Publication: 1844 - 1863, NP
A rare one-of-a-kind compilation of 106 pages of California Gold Rush letters from 1849 - 1852 and 1854 - 1863, written by Asa Thompson, Jr. to his family in Dorchester/Boston, Massachusetts. After collecting what letters she was able from Asa's immediate family, Ellen Putnam, an ancestor of Asa, hand-copied all of his letters into this composition notebook in 1925. To our knowledge, this is the only copy of this collection of Asa's letters. Apparently, none of the individual letters any longer exist. The compilation of all of his letters under one cover is able to depict life in the gold mines during the mid-1800s. Apparently, the individual letters no longer exist and to our knowledge, this is the only copy of this collection of letters. The journal begins with 45 pages from his sister's diary, Susan Thompson, during July 1844 - May 1845 around the Boston area, followed by 22 pages of earlier genealogy, deed and notes. Susan's portion offers general information about life in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s. It talks about work, weather, church, school, visits to various homes and people, etc. This is followed by Asa's letters. The letters speak of Asa's hopes of striking it rich in the gold mines, his hopes not becoming a reality, his resorting to driving teams of horses and oxen filled with supplies, hardships, loneliness, joy, despair, money and lack thereof, cost of provisions, inability to find gold, missing his sisters' weddings. Asa's letters talk of his desire to have gotten married and the possibility of marriage ever being in his future, of the numerous people he knows, works with or works for, Indians, etc. Asa arrived in San Francisco in November, 1849. His letters indicate that his time was spent in Sacramento and mainly in Crescent City area. Excerpts from the letters: "I have not worked in the mines yet for we have been getting our provisions up and put up the log house. Some are doing better than others, they are making from ten to fifty dollars a day." "Teaming is very good here, a man with two horses and a wagon can earn from fifty to seventy five dollars a day. I have been told here that there is plenty of gold in California but a man has got to work for it." January, 1859 he writes home, "I have been as well here as at home and have been mining and the most I have in a day was 12 dollars but it is very bad working for so much rainy weather, but as soon as the rainy season is over I expect to do better. There are some that get 100 to 150 dollars a day, but that is all luck, but there is gold all over the country." "I will tell you a little about the mines, the most I have made in a day was twenty one dollars, but I am in hopes I can do better but I cannot get that every day, for if I could that would do very well. There was a man took out a piece of gold within about three miles of where I was which weighed sixteen pounds. But a man must not think that he can come to California and pick it up as fast as you can little gravel stones, but he must turn over the stones and dam off the rivers so that they can get to the bottom of them." "The reason why I did not write oftener was because I was getting my provisions up to the mines. It is about two hundred miles from San Francisco, it is about one hundred and fifty miles from San Francisco to what is called Sacramento City, there we can go by water and then it is about fifty miles up to the diggings from Sacramento, you have to cart it up with oxen." "I suppose you think we can dig gold just as fast as we want to but it is not so plenty as they told for. You must never think of coming to California as long as you can get a living at home." "I wrote to you in my last letter that I was helping turn the river and after we had got our race and dam finished we tried to find some gold, but there was none there. So these were two months hard work thrown away and about two hundred dollars in money for provisions, that is rather hard luck but it won't do to give up, so I am going to make something if I have to stay out here ten years, this is the only place to make money I know of." "There was a man hung a week ago last Thursday for shooting another and I saw him hung. I have had the toothache very bad so that I had to have one out last night and it only cost me three dollars." " I thought a year ago that I should be at home this spring to help you and I think I should if I had not started turning the river. If I had staid where I was at work when I left to go on to the river I think I should have made about two thousand dollars last summer and then I should have gone home." "You wrote to me that Brother Charles talked of coming to California but I want you to tell him to take my advice and not come to California for the times poor and it is hard work to find good diggings." "I have had hard luck since I wrote to you before. Last fall I could have sold out for fifteen hundred dollars but I thought I could double that amount by spring and then I was going home but instead of that I have lost every dollar I had and now I am not worth one dollar." "I could not do much at mining for the indians were so bad. I was hired to stand guard for one hundred dollars a month. I never saw an indian, but they were scattered around there." "I am driving 2 yoke of oxen, it is all the ox team there is in the place. I have all the work there is to do with oxen in this place, besides I have all the goods to haul that come here which is about four thousand tons a year that I get fifty cents a ton for." "I have to haul them about two hundred yards. There are 3 steamers that make 2 trips apiece in a month to this place. The most that has been brought at one time was 230 tons of freight, it took me 2 days and 1 night with 2 men to help me." "When the news came to Crescent City that the Atlantic cable was laid, they were going to fire fifty guns, but after the 4 or 5 shots that were fired, the man that was tending them, when he raised his thumb and the gun went off and blew off the right hand at the wrist of a man that was ramming down the cartridge." "... I had hardly got on shore when the man that I used to haul the goods for from the lighters came to me and asked me what I was going to do. I told him I did not know, he asked me if I should like to go to teaming again, I asked him on what conditions, he said a team of my own and the hauling for him. I told him I had no money to buy teams with, he told me that made no difference, so I have had two carts made and have bought 4 yoke of oxen, the whole has cost me 800 dollars." "There is great excitement about the copper mines within 20 miles of this place, I have taken up a claim and I think have as good a show as there is in California. There are 14 of us in the company and each one of us has a claim. Some claims cannot be bought for $50,000. And if the one that I am interested in turns out well, I have as good a show as anyone in California." "You wrote about hard times, I think it is as hard times here as anywhere else. I expect that California will be deserted this spring for the northern mines about 600 miles north of this place in the Salmon and Snake river country from all accounts it beats California in 1849. Men that have gone from here write back for their friends to go. I am going this spring." The last letter is dated April 3, 1864, in which he tells his brother that while cutting lumber, he cut his foot. He concludes with, "Everything is very dull in this section of the country at present and I don't see much prospect of its being much better for the present. There is a prospect of an Indian war here this summer, if so, we will have to all turn out I expect." Rubbing to edges of composition book. All pages very legible. A wonderful view of life in California gold mines during the mid-1800s.
Inventory Number: 47029