polishing to a lens upon which a year’s time had been expended, it fell to the floor and was broken. Looking woefully at the fragments a few moments in silence, he stood up saying: “Boys, we will make a better one.” The unlimited patience, which enabled him to be cheerful under such a disaster was his chief characteristic. And he was ever cheerful and companionable.

Mr. Clark was the first optician in the United States to make achromatic lenses, each completed lens being composed of two pieces, one of crown and the other of flint glass, and he invented numerous improvements in telescopes and their manufacture, including the double eye piece, an ingenious method of measuring small celestial arcs. He made the 18.5 inch glass now in the Chicago observatory; the one of 24 inches aperture for the Washington observatory, and the 30 inch refractor for the Imperial observatory of St. Petersburg, for which the honorary medal of Russia was awarded — the only one ever conferred upon an American. The last and greatest work of Mr. Clark and his sons was the construction of a 36 inch refractor for the Lick observatory on Mt. Hamilton, in California. This will be finished in a few months, and will be the largest in the world. Mr. Clark was also an astronomer of note, and made some valuable discoveries, for which the Lalande gold medal was awarded him by the French academy. The cheapest telescope Mr. Clark ever made cost $300, while the National he sold for $16,000, and the Lick glass will cost $50,000 without the mounting. The objectives alone to these instruments are worth $25,000 each, and are capable of a magnifying power of 2,000 diameters, and of increasing the surface of the object viewed to 2,500,000 times its natural size. It takes a month’s solid labor to make a good 4 inch objective, and a year for an 8 or 10 inch one.

In recognition of his great contributions to science degrees were conferred on Mr. Clark by the universities of Harvard, Amherst, Princeton and Chicago, but he had worked at telescopes for ten years without receiving the slightest recognition or encouragement from any official, scientific or educational quarter. And yet these ten years were those of the revival or foundation of practical astronomy in the United States. To Mr. Dawes, a scientific divine of Europe, is due the credit of bringing out this telescope maker. At the time Mr. Clark began a correspondence with Mr. Dawes there was not in all England an establishment which could grind a large object glass into accurate shape. England had lost the art of shaping object glasses, but rough glass of the necessary purity and uniformity was cast there as in no other country. Mr. Clark for some time imported his rough disks to fill the orders he received from Mr. Dawes, who was a telescope fancier, always on the lookout for improvements in construction and mounting.

Only the very largest lenses are ground by machinery. The tools for grinding a lens are very simple — merely round plates of cast iron, about three feet in diameter, hollowed out to suit the curves of the lens. They look like huge, shallow saucers. Three of these tools are necessary, one nearly flat for the inner surface of the flint glass, one convex, for its outer surface, and one concave, for the crown glass. The surface of the tool is covered with coarse emery and water, the glass is laid upon it, and the grinding is carried on by sliding the glass back and forth on the tool. While sliding, the glass is slowly turned around, while, at the same time, the operators continually move around in the other direction, so that the strokes are made successively in every direction on the tool. By these combined motions every inequality, either on the glass or the tool, is gradually worn away, and both are reduced to portions of nearly perfect spheres. Then finer emery is used until the surface becomes quite smooth. Then comes the polishing. The whole tool is covered with a thin coating of pitch, which is pressed, while still warm, into the proper shape. It is then covered with a layer of water and the polishing rouge, and the glass is again laid upon it, and kept in motion in the same way as in the fine grinding. Thus each surface of the two glasses is speedily brought to a high polish. Then the glass is tested to find the defects. It is set up on edge, facing a luminous point at a distance equal to ten or fifteen times the focal point. The image of the point formed in the focus of the glass is then examined with an eye piece of high power. The glass is then taken back to the tool and the polishing process is recommenced, only pressing upon those parts of the glass where it has to be ground away. It is tried again, and again goes to the polisher.

So far no extraordinary skill on the part of the workman is required; but as the size of the glass is increased the process becomes more difficult and tedious, and the difficulties of judging what the defects are increase enormously.

The telescope is by no means finished with the glass. It must be tubed properly. It must admit of being moved by clock work in such a way that as the earth revolves from west to east the telescope shall revolve from east to west with exactly the same velocity, and thus point steadily at the same star. The details of the machinery for attaining these and other results have required a large amount of thought and care.

Bismarck Daily Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota) Sep 8, 1887

Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 8,509, dated November 11, 1851.

To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, ALVAN CLARK, of Cambridge, in the county of Middlesex and State of Massachusetts, have invented a new and useful Improvement in Telescopes…

Specification of Letters Patent No. 1,565, dated April 24, 1840.

To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, the undersigned, ALVAN CLARK, of Cambridge, in the county of Middlesex and State of Massachusetts, artist, have invented a new and useful Improvement in Rifles, which I call a “Loading-Muzzle,” …

Another Watertown Boy Writes Home

March 3, 2011

Interesting Letter from California

We are indebted to the kindness of L.A. COLE and L.R. CADY, Esqrs., for an interesting letter from Mr. A. STECK., dated at Amador Creek, a branch of the Dry Creek, which is a branch of the San Joaquim, 50 miles from Sacramento city — Jan. 15-24, 1850. some portions, of a private nature, we omit.

*  *  *  “Scurvy is caused by the use of salt provisions, and nothing else — and every mine in California, is more or less disposed to it. It is cured by the use of vegetables, fresh meat, vinegar, &c. It draws up the cords of the legs and swells the limbs — the gums rot away, and if bad, you have great difficulty in eating.  *  *  *

We ought a barrel of flour cheap at $75, but it was a little musty — $100 was the price, tho’ it did not cost over $10 to $20 at San Francisco. Potatoes here are worth $1.25 a pound, onions the same, beef 50, pork 50 to 100, sheet iron for a washer $2 a pound — other things in proportion. We can get enough to eat, such as it is.

Digging is the hardest work I ever tried — chopping is “no touch” to it. A man cannot average $6 a day in the rainy season. The water gets too high, and the miner cannot get the dirt to wash. All  the gold lies on bars, and in the sides of the banks, and in the beds of the creeks — nowhere else. It is found on the eddy side of the stream, and is evidently deposited there by the yearly wash of the hill sides for centuries. When disturbed by digging, and a freshet following, the gold is drivin down, and a new deposit made — but it is a poor one, and not worth digging. The dust is found amongst rocks, and it is nothing but quarrying. The washing part is not hard. They rainy season set in on the 1st of November, two months earlier than last year — stops a day and then rains a day — clears for a few days, then rains a few days — keeps clear perhaps a week, and when about fairly at work, when any thing can be done on account of the low water, it rains again and bursts the business.

This is just the rainy season, and you have a fair idea of it. The temperature of the winter season, is not quite as warm as that of summer, but is never colder than a fall day in Wisconsin.

A man would be laughed at with gloves or a coat on when working. The country is unhealthy, and is the first place that ever knocked me, yet. Hardel, son of Richard Hardell, who lives between Summit and Waterville, says mining is by far harder than any part of farming. He sometimes sleeps in our cabin on account of having none himself.

There are no great sums taken out at mining. Under very favorable circumstances, a man may, in the dry season, make from 16 to 24 dollars a day. None of us have done much — paid expenses, perhaps, and that is all. We had a great Christmas dinner at our neighbor’s. It cost perhaps $50. There were about 12 guests of us. We had roast venison, pudding, dip, mince pies, sauce, pickles, &c. and whiskey! We all did justice to the feast, and toasted our absent friends.

Plenty of butter here, kegged stuff, at $2.50 a pound — and rank enough. A man is not so strong here as at home. — The climate enervates him, I suppose.

Cattle mire on the tops of the hills. — The low grounds are the firmest, and the ranchoes have thousands on thousands of wild cattle on the streams.

Image from the  NoeHill Travels in California website.

Sacramento city has been several times under water, and the people ferried the streets in boats like the good people of Venice. The American river rose 32 feet in less than two days. The city is at the junction of that stream with the Sacramento, and on as large a scale as Philadelphia — the houses made of cotton cloth stretched on scantling frames. A few stores, hotels, liquor and gaming shops are frame and covered with shingles. Monte is the game played here. It is very simple, and the money staked is lost or won in a second. Sometimes a stiff fellow comes in and slaps down a pile, and its gone or doubled in a twinkle. — The highest bet I knew of, when in the city, was $2000. I have seen Mexicans who have a passion for this game, bet every time from 50 to 200 dollars, until I left the establishment, which was after midnight. There were at least 100 monte tables, with at least $3000 in coin, and twice as much more in dust, stacked up in the middle of each. The scales of gold are usually about twice the thickness of cap paper, and ordinarily from the size of the smallest perceptible speck, to the size of a barley corn. The ravines which contain gold in the beds of the water courses, are called gulches, a corruption of gulf. Stores are opened in all the mines, and goods are abundant, though at enormous prices. Our letters cost us $2 each, and this one will cost me $1 to Sacramento city.

You have long since heard that California has adopted a constitution with the Wilmot Proviso. I heard a rumor that a convention was in session at Monterey, making it, and the next thing I heard, was, that it was adopted. I venture to say that not 10,000 out of the 75, 000 miners, knew the day of its trial — and if they did, they did not know its contents.

Image of Native Americans at Sutter’s Fort from Hetch Hetchy’s Native Blog on The Hive website.

*  *  We have a great many Indians here — the most uncouth, ill-featured, gabbling, black, impudent rascals you ever beheld. They all wear pants, shirts and coats, but neither hats nor shoes. They squaws wear regular frocks. They are diminutive in stature, and lousy, all lousy, very lousy. We passed through a village of 800[or 300] Sioux lodges — the finest looking race I ever saw. “Bull’s-Tail,” the chief, is a little old man about 90 years of age. The whole of the band were gigantic, and much lighter in color than the Menominees, with clear, transparent skins, a lofty air as they moved, and a majestic mien as they saluted us with the usual “how’de’do.” They impressed me with my first idea obtained from books describing Indian character — the native dignity and majesty of the untutored red man. We lay by one day, and visited their camp. They had a horse, mule or pony for every man, woman and child, and I should think more. They were very neatly dressed, well armed, had good blankets and many fat dogs. I think there were full 1000 souls. Some of the young squaws were dressed in soft white fawn skins, as long as any American female’s dress — worked in flounces, with beads of every color tastefully arranged, with a band around the waist, and a kind of cape, ornamented. — Even the little children, many of them, were moccasined.

When the mines were first discovered, and during all last winter, miners made with machines that would not wash as much by one fourth as those they have now, from 50 to 100 dollars every day — and now, with improved machines, make not more than an average of $5 when they work, and that is not more than one half the time. The men who are making the money in California, are the traders and rancheros on the lines of travel from the cities to the mines. The keepers of hotels and eating-houses, are “coining money.” At the City Hotel, they charge $1.50 for breakfast and tea, and $2 for dinner. Regular boarders pay $32 per week. They have about 200 boarders — nine tenths of them monte dealers. The miners are by far the better part of the population. You will find an industrious sober and well behaved people, and in the city there is nothing but gambling and gambling night and day.

*  *  *  The Chilians and Mexicans dug the cream of the mines and made fortunes. In some places they chased out the black rascals — but still they go elsewhere, and will not leave the country.

*  *  *  There are here the largest, tallest and straightest pines in the world — hundreds of them 6 yo 7 feet through, and 100 feet without a limb, in the Siera Nevadas, and I have seen cedars 4 feet through and 80 feet to the limbs.

The hills here are covered with evergreen oak, pine, and other foliage. I presume the oak to be of the live oak species; it is a very stunted tree, but most gloriously green. I can’t think such stuff fit for ship building. There is but a very small part of Calafornia that is worth any thing, apart from its mineral wealth. It is only on the larger streams that the land can be cultivated; and the valleys are exceedingly narrow. Every spot is occupied by a Rancho, and indeed was before the gold was discovered. The mines as now worked will be abandoned in a year or two, for it won’t longer pay, and joint stock companies will do the work. The mines are now well rooted over, and the chances not half so good as last year.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Image by Wayne Johnson (with lots more pictures) in a post about Elko Hot Springs on the Elko County Rose Garden website.  Definitely worth a look!

I was so excited to run across the California Trail marker with a quote from Amos Steck! At the time I was searching for an image of the Green, Humboldt and Carson rivers for a previous Watertown Boys post.

I have kept a journal from the time I left the frontier until the day I reached Sacramento, and have noted a great many curious things. I have not time to give you any part of it in a letter. We crossed a desert of fifty-three miles without grass or water, and our cattle stood it finely. We drove through in the night, and reached the Green River next day at 2 o’clock, P.M., having stopped but an hour and a half to rest a little. We crossed another desert in the night, to Carson River, from the sink of the Humboldt, a distance of forty miles, and there the cattle done finely. We passed a spring at Bear River that was nothing else than soda-water, and deposits of the salt were made so high, as to form quite respectable little hills, fifteen feet say above the surrounding surface. Near by were many springs of a red color, called beer springs, and had a very singular taste. We all drank of them. A short distance from these was the Steamboat spring, of clear, hot water, which rose up and fell a foot or more, resembling the puff of  a high pressure engine. We observed the Indians had been boiling meat in it, and had left some by its side. We saw mineral springs of every variety; and in Hot Spring Valley, 500 miles, perhaps, west of the South Pass, we saw a number of hot springs — one so large as to form a decent creek, and hot to the boiling point. The steam rose from it as from a cauldron; close by is what is called Cold Spring, and cold it was, too. This was in the Basin. On the Humboldt were some springs that rushed like a cataract into the river, and were boiling hot. There was a lake of the same temperature about a mile off, but we did not go see it.

The Humbolt River is a creek, just about big enough to have a name, but not of a river. It is a miserable affair. All the waters of the Basin sink away in the earth — the springs sink most frequently within a rod from the point of issue. We drank from a number of sulphur springs, and saw thousands of salt springs. The whole country is impregnated with salt, from the Rocky Mountains almost to the foot of the Nevadas.

We saw lakes upon lakes of saleratus, as pure as ever was manufactured, and purer. We could have got ten thousand ship loads of it! A great many emigrants used it. It covered the waters of the lake six and eight inches thick. It was of course made from the water by evaporation, under the influence of the sun. It looked like ice. The Mormons get it in any quantity, and have always used it. The country in the neighbourhood of these lakes is nothing but ashes, as good ashes as were ever burnt from rock maple wood, but not quick, on account of the winter rains upon it.

We passed through some fields white as snow, and as good lime as could be made from the stone, or from sea-shells. Clouds of dust, lime dust, ashes dust, and other dusts, sometimes enveloped us and the whole sky. No thunder storm that you ever saw looked so fearful. We sometimes disputed whether is was rain or not, but it always turned out wind and dust. The cattle during half of the entire way, sunk into the dust to the fetlocks, and for days and days up to their knees. All the drivers had to do was to hold on to the ox-bow of the nigh wheel ox, and let it “swizzle.”  *  *  *  There is not timber enough from the Missouri River to the Nevadas, to build a railroad ten miles; and I have seen 500 miles without timber sufficient to build a chicken coop. Our fuel was willow and sage. The whole country from the Missouri to the Nevada is a prairie, and nine-tenths of it desert. We saw Buffalo, and eat them, as also antelopes, &c.

Democratic State Register (Watertown, Wisconsin) Apr 2, 1850


A number were received in town by Monday’s mail. Mr. STECK writes that he is employed in the Sacramento postoffice, at a salary of $200 per month. He had either seen or heard from most of our “boys” a short time previously. They were all well. Gen. GILMAN does not write very flatteringly. We judge from what we have heard of the tone of these letters, that our friends there are not realizing their expectations.

We also received a letter from the “Rothschild of Coloma,” inclosing some beautiful specimens, to the value of eight or ten dollars. Thanks, brother LITTLE!

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Oct 16, 1850

California Letter.

The following letter, for which we are indebted to Mrssrs. COLE and CADY, from A. STECK, late of this village, we hope will prove interesting to our readers:

Sacramento City, Aug. 29, 1850.


*  *  *  *  I have abandoned mining, and am now living in the city and doing very well — much better than I could at mining. I advise every body who has a decent living in their States to stay there and not come here to mine. I can give you no better illustration of gold mining than you have in your own State in lead mining — the proportion of lucky fellows are now about the same; though in the earlier periods of gold digging, it was a certain and rapid road to fortune. The reason of this change is very plain. When first discovered, miners got out large quantities of the dust, not because it lay any thicker in the earth than it now does, but when the placers were first discovered the population was so spare, that every man was able to make out  his “lead” without any interruption from his neighbors; that is, if a man found a lead which would pay him 50, 60, or $100 per day, he could work it all out, because his neighbors had holes which paid just as well. Now, however, if a lead is found which will pay an ounce per day, before the sun sets the lead is cut off by others, who are only waiting such discovery to pounce right in. Fifteen feet is allowed the discoverer, and in some instances less — sometimes more — this may be worked out in a few days, and he is thus compelled to move about to get another place to work. In the mean time his expenses eat up the profits of his last hole, and he starts anew. Thus nine-tenths of the miners live, and many will tell you even a larger proportion.

Labor in the mines has always been approaching, and perhaps stands in the same relation to capital, and other occupations here, as it does at home. Occasionally a company, large or small, will get out a pile in a fortnight; all such cases are chronicled here in the papers. Nine out of ten of all the stories you hear are false; nobody believes them here, they are the work of speculators and others. You may get  correct idea of the change in mining prosperity from the fact, that business men are staggering under the load of responsibilities assumed under the belief, that the same success in the mines heretofore realized, would continue. Several bankers here have broken in a single fortnight, and others will break like pipe stems before another has gone by. Barton Lee, an Oregon emigrant, who settled here in May 1849, began trade with less than $500 capital, was actually worth, nine months ago, half a million dollars. No man here doubts it — he has often made 25 cents per foot on lumber, and turned the cash in three days. He has failed. The reason of this failure unquestionably was, a mistaken notion of the yield of the mines; the deposits in his hands were not equal to his expectations: the prices of real estate, lumber, goods, &c., had greatly depreciated, the enormous sums expended in the erection of buildings, the rents of which had fallen, all contributed to crush the man. Had he sat still and sold every alternate lot in this city which he owned, and improved the remainder, he would now be worth more than a million; but like most men suddenly rising into notoriety and importance by the accident of wealth, he could not take care of it. Waldron had nearly a thousand dollars in his hands, secured by the endorsement of Mayor Bigelow, who has not yet broken. Waldron is perfectly satisfied he will be paid in sixty days. I presume Lee paid off a million of deposits before his assignment. This amount, recollect, was in gold, and was paid to that portion of his creditors here and in San Francisco, who apprehended his real situation.

I see nothing in this city, (or at least not much,) that differs from cities in any western States, except the absence of females. A western man can more readily appreciate what is the state of society here, than the resident of a city in the States. All the excesses which are daily seen, is the result of the absence of intelligent and virtuous young women. Men who would be foremost in denouncing the “Public Hells,” so numerous in this country, had they their families here, would quietly “pursue the even tenor of their way.” These gambling saloons are the most costly and extravagant affairs in this extravagant country, — here, drinks of every kind, cooled with fresh Boston ice, are always to be had — sweetmeats, pies, fruits, and all the delicasies of this sunny clime, are here dealt out by the hands of familiar and voluptuous young females. Marvelously excessive quantities of strong drinks are here consumed nightly. Chandeliers, which cost extravagant prices in the cheapest markets of the world, sheds over the scene a dazzling light. — ‘Music soft as brooklet’s flow,’ is ‘floating, warbling, here below.’ — Bands of minstrels are pouring forth their melodies from ‘grave to gay,’ to seduce the passer-by to stop and drink, and venture for his fortune. — Crowds of persons throng around the tables, some venturing their little all — others gazing with little less excitement upon the hazard of the game — others again elbowing their way through the crowd, to catch the face of some familiar friend — while the bustle at the bar, the eternal jingle of money from more than a dozen ‘monte banks,’ and the occasional cry of ‘Eagle bird by chance,’ completes the picture of a California gaming saloon. I have stood and gazed upon the throng which nightly gather to these resorts, and wondered at the folly of the multitude. What monuments of magnificence built on the ruins of others! There are few distinctions in society, — men are nearly all of one rank, the wicked and the good stand up before the world as equal. We need the softly chiding and restraining influence of woman, to give rank to honorable and virtuous men, and break up these places that fatten upon sin.

I had written the foregoing late last night, and tumbled upon my kangaroo skins to dream of home and the friends who were ‘over the hills and far away.’ I resume this morning, that this letter may go out by this mail which closes before noon. I enclose you a rough sketch of what I will call a ‘Placer,’ — imagine it to be, say ten miles square, and this high up on the mountains — the only part of this country where gold is found that pays for the working. The main river contains no gold save in the bars, marked thus [ ] – the immediate bed of the streams are marked in spots, say one-fourth part of them — no more than that will pay — the balance contains very little gold. The aluvial diggings where I worked, averaged about six inches in either bank to the entire run of the streams — that is, suppose the deposit of gold to be found in each bank of the width of six inches, and from one foot to four feet in depth, from the source to the mouth — this “dirt” yielding 25 cents to the bucketfull (wooden pail), and you have a sort of idea of the proportion of alluvian diggings to other diggings; but the banks for many rods may not contain a single scale, and, again, the deposit may be found many feet in either bank. About one-tenth of the ‘dirt’ of the bars in the rivers pays; and this ‘dirt’ (I use the miners’ phrase) hes in strata or ‘streaks,’ as we say. Thus you can tell what proportion of the whole mining country contains gold. I have marked on this rough diagram the number of bars in the ran of the fiver for ten or twelve miles. I have made no calculation of the extent of the mines, but from my experience, observation, and information obtained from a thousand sources, I would estimate it in this way. — If all the earth in California, containing deposits of gold equal in value to 25 cents per pailfull, was spread upon a plain two fee in depth and twenty-five miles square, it would exhaust every dollar of gold dust in California. I may be widely from the mark, but it strikes my mind as approximating somewhat to the truth. You have seen letters, I suppose, stating the presence of gold even on the hill tops; this is true, but not the whole truth in the neighborhood of the city of Navada, there are one or two hills which are worked, and there is no water there nine months in the year to wash it, and the rest of the time it rains like fire and tow. Amongst 100,000 hills there are one or two that pay to work, and half the miners in this country could dig and wash them away in an hour before breakfast. On other hills the gold can be found like ‘two grains of wheat in three bushels of chaff,’ ‘few and far between.’ And on the rest of them a microscope which would magnify a Loco Foco’s conscience into being, or to any perceptible size, could not find a speck in an age as long as Methusalah’s. I would like to talk with you about gold hunting, and the way of doing up our ‘linen’ in the mines, and all the little fixing of keeping Bachelor’s Hall under a stunted hazel bush in the open air, but I have not the time now, and don’t know when I shall have. I have come to the conclusion that this is a very healthy country for a new country. Persons not engaged in the mining business enjoy excellent health; and miners who would expose themselves in the States as they do here, and must do, would die off like flies in a frosty morning. There are no diseases in this country of very malignant character; true, I had more sickness here than in the rest of my life, but it was incident to the occupation not the climate. In the mines there is scurvy, a disease which aided materially to hasten the death of old Hanson. I had attached something disgraceful to a man who had the scurvy, and probably derived this idea from Shakespeare, who makes some of his fools and others use the term as one of reproach; but its origin, or rather cause, is simply the want of vegetable acids in the blood necessary to give it a proper tone. No man dreams of scurvy when he lives in a city of on a Ranch, because he can get fruit of all kinds. It does not get so almighty hot here as you would suppose after all that is said about hot weather. I send you a copy of the ‘Times,‘ which contains a meteorological table made by one of the clerks in our office. You can see exactly how much heat I suffered every day. The sun pours down a glare absolutely scorching; the atmosphere is clean and healthy, no cloud ever darkens the horizon, yet one day there was a few, light, smoky looking clouds — mean since the rainy season closed, but they amounted to nothing more than the eclipse of the sun, foretold in every almanac to happen for the last ten years — it would have taken a smoked glass to find out the fact. You would think vegitation would dry up under such a blaze as it poured upon the earth every day; not one drop of rain has fallen since last April, (19th of the month). This is true of the mountain ranges, but not so of the valleys, they are as fresh as the ‘ivy green.’

Our city was the scene of great excitement, of which you have heard by the last steamer. The mail boat with he mail from this office, left the wharf just after the mayor and several of the citizens were reported to have been killed. You will see the difficulty detailed in the papers which I send you; it is but fair, however, to say that the papers are in the interest of the ‘Sutter title party,’ and may be looked upon as rather ex parte than fairly made. All is quiet now, and has been for some time; the last hopes of squatterdom have for ever fled, though hundreds of people strongly sympathize with them — this sympathy is principally in the mines. There are no apologists for their recent conduct in this city, although opinion as to the Sutter title, may be considered equal amongst those who ought to understand such questions.

The buckskin coats, red flannel shirts, and other outre habiliments, have generally given place to the neatly starched white shirt, with standing collar, in one of which I find myself up to my ears every morning. I board at a very excellent hotel for an ounce a week, payable every Saturday night; all the clerks, numbering some seven or more sleep in the office. The last mail from the States brought over 15,000 letters, and the next will be heavier still; I mean for this city office. We get the mail within one or two days of the time expected, and that too every two weeks; so you may suppose a berth in this office is no sinecure. I have seen Lieutenant Wright, John Levitt, Waldron, Stevens, Winders and Stimpson, within two weeks, and wrote to and received a letter from old Jimmy Rogan. Bracket and Bailey I know nothing about, although I have made inquiry for them very frequently. The postmaster, an old friend of mine from Penn., has gone to Washington on business, and left this office in charge of a very sociable and agreeable young man fully equal to the position. I received your letter, (written in last June), and sent it to Rogan. Stimpson has gone to Haughton, about fifty miles from here, and his health is very good, he is very fat, and feels sanguine of making his pile after all his ill-luck. Old Jim is in a dam company on the north fork of the American; the dam is not yet finished. I heard from him to-day, he says he will be into the bed of the river in a fortnight; I hope a fortune awaits him.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Remember me to all my Watertown friends.

And believe me,
Yours sincerely,

Democratic State Register (Watertown, Wisconsin) Oct 28, 1850

Letter from A. Steck, Esq.

[Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle.]
SACRAMENTO CITY, Oct. 29, 1850.

J.A. HADLEY, Esq.:

DEAR SIR — *  *  *  My time is so much taxed, that I have hardly enough left me to carry on my private correspondence, else it would give me pleasure to Chronicle the items of California news for your paper once a month at least. I do not write this with the view that you will publish it, but merely  that you may state the correction of the error into which you were led with regard to Mr. blodgett in your own terms and not in my language.*

Considerable alarm pervades the public mind in this city concerning the cholera, and hundreds are leaving the town in hopes of escaping it. I shall weather it out, or fall a victim.

Image from the Apr 27, 1959 LIFE magazine on Google books.

You  may have read in Bayard Taylor’s notes on California, a description of the postoffice mania, or rather letter mania, when he was a clerk in the San Francisco office. —

It is literally true, and almost the same scenes are here witnessed on the arrival of every mail from the states. At the peep of day on any morning can be seen a line of men to each window of the general deliveries of the postoffice, anxiously awaiting the opening of the office at 8 o’clock, to get their letters; and many a time have I seen persons taking their breakfasts in the line — some sitting on stools which they had brought with them, sipping their coffee, whilst others called to a neighboring bar keeper for a stiff “eye-opener,” having just crawled out of their blankets and came to the postoffice to wait their turn to ask for letters.

The way they operate to prevent quarrelling amongst the outstanders, is to form into a line, and each man is served in order in which he stands in the ranks. As one is accommodated, he leaves the window, and another makes his inquiry. No more than one name can be asked for at one time, else those at the tail end of the line would never get their letters. If any man wants more than his own letters, he is obliged to go back to the extreme end of the rank and train up to the window. We have four general deliveries at this office, and the training up goes on every day from morning till night. In addition, we have two box deliveries, a ladies’ window, advertised delivery and newspaper window. That’s considerable for an office not much more than a year old.

There is no news of interest from the mines other than you will have seen by the papers, of which I send you several.

The Whigs will have a majority in the next legislature, and ought to elect an United States senator, but I fear they will be cheated out of it by the Locos.

I have written so many letters about the gold regions that what I would say here would be but a repetition of what I have written heretofore. As to all your acquaintances here from Watertown, you can call upon Mr. Cady and get information, if you desire it from him. Your acquaintances here are always calling on me for your paper, and I never get it myself. It don’t come to this office, if you have sent any more, they never came to hand. If you will send it, I will send you Sacramento papers every steamer. The principal items of Watertown news here come through the Milwaukee papers, and every item from your paper is seized with the greatest avidity by the Watertown boys.

The elections in this city lately were not contested on political grounds, but in another year the whole canvas will turn upon partisan questions. In San Francisco the party lines were drawn, but no where else in California. I think the Whigs have a clear majority in this state, and if they are not fools, they will assert it.

Yours, &c. AMOS STECK.

*The first part of Mr. STECK’s letter is devoted to a contradiction of the report that GEO. G. BLODGETT, Esq., formerly of Milwaukee, had had his head shaved and his ears cropped by the Mormons at Salt Lake. — Our readers will recollect that we made a like correction some months ago. We received the report from what we considered a reliable source; and our only object in publishing it was to acquaint the numerous friends of Mr. B. in this state, of the outrage which we supposed had been committed upon him.

+ If the Chronicle is not regularly received at Sacramento City, the fault is not ours. We have mailed it, almost every week, for the past year, either to Mr. STECK or to some of the other Watertown boys. Beside, we have two subscribers in that city, who emigrated from other sections of this state, to one of whom our paper had been regularly sent for six months past, and to the other for about two months. We cheerfully accept the offer of an exchange maybe by Mr. S.

[Ed. Chronicle.

Watertown Chronicle – Jan 1, 1851

Previous “Watertown Boys” Posts:

Forty-Niner Profiles:The Watertown Boys


The Watertown Boys Head for California


Arrival of the Watertown Boys: Letters from John C. Gilman

California Gold Poetry

February 22, 2011

The Grip of Gold.

Gold, gold, gold, gold!
Bright and yellow, hard and cold,
Molten, graven, hammered and rolled,
Heavy to get and light to hold;
Hoarded, bartered, bought and sold,
Stolen, borrowed, squandered, doled;
Spurned by the young, but hugged by the old
To the very verge of the churchyard mold,
Price of many a crime untold.
Gold, gold, gold, gold!
Good or bad a thousandfold!

— Thomas Hood

The Gettsyburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Feb 26, 1909


To Californy I will go,
Where lots of goold is found.
I’ll take my pick axe, spade and hoe
To excavate the ground.

Perhaps for years, I’m doomed to roam,
Till I quite rich have grown
A stranger from my native home,
“Solitary and alone.”

Sometimes of me, perchance, you’ll think,
When I am far away,
A digging for the shining chunk,
In Californi-a.

It grieves me much with you to part,
May be to meet no more
But on to morrow I must start
To seek the yellow ore.

But if I live, I will come back,
My goold with you to share,
And then will take a like time tack —
In wedlock we will steer.

So for a time, I must adjourn
Far o’er the mountains blue,
But with the shiners I’ll return,
My love, to marry you.

Yours till death, JACK —–

Alton Telegraph And Democratic Review (Alton, Illinois) Jan 19, 1849

To my brother, on leaving for California.

To California’s rugged wild,
Where art refined, hath never smiled;
Where the uncultured savage rude,
Delights in scenes of crime and blood;

Thy daring footsteps soon must haste;
Before thee is the trackless waste:
Oh, brother! then, when far away,
Forget not thou, to “watch and pray.”

To watch — lest the fell tempter’s art,
From God, should lure thee to depart;
Fear more his dark and serpent tread,
Than bandit’s steel, or foemen dread.

Thy way lies thro’ a thousand snares,
Through perils, dangers, toils, and cares;
And pestilence, that stalks abroad;
But trust thou in the arm of God.

May health around thy pillow smile,
And hope thine every care beguile;
May’st thou be shielded from the brand
Of savage, and each hostile band.

Farewell, my brother! soon shall seas
Divide us — and each murmuring breeeze
That thro’ the waving woods shall stray,
Will whisper, thou are far away!
Forget not then — forget not then.
Thy sister! — may we meet again!


Alton Telegraph and Democratic Review (Alton, Illinois) Apr 19, 1850

The Returned Californian’s Song.

AIR — “Oh Susannah.”

I’ve been to Californy,
With my wash-bowl on my knee;
I’ve seen the tallest elephant
That ever mortal see —
He measures from one tip to tip,
About a million feet,
And from the other tip to top
The critter can’t be beat.

CHORUS. — Oh, California!
You’re not the land for me;
I’ve been and left the wash-bowl
I had upon my knee.

He ate the Liza’s cargo,
And then he wanted more,
He ate a man for dinner,
One day he went a shore;
He tried to eat another,
But the feller’s coat tails flew,
And he never stopp’d to tell the folk
A quarter what he knew.

Oh, California! & c.

The folks in California,
They drink a dreadful sight;
You see a fellow very loose,
And then you see one tight;
A loose one shoot’s a tight one
And then they write the folks,
That a grizzly bear devoured him!
And its a very bear-faced Hoax.

Oh, California! & c.

There’s plenty of people raises Ned,
And lots of music goin’;
There’s forty thousand fiddle men
A tootin’ and a blowin’.
The loafers drink and gamble,
And they don’t do nothin, more,
And they’re somehow disappointed,
‘Cause all their hopes is ORE.

Oh, California! & c.

I seen a right smart chance of hills
As full as they could hold,
Of pecks and pecks of silver,
And QUARTZ and QUARTZ of gold,
I filled my wash bowl with ’em,
But a Sidney chap from prison,
He took the bowl and shot at me,
Because the claim was his’n.

Oh, California! & c.

I’ve scap’d the mountains clear my boys,
And drained them rivers dry,
My pockets full enough of rocks,
The gold dust’s “in my eye.”
It ain’t so hard to raise the dust,
If a feller’ll only blow,
(‘Tis WINDY business, blowin’ is,
As whales and black-fish know.)

Oh, California! & c.

I can’t begin to count my gold,
But a feller did that knows;
It took a heap of figgers,
And I think they all wat O’s;
Them O’s is pretty figgers,
But then it seems to foller,
That when a figger’s circular,
It’s so etarnal hollar!

Oh, California! & c.

I jumped off from the ‘Liza ship,
And traveled up the river,
I caught the gue and the shakes,
(The shakes means when you shiver,)
I shook my teeth from out my head,
But then I didn’t need ’em,
I didn’t have them filled with gold,
And so I didn’t feed ’em.

Oh, California! & c.

And now I’m gwine to dig again,
And do it with a will,
But it’s gwine to be a dry diggin,
In another kind of hill!
I’ll dig the lumps and wsh ’em well,
And in the course of nater,
I know, some day, I’m bound to find
Some gold in every tater.

Oh, California! & c.

We’ll rest content with quiet lot,
In spite of lots in ‘Frisky —
And while we raise the taterses,
The fools may drink the whiskey.
Then here’s to California,
And luck to all who try!
And since we’re safe at home again,
Why, brothers, don’t you cry.

Oh, California —
You’re not the land for me,
I’ve been, and left the wash-bowl
I had upon my knee.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Jun 24, 1851

More Gold Rush Poetry:

Miner Rhymes From the Gold Country

Poetry of Gold

Ho! For California

Going Ahead on the Yankee Trail

A Miner Rhyme

Arrival of the Watertown Boys: Letters from John C. Gilman

February 17, 2011

Previous posts about the Watertown boys:

Forty-Niner Profiles: The Watertown Boys

Watertown Boys Head For California


Good News From California

Sunday’s mail brought California letters from Gen. GILMAN, H. WALDRON, S. STIMPSON and Dr. MEYER. The gratifying intelligence is conveyed by these letters, that all the Watertown boys had reached the El Dorado of their hopes, after long and patient toils and privations, in good health and high spirits. We have been kindly furnished the general’s letter for publication. It will be read with interest by his numerous friends here.

Mr. WALDRON‘s letter states, among other things, that the oxen, wagons, &c., of the company which cost about $900, had been sold for something over $1,000.

SACRAMENTO CITY, Oct. 14, 1849.

Here I am in California, upon the bank of the Sacramento river, and in the city of Sacramento — a city four months old, whose buildings are mostly made of cotton cloth — a city containing from fifteen to thirty thousand inhabitants; nobody knows the exact number. A great amount of business is done here. Some thirty ships lie along the river opposite the town, many of them from Boston and New York. Every business and laboring man seems to be making money at a rate unheard of before. Prices of manufactured articles and labor are very high. — Common labor is $10 per day and found. Mechanics get from $20 to $25 per day. Pork per barrel $40, flour $9 per hundred, beans 8c per lb., potatoes $1.25 per lb., onions $1.25 per lb. I paid a few days ago 50c for one onion which weighed 7 oz! Board at the public houses is $4 per day. Women’s work is very high — washing, for instance, is $12 per dozen, and every thing else in proportion. In the common eating houses, (and there are many of them,) we can get a meal for a $1. Apple or grape pies, baked upon a common breakfast-plate, are 75c. I paid yesterday $6.25 for a new 5 gallon keg. I filled it with molasses syrrup, at $1.25 per gallon. I paid $16 per hundred for Sandwich Island sugar, a good article; 60c per lb. for dried apples, 75c per lb. for dried peaches, tea $6 for an 8 lb. caddy. Fresh beef sells at the butchers from 20 to 25c per lb.

The price of labor in this country is governed by the amount of gold realized by the miner per day. A laborer gets from $250 to $500 per month. Every body is willing to admit that a man in the mines can make his ounce per day. Some men who came here in July or August, have made and brought to the city 40 or 50 tons of hay, which they are now retailing out at 10c per lb. Oregon sawed lumber sells for from $350 to $500 per thousand. Shingles $50 per thousand.

I am preparing and am nearly ready to go to the mines. I intend to dig this winter — am going in company with Stimpson, Glines and a German from Milwaukee.

We arrived here on the 7th of this month, and after selling our team and all  traps, and dividing the money, I had about $100 for my share. My poney, which would have brought me $100 at auction, strayed from me a day or two before we came here. I had my health good all the way after I left Independence, except some slight affection of scurvy, a disease which prevailed among the emigrants in the latter part of the journey. We surmounted all the dangers and difficulties of the journey without the loss of an ox or any accident of any kind, except the breaking of an axeltree, and that was done near Independence. I kept a daily journal of the whole route, which when I have time I intend to write and send you.

I cannot advise any friend of mine who intends to come to this country, to take the overland route. There are too many dangers and difficulties to contend with. It requires the most indomitable energy, perseverance, watchfulness and incessant labor to effect the journey successfully. There is no lack of feed for stock until you come to Fort Laramie. From that to Green River, on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, the country is a barren waste. Feed for teams is scarce, frequently having to drive our oxen 4 and 5 miles from the road to get grass for them. From Green River onward until we got about one-third part of the way down the Humbolt, grass is abundant. From thence until we came to Carson River, the country is a dismal desert. The water is all bad, and in most instances poisonous to man and beast. The only safe water is the sluggish Humbolt, which continually grows worse as it approaches the sink. It then becomes so foul cattle which drink of it will die in a few hours. Men have dug wells at the sink, whose water is taken to last man and beast 45 miles, the distance from the Sink over the desert to Salmon Trout river, (the old route,) and that of the new one by Carson river, is about the same, 45 miles. This distance cannot be made in the day time. Cattle cannot stand the heat of the sun, when reflected from the surface of the sandy desert. Salt an inch thick lies upon the surface. — From Carson river we had grass until we came within about 60 miles of the western foot of the Siera Nevada. Thence to the foot of the mountains, our only feed for cattle was oak leaves, procured by chopping down trees and turning our cattle loose to them — thence dry grass to the Sacramento.

No rain falls during the summer season west of the Laramie; consequently a cloud of dust constantly enveloped man and beast, which was our greatest annoyance.
Now, my advice to any one and every one, who wishes to make a fortune in the shortest possible time, is to come here. I do not care what a man may set himself about; if he is prudent, he can clear from two to fifty thousand dollars in a year, provided he has his health. I intend to dig until spring in the mines, if I have my health — then I may do something else.


Watertown Chronicle – Jan 2, 1850

California — Letter from General Gilman.


MY CHILDREN — I am now in the mining region, and located for the winter. I am on the Calabarus river, about 20 miles from its mouth. You will see my location by referring to Fremont’s map. Our party consists of six, viz: Stimpson, Glines, Blaucher, (of Milwaukee,) a Dutchman, a Scotchman and myself. We have been digging gold about ten days. We do not get it as fast as many anticipated, or many at home suppose. The product of our labor has varied from 1 1/2 to 7 ozs. per day. Day before yesterday, we got the latter quantity — yesterday about 3 ozs.

Glines has worked but little. Stimpson has not been out of the camp since we came here. He has not yet got rid of the scurvy, and consequently is lame in his limbs. My own health is good, except that I feel the effects of the scurvy in my knees, but not to hinder me from working.

The whole country has gold. Every river and brook, every ravine and gorge of the mountains, has more or less of the precious metal. In prospecting, I find gold in every place. But the ravines, which are called “gulches” here, are where it is dug for. — That which we have obtained is called coarse gold. In size it varies from a three dollar piece down to a pin’s head, is round, and in every other possible shape. It has all been melted, and thrown out by the action of volcanic fire.

I would advise none of my friends to try the overland route. Tell them to go by way of Panama. *  *  *  I have not eaten from a table, or slept on a bed, since the 18th of May last. *  *  *  The largest piece of gold which I have seen, weighed five ounces. *  *  *  Provisions very high, and freights from Stockton to this place, (40 miles, and road good,) 50 cents per pound! *  *  *  Our currency is pounds and ounces, and not dollars and cents.

In haste,


Watertown Chronicle – Jan 30, 1850

1849  Stockton Main St. image from the San Francisco City Guides website.

California Letter.

The following is a letter from Gen. JOHN C. GILMAN, of Watertown, now in California, to our fellow citizen, Wm. M. Dennis, Esq. who has kindly handed it to us for publication, that the numerous friends of Gen. C. may know of his whereabouts and learn of his welfare.

January 9, 1850.

DEAR SIR, — I have located myself for the winter upon the Caladarus River, nearly due east from Stockton and San Francisco; Stockton is 45 miles distant. The winter here is made up of rainy days, and weeks of fine weather. It is the Spring of Wisconsin — April and May weather. The rainy season commenced about the middle of November. We expect it to cease about the middle of February. Vegetation commenced with the rain; and although I am among the hills, which form the base of the mountains, I have seen but few frosty mornings. I am upon the western verge of the gold regions.

The diggers in our vicinity make from five dollars to an ounce and a half per day. I have, since I stopped here, made two ounces in about half a day; it is not frequent that such an amount can be got in this vicinity. The ravines all have more or less gold — none very rich, and very few entirely destitute.

The one upon which we designed to dig for the winter was a good one. We found forty or fifty Chilinoes at work in the gulch (ravine). Soon other Americans came, and we have a village of tents and log huts of some twenty in number, each containing from two to four men. The men of Spanish descent, (Mexicans and Chilinoes,) are, in point of numbers, the dominant party in these southern mines. They not only assume the right to dig, but to dictate to Americans when they may or may not dig. This assumed right the Chilinoes commenced to practice upon with our own village.

Image from the Kidport Reference Library article on Gold Rush Law and Order.

Some three or four of our men went with their mining tools into a gulch, where a camp of about thirty Chilinoes were at work, our men were soon surrounded by the Chilians, armed with knives and pistols, who ordered them to leave, which they did, leaving behind their washers and mining tools, which the Chilians destroyed. A complaint was made to our Alcalda, who sent a force, and arrested the Chilians, and had them before him — fined them, and ordered them to leave the place. This was on or aobut the 18th of December. On the 28th of December, at ten or eleven o’clock at night, some detached camps of our village were assaulted by some fifty or sixty Chilinoes, all armed, and two of our most worthy men murdered upon the spot, and the ballance of the men of these camps were made prisoners and marched off, three or four of whom were badly cut and wounded — twelve prisoners in all.

These camps are about one-third of a mile from my tent, and where the most of the settlement is; we knew nothing of it until the next morning. I was upon the inquest held upon the bodies. Major Andrew Elliott, of Orlenas Co., State of N.Y., was one of the murdered men, and a Mr. Star, of the same place, the other. Their bodies had ghastly stabs and cuts made with large knives upon them; one dead Chilano lay near, with a bullet hole through the face and head. Our men mustered, and followed the Chilian band. They took the road to Stockton. The prisoners were all rescued, the whole band made prisoners and marched back to our camp; they were forthwith tried by a jury of twelve  men, (the Alcalda acting as judge,) sentenced — three were executed by shooting, one whipped and his ears cut off, and the remainder received from twenty to one hundred lashes upon the bare back, and ordered to quit the country. They obeyed the order without the least hesitation. I can tell you that Chilanoes and Mexicans hereafter will be mighty scarce in these diggings, I mean those that have whole skins.

With regard to the country generally, in my opinion, it has not been over-rated in any particular; its agricultural susceptibility, its now spontaneous productions, and its present herds. Why, the truth has not been half told, or if told, has not been understood. The common cattle of California are the largest and finest I ever saw; and as for fat and good beef, I never saw its equal in any market. I believe also, that the mineral wealth of California is yet to be developed in the main; all the gold yet taken is surface gold — not a vein or a lode has been found or worked, with the exception of two, one on the Maralumny River, found this winter, and the other is on the Maraposa River, and worked by Colonel Fremont’s indians.

Image of Chinaman in 1860 San Francisco from the San Francisco Images blog.

A man with some means can make a fortune here quicker than to dig for it; one or two thousand invested rightly in goods in N.Y., and sent round the Horn, is all that a man accustomed to trade wants. The common Stoga boots are selling this winter in San Francisco and Stockton from two to four ounces per pair, shoes of the same quality half an ounce. I am now wearing a pair of boots which cost in Stockton two ounces of pure gold, such boots as you sell in Watertown for $2.50. Pants, flannel shirts and drawers, are equally high in the mines; the common blue blanket sells at the mines for thirty or forty dollars per pair, and vegetables and eatables of all kinds are still higher. Flour $1.25 per lb., pork $1.00, beans $1.00 per lb., potatoes $1.00 per lb., onions the same, brandy per bottle $4.00. The man who travels the road from San Francisco to the mines, pays at the tents which are set up for entertainment $1.50 for a meal of victuals, $1.00 per quart for barley or corn to feed his mule, $1.00 for sleeping on the floor in his own blankets, and fifty cents for any kind of spirits per glass. Men cannot be hired to work for less than ten dollars per day, at the same time one half of them does not make five clear. I cannot particularise farther, the foregoing is true, and such is the chance to make fortunes; the prudent and industrious will make money, the idle, the dissipated, and those out of health, will be as poor here as in any other place.

If some of you speculators will come out, and bring with you a stock of goods, and open at Stockton, I will come in with you and operate in the mines.

Stimpson has left the camp, and gone to the Sandwich Islands sick with the scurvy. Glines has left our company for Stockton very much out of health, his lungs are affected, and some degree of scurvy; as to myself, the slight attack of scurvy I had on the Humbolt is wearing away, and my health is pretty good, and I have every confidence of enjoying good health in this country. The rest of the Watertown boys I have not seen or heard from since I left Sacramento; I think they must have gone up the American fork. I have not yet received the first letter from home. I cannot write to all I would wish. Please pass this round to Enos, Chappell, Besley, Ned and P.V. Brown, also to my children. If any of my friends come out, let them come by Panama, there is too many great dangers attending the overland route, waggons and pack mules are equally exposed, a correct idea of which I could not give you by letter without some more labor and time than I have at present to spare.

Gambling is done in the towns in this country on the big side; all the taverns and dogeries, and all saloons (and there are many,) are gaming houses. In the best house in Stockton, which is a tavern, there is one faro bank, three monta tables, two roulettes, and one billiard table, all in the bar-room.

Thousands of dollars lie stacked up on each table. I was at Stockton a few days ago, and stopped at this house for a day or two, and witnessed some of their operations. Money changed hands rapidly — thousands of dollars would be won and lost in a short time — all were cool, and no excitement — not a word of discord between the better and the dealer — one hundred eagles bet upon a single card.

The above is a fair sample of the business done in this line in California. Monta is the favorite game of the South Mexicans and Chilians, and they all bet with apparent carelessness.

Taft, of Milwaukee, U.S. House, and Robert Maloney, got up and opened a large tavern house in Stockton, some time in december, at an expense of thirty or forty thousand dollars, in about ten days from opening of the house, it took fire and was burnt down, all was lost — Taft has gone to the mines. I heard of Bristol at San Francisco, he was in the public hospital and not expected to live. Saw B. Crangle at Sacramento, he was home-sick, and talked of returning home. W.S. Hamilton and Olinger is on the American fork; O’Neal of Mineral Point is in our camp; Doctor More of Beloit is at Sacramento; Lieutenant Wright I cannot hear of.

As soon as the rainy season is over, I intend to explore some of this mining region; it is believed here that the Gold Region Proper is far up in the mountains to the east. I have seen a newspaper report of an Exploring Expedition which went out last Summer, they report the whole western slope of the Serra Nevada Mountains to be composed of quartz rock, and all bearring gold; their experiments and tests show that the least quantity of gold extracted from the pound of rock was one dollar, and that the best yield of pure gold to the single pound was fifty-four dollars and fifty cents.

Specimens of every variety of the rack have been forwarded to Washington by the senators elect from the State. All the gold taken in California is called by miners surface gold, it has escaped by some means from the place of original deposit, and has been scattered into all the ravines, brooks and rivers, by the agency of water, and that the places of the original deposit will shortly be discovered, I have no doubt.

Yours truly,


P.S. — I now think that letters addressed to me should be directed to Stockton.

Democratic State Register (Watertown, Wisconsin) Apr 9, 1850


A number were received in town by Monday’s mail. Mr. STECK writes that he is employed in the Sacramento postoffice, at a salary of $200 per month. He had either seen or heard from most of our “boys” a short time previously. They were all well. Gen. GILMAN does not write very flatteringly. We judge from what we have heard of the tone of these letters, that our friends there are not realizing their expectations.

We also received a letter from the “Rothschild of Coloma,” inclosing some beautiful specimens, to the value of eight or ten dollars. Thanks, brother LITTLE!

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Oct 16, 1850

Image of San Francisco Harbor – 1851 from the Sparkle Tack blog.

From California.

Letters were received in town by Monday’s mail, from Gen. GILMAN, H. WALDRON, A. STECK, and J. ROGAN. We make the following extract from the letter Gen. G.:

The river turning business has proved total failure throughout the mines generally. Homeward bound vessels are filled with passengers, but still the increase of population is wonderful. Trade increases, and cities rise upon the plains. Thousands are turning their attention to agriculture and cattle growing, and yet the mines are overrun with diggers. Thousands will return home as poor as they came, and many much more so, while others will return rich. Many return without an effort to make money. A more disappointed lot of men I never saw, than those who came over the plains this year.

Watertown Chronicle – Dec 4, 1850

California Matters.

We have a letter from Gen. GILMAN, under date of Feb. 28th. We make an extract, from which it will be seen that the prospects of miners and business men in California, are gloomy enough:

“There has been but two rainy days since the  season for rain commenced — not enough to produce the usual vegetation. This dry winter is decidedly adverse to the interests of the miners. They have no water in the gulches to wash gold with. If the season should continue dry as it now is, there will be a general break down of the business men of California, and Stockton and Sacramento will almost cease to be places of trade. The success of all business men is this country depends upon the success of the gold digger. A great change in prices of almost every thing has already taken place. All necessaries are much cheaper than heretofore, and the tendency of prices is still downwards. — The forced sales of imported goods at San Francisco alone, is sufficient to supply the demand in the country. Comparatively few immigrants arrive this winter, and those mostly from Europe, while the homeward bound steamers are crowded with passengers — many of them poor.”

Watertown Chronicle – Apr 23, 1851


February 5, 2011

Image from the 19th-century Woman blog, who has several of these winter scenes posted.


E’en the old posts, that hold the bars,
And the old gate,
Forgetful of their winter’s wars,
And aged sedate,
High capped and plumed, like white hussars,
Stand there in state.

The drifts are hanging by the rill,
The eaves, the door;
The hay-stack has become a hill —
All covered o’er —
The wagon loaded for the mill,
The night before!

Maria brings the water pail —
But where’s the well?
Like magic of a fairy tale,
Most strange to tell,
All vanished! curb, and crank, and rail —
How deep it fell!

The wood-pile, too, is playing hide
The ax — the log —
The kennel of that friend so tried,
(The old watch-dog –)
The grindstone standing by its side,
All now incog!

The bustling cock looks our aghast,
From his high shed;
No spot to scratch him a repast —
Up curves his head.
Starts the dull hamlet with a blast,
Then back to bed!

Democratic State Register (Watertown and Dodge Center, Wisconsin) Jan 13, 1851

Kate Moore and the “Fairweather” Lighthouse

January 21, 2011

Fairweather Lighthouse image from the Lighthouse Depot website. They have more information about the lighthouse and the keepers, including Kate Moore, as well as pictures. The Lighthouse Friends website has a few beautiful pictures of the Fayerweather lighthouse as well as a map showing its location.

The Brave Girl.

ANOTHER GRACE DARLING. — There has recently been a communication in a N.Y. paper, the Sunday Messenger, respecting a lady whom they denominate a second Grace Darling — a young, intelligent and interesting woman, within sixty miles of New York, who has, with the assistance of an aged and infirm father, saved twenty-one lives within the last fifteen years; and yet has never been known to the public, or in any way remembered or celebrated as a public benefactor, which the writer attributes to her being an American, asserting — “had she been English, all Europe would have rang with her achievements, and our public papers been filled with her praises.”

We have been at some pains to make inquiries respecting this lady, and within a few days have conversed with a person who is intimately acquainted with her, and her worthy family.

Kate Moore is the daughter of Captain Moore, who keeps the light-house on Fairweather island, situated midway between the harbors of Black Rock and Bridgeport, Conn. The island contains five acres of land, and is about half a mile from shore. Many disasters, it is known, have occurred to vessels driven round Montauk Point in a storm, and sometimes in the Sound homeward bound, and this lady’s ear is so accurate, it is said she can distinguish the shrikes of the drowning mariner, and direct her barque in the darkest night. She can trim a boat and manage it as well as any man, and seems to make up in tact what she lacks in strength, and never refuses to turn out in the darkest night to the relief of the sufferers. Our informant adds, that she is a highly accomplished and literary lady, perfectly feminine in her manners, and that, although she occasionally visits New York and other places in that vicinity, and has a large and most respectable acquaintance, many of whom know of these facts, they have never come to the knowledge of the public before.

The late lamented Major Noah, who was remarkable for collecting the most interesting facts, by some means became acquainted with them. We also understand that Capt. Moore and his worthy helpmate have resided upon the island over twenty years, and raised a family of five children, upon a salary of $300 a year, all of whom have excellent education, and that they entertain a great many person, who visit the island, with true old-fashioned hospitality.

[Providence Daily Post.

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Jun 11, 1851

Kate Moore image from Bridgeport Public Library Historical Collections.

American Biographical Library
The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans
Volume 3
Daughters of America; or Women of the Century
Chapter V: Philanthropic Women
Ida Lewis
page 136

England is proud of her Grace Darling, and her name and prowess in rescuing the drowning is familiar to all who cherish deeds of heroic philanthropy; but England is rivalled by America when Kate Moore and Ida Lewis are mentioned. KATE MOORE was the daughter of a light-house keeper, and her home was Fairweather Island, on the coast of Connecticut. In 1851 Mr. Clement wrote of her, “She has so thoroughly cultivated the sense of hearing, that she can distinguish amid the howling storm the shrieks of the drowning mariners, and thus direct a boat, which she has learned to manage most dexterously, in the darkest night, to the spot where a fellow-mortal is perishing. Though well educated and refined, she possesses none of the affected delicacy which characterizes too many town-bred misses; but, adapting herself to the peculiar exigencies of her [p.136] father’s humble yet honorable calling, she is ever ready to lend a helping hand, and shrinks from no danger, if duty points that way. In the gloom and terror of the stormy night, amid perils at all hours of the day and all seasons of the year, she has launched her bark on the threatening waves, and has assisted her aged and feeble father in saving the lives of twenty-one persons during the last fifteen years.”


How to Learn the Piano Keys in a Quarter of an Hour

January 21, 2011

Image from Zazzle

Somebody having been much troubled to learn the keys of the piano forte, proposed the following lines as an alleviation of the labor:


All the G and A keys
Are between the black threes.
And ‘tween the twos are all the D’s.
Then on the right side of the threes
Will be found the B’s and C’s;
But on the left side of the threes
Are all the F’s and all the G’s.

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Apr 23, 1851

Yankee Doodle had a Clipper and a Colt

November 8, 2010

Yacht America

More about this image – Chest of Books LINK.

[From the London Punch.]

The Last Appendix to Yankee Doodle.

Yankee Doodle sent to town
His goods for exhibition;
Everybody ran him down,
And laughed at his position;
They thought him all the world behind;
A goney, mulf or noodle;
Laugh on, good people — never mind —
Says quiet Yankee Boodle.
CHORUS — Yankee Doodle, &c.

Yankee Doodle had a craft,
A rather tidy clipper.
And he challenged, while they laughed,
The Britishers to whip her.
Their whole yacht-squadron she outsped,
And that on her own water;
Of all the lot, she went ahead,
And they came nowhere arter.
Yankee Doodle, &c.

O’er Panama there was a scheme
Long talked of, to pursue a
Short route — which many thought a dream —
By Lake Nicaragua.
John Bull discussed the plan on foot,
With slow irresolution.
While Yankee Doodle went and put
It into execution
Yankee Doodle, &c.

A steamer of the Collins’ line,
A Yankee Doodle notion,
Has also quickest cut the brine
Across the Atlantic Ocean.
And British agents, noways slow
Her merits to discover,
Have been and bought her — just to tow
The Cunard packets over.
Yankee Doodle, &c.

Your gunsmiths of their skill may crack,
But that again don’t mention;
I guess that Colt’s revolvers whack
Their very first invention.
By Yankee Doodle, too, you’re beat
Downright in agriculture,
With his machine for reaping wheat,
Chawed up as by a vulture.
Yankee Doodle, &c.

You also fancied in your pride,
Which truly is tarnation,
Them British locks of yourn defied
The rogues of all creation.
But Chubb’s and Bramah’s Hobb’s has picked
And you must be viewed all
As having been completely licked
By glorious Yankee Doodle.
Yankee Doodle, &c.

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Nov 12, 1851

CT State Library Photo Stream - Flickr

American Success.

It is beyond all denial that every practical success of the season belongs to the Americans. Their consignments to the fair, showing poorly at first, but came out well upon trial. Their reaping machine has carried conviction to the heart of the British agriculturist. Their revolvers threaten to revolutionize military tactics as completely as the original discovery of gunpowder. Their yacht takes a class to itself. Of all victories ever won, none has been so transcendent as that of the New York schooner. The account given of her performances suggests the inapproachable excellence attributed to Jupiter by the ancient poets, who describe the King of the Gods as being not only supreme, but having none over next to him. “What’s first?” — “the American.” “What’s second?” — “Nothing.” — Besides this, the Baltic, one of Collins’ line of steamers, has “made the fastest passage yet known across the Atlantic,” and, according to the American journals, has been purchased by British agents, “for the purpose of towing the Cunard vessels from one short of the ocean to the other.” Finally, as if to crown the triumphs of the years, Americans have actually sailed through the isthmus connecting the two continents of the new world, and, while Englishmen have been doubting and grudging, Yankees have stepped in and won the day.

As for yachts, we have no doubt, that by next August, every vessel of the Cowes squadron will be trimmed to the very image of the America; there is no doubt that our farmers will reap by machinery, and the revolver, we fear, is too attractive an embodiment of personal power to be overlooked by European mischief-makers. In fact, while acknowledging the virtues of this ingenious instrument, we must express our suspicions that its principal effect has been hitherto to promote murder. Of twenty assassinations in California or the western states, fifteen at least, will be found, on examination, to have been perpetrated with revolvers. The invention supplies both temptation to offence and certainty in its execution, for it must be bad shooting indeed, if one shot does not tell out of five.

[London Times, Sept. 2.

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Oct 8, 1851

Poor Peter Gray

October 13, 2010


by Alfredo Rodríguez (Image from


Peter Gray and Lizzyanny Quirl.

I’ll tell you of a nice young man,
Whose name was Peter Gray;
The State where Peter Gray was born,
Was Pennsylva-ni-a.

This Peter he did fall in love
All with a nice young girl,
The name of her, I’m positive,
Was Lizzyanny Quirl.

When they were going to be wed,
Her father he said, “No!”
And brutally did send her off
Beyond the O-hi-o.

When Peter heard his love was lost,
He knew not what to say —
He’d half a mind to jump into
The Susquehan-ni-a.

But he went trading to the West,
For furs and other skins,
And there was caught and killed and drest
By bloody In-gi-ins.

When Lizzyanny heard the news,
She straitway went to bed,
And never did get up again
Until she di-i-ed.

Ye fathers all, a warning take,
Each one as has a girl,
And think upon poor Peter Gray
and Lizzyanny Quirl.

Daily Free Democrat (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) Apr 23, 1851

William Waldo Writes about Starvation and Death Among Overland Emigrants

May 18, 2009

From the Osceola Independent, 14th inst.

Emigrant Road, Monday, Sept. 30th, 1850.

Mr. W.P. JOHNSON — Dear sir: Yours of the 4th of July, written at Clinton Mo., was taken out of the office at Sacramento City, and kindly forwarded to my by Mr. A. Blakely, and gave me the latest news I have received from your section of Missouri.

I have now been on the horrible road more than one month, during which time I have witnessed every grade of human suffering & misery. Too often have I seen families, who from all appearances, had been brought up in the enjoyment of every luxury, feasting upon the carcasses of dead oxen. Capt. Duncan, of Michigan, stated to me a few days since, that the best food he ate for sixteen days, was a faithful dog that had followed him from home; that he saved him as long as he could, but finally killed him to prevent starvation, and divided the meat among twenty men. I have seen hundreds so weak that they reeled and staggered as they walked along the road. Saw one man from St. Louis on Humboldt river, a few days since, lying by the side of the road in the last agonies of death, caused by starvation. —

Have just reached this point, after ten days journey up Humboldt river, where I found many persons without one pound of provisions, although four hundred miles from Sacramento City. And what makes their situation worse, they have suffered from starvation until they are so weak that they can scarcely walk. These people have been robbed by the Indians even, to their blankets although the nights are cold and chilly, and it requires two or three blankets to keep a man comfortable, yet many of these people have neither blankets or coats. The hostile Indians are very numerous, becoming very bold, and killing the emigrants daily. They conceal themselves in the thickets and ravines, and fire upon the emigrants as they pass; those on foot being too weak to carry their guns, fall an easy prey to the savages.

The Indians have taken a great deal of stock from the emigrants, and are consequently well mounted; and by picking up the fire-arms thrown away by the weak and exhausted, they are also well armed, which makes them far more dangerous than they have been at any previous period. Many believe these Indians are headed and led on by white men, whose object is to secure the emigrant’s stock. Several families have disappeared, for which no account can be given who have either been killed by the Indians when off the road, or taken prisoners.

I have only mentioned a few of the thousand calamities which have befallen the overland emigration of 1850. Such an amount of suffering never has been experience by the American people since the settlement of the country; and I sincerely hope that it may never be my lot during life again to witness scenes of suffering and misery. —

The snow is now four inches deep upon the mountains, and the rivers rising, and in fifteen days from this time, in all probability, the mountains will be covered with snow from five to ten feet deep, and in many places much deeper. There will not be a trader on this side of the mountains after 5th of October. The greater part of them are now leaving, with their stock, for fear of being in the snow storms of the Sierra Nevada. —

From the best information I can get, there is yet between 100 and 200 families and probably 2,000 men in the most perfect state of destitution, far back on this route, without stock or provisions, and many of them without blankets or comfortable clothing. If the winter sets in early, I cannot see any possible chance for these people to cross the mountains. I have at my command 3,000 lbs of fat beef, and 3,000 lbs of flour, besides 30 mules and horses, which will answer for food; but the horses and mules are needed to transport the feeble women and helpless children over the mountains and across the deserts.

I have fitted out an expedition, and will leave here to-night to relieve the sufferers on the Humboldt, and shall carry back flour and beef sufficient to enable 1,000 persons to cross the Desert. We have relieved emigrants from every State in the Union. — Those from the city of St. Louis have been the greatest sufferers. Then comes those from Ohio, Kentucky Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Missouri. — Probably fifty from New York and Pennsylvania have been relieved, three families from Louisiana, and about twenty men from Georgia, and from every State, more or less.

I have with me Thomas Kinkade, of Benton Co., Mo., and Ewing Story and Washington Pond, of St. Clair Co., Mo., who have pledged their word of honor to remain with me on the east side of the mountains until the last emigrant has passed on, or has been called to a final account.

Observing that the traders were becoming alarmed & leaving for the settlements on account of the approach of winter, and fearing the effect of this course on the men with me, I determined to know who would remain at any hazard, and risk every consequence. I stated to them my resolution was formed, and that I did not intend to cross the mountains as long as there was reason to believe that one emigrant remained behind alive that they all knew the circumstances in which we were placed; liable to be attacked by the numerous tribes of hostile Indians east of the mountains, and should we be so fortunate as to escape the Indians, they were aware of the still greater dangers arising from the almost impossibility of crossing the mountains after the winter set in and when across the mountains, we must pass through the Indian tribes on the west side, by whom so many murders were committed last winter and spring. After full consideration, those I have named from your section of Missouri declared they were willing to risk the consequences and remain, and declared they would never attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada until I crossed with them; so you may rest assured, if you ever hear of our arrival in Sacramento City, that the last of the overland emigrants of 1850 are out of danger from starvation, as we shall go in with those in the rear. My company is small but well armed, each man having a rifle, four pistols, hatchet and bowie knife. —

I have duly considered the risk and reflected upon the consequences, and should I never reach Sacramento again, I shall at least die with the consolation of having attempted to discharge a painful duty to the suffering humanity under difficulties too great to be overcome. My respects to friends.

Yours, truly, WILLIAM WALDO.

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Jan 22, 1851

More about William Waldo, from Wikipedia:

William Waldo (1812 – 1881) was a candidate for Governor of California in 1853. He was born in Virginia, but spent most of his life in Missouri, where he was a merchant and steamboat captain. In 1849 he joined the gold rush to California at the head of a wagon train. In California the next year, reports arrived of impending starvation among numerous immigrants on the Nevada side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Waldo put great effort into recruiting and delivering supplies for them, and became well known for his relief attempts.