Stanislaus River, 19 May 1850. Quarto bifolium (ca. 25x20 cm or 9 ¾ x 7 ¾ in). 4 pp. Black ink on blueish laid paper. Fold marks with a few tiny holes, paper slightly age-toned, but overall a content-rich letter in very good condition.
A historically interesting, content-rich California Gold Rush letter penned by one of the earliest gold miners in the Stanislaus River area, promising to bring back home “a lump of gold as big as a piece of chalk,” mentioning the latest news in the state (the great San Francisco Fire of 1850, skyrocketing rental prices in Stockton, early anti-slavery sentiments, and the growing number of American gold miners arriving with their “mujeres”), and talking about the “unforeseen” problem of irrigation, “ferocious attacks of mosquitoes,” his daily menus (“squirrels, a sprinkling of ducks,” etc.), favorite newspapers (“The Tribune,” “The Express”), etc. Dated May 18, 1850, the letter was written by a young miner about twenty-one years old and a former resident of Troy, Rensselaer (New York), Geo K. Danchy. The letter consists of three different sections addressed to “dear folks,” and Geo’s sisters “Delia” and “Helen Mary” in Troy and represents one of the earliest examples of the California Gold Rush letters.
The author apparently settled along the Stanislaus River at the peak of the Gold Rush in 1849, when thousands of gold seekers rushed into California in search of the best gold mining areas. By 1850, the river had emerged as “the favourite haunt for the gold hunters” (New York Daily Herald, June 5, 1849. P. 8), with numerous gold mining camps sprouting up nearby. In the following years, as the miners managed to channel the Stanislaus River water to the gold canal diggings, the area became home to a growing number of settlers.
In the text, written by one of the first California gold prospectors, the author complains about the “unforeseen” problem of irrigation, shares news about his and his fellow “compañeros” latest achievement of building a windmill, and expresses his hopes of channeling the water from the Stanislaus River to a nearby ditch. In the other passages, Geo gives interesting details about his menus (“squirrels, a sprinkling of Ducks,” etc.), everyday clothes (“an old greasy worn out wool hat (hair uncombed) …”), favorite newspapers (“The Tribune,” “The Express,” etc.), Geo’s and his fellow peers’ preferred readings (anything about “the fair sex”), his state of health, weather conditions, “ferocious attacks of mosquitoes,” and the growing number of American gold miners arriving with “their mujeres.” Importantly, the author vividly describes the effect of the Gold Rush on the nearby city of Stockton only two months before its incorporation and highlights the skyrocketing rental prices: “Little shanties covered with cloth… without floors rent for $300 a month.” The author also gives an overview of the recent developments in California, mentioning the great fire of San Francisco (May 4, 1850) and “California’s admission…warmly appraised by slave states.” Geo supplements this “local digest” with an interesting remark on the early anti-slavery sentiments among the local gold miners, writing: “here nearly all from slave states say that they do not wish slavery & won’t have it.” Near the end of the letter, after meticulously describing his impressions of life among the other “Barbarians,” the author reveals his concerns about not being “able to abide a civilized community” anymore. Promising his family to bring back home “a lump of gold as big as a piece of chalk”, Danchy asks his parents to not worry because “a man can always get along in this country if… he can dig.”
Interestingly, the author uses a few Spanish words (“compañeros,” “casa,” “Señoritas,” “mujeres,” etc.) throughout his letter, clearly revealing the influence of Hispanic gold miners, who were among the first to haunt gold in the Stanislaus River area.
Overall, a historically significant, detail-rich California Gold Rush original autograph letter, written by one of the earliest gold miners in the Stanislaus River area, promising to bring back home “a lump of gold as big as a piece of chalk,” mentioning the latest news in the state (the great San Francisco Fire of 1850, skyrocketing rental prices in Stockton, early anti-slavery sentiments, and the growing number of American gold miners arriving with “their mujeres”), and talking about the “unforeseen” problem of irrigation, “ferocious attacks of mosquitoes,” daily menus (“squirrels, a sprinkling of ducks,” etc.), etc.
The text of the letter (original spelling preserved):
I have received I think nearly all the letters you have written since my last, all but your February letter. I wish you would direct your letters to me at Stockton as I will get them quicker & they will cost less as I pay 4 bits to have them brought up from San F. Tell H & E King to do the same if they do not receive my letter. We have had so many unforeseen difficulties arising from our ignorance of irrigation & a number of things costing more than we expected that I do not think we will get more than a start this year. We have but just learnt how to plant our land for irrigation: we have since I wrote last built a windmill to pump with & it works admirably with our regular N. W. winds. We have peas now almost large enough to eat but in most things we are not very early. I hope you will not feel so anxious about me any more as I see you were by your Dec & Jan letter as a man can always get along in this country if he can’t do anything else he can dig & as for me I never was so healthy nor so strong as I am now. I am afraid you would not wish to see me at home long, the provisions would disappear so fast. Three of us eat a bag of flour in three weeks besides a large amount of pork & a sprinkling of Ducks, squirrels, quails etc. I see by the papers that the admission of Cala is warmly appraized by the – slave states. Here nearly all from slave states say that they do not wish slavery & wont have it. I wish you would send the Tribune to me regularly (or have it sent) or directed to Stockton as it is generally pretty hard work to get hold of a paper. I didn’t receive a single Express although I had paid for a year. Send me also – almanac for 1850.
You will hear of course of the grand crash at San Francisco & of the large fire which raised lumber up high again. Stockton is growing slowly & they are gradually substituting buildings for tents, rents are enormous & the percentage of merchants to make anything must also be large. Little shanties covered with cloth about the size of the old “hay scales” without floors rent for 300$ a month. The – is growing very fast, they say it is larger than Stockton.
All the rivers are high now, the Stanislaus is higher than it has been before. There has been no rain since the 8th of April & the country except on the rivers is beginning to have its summer appearances, all the low spots of our bottom are covered with water. We think we can bring the water from the river above us in a ditch & water our land if so it will be a very valuable piece of property. There are great number of Americans coming this summer a great many bringing their “mujeres” with them.
I hope you will continue giving me an account of the Transactions of the proceedings in May (especially of the “Señoritas” as anything in relation to the fair sex is read with avidity by us Barbarians. Perry is well acquainted with a number of girls you are intimate with & recollects having been introduced to you. Give my respect to Miss. Grant & tell her I wish her pleasant and prosperous journey to London. I am glad to hear you are enjoying yourself & if I were not in California would wish to be in Troy to accompany you. Take care & not fall in love with until I return because it would be too bad to go back and find you married off. Why! The house would be so still the rats & mice would flee the neighborhood from the contrast. And it would be comfortable to hear a little noise after being away so long from the sound of anything except the talking of men and the puffing of smoke as we sit in the “casa” after supper.
I suppose you would like to know from your men in California & your brother especially look. Well imagine a man with an old greasy worn out wool hat (hair uncombed), shirt generally flannel, ragged pants and boots or shoes which would treat the idea of polishing with perfect disdain & you have the general outline with slight variations to suit circumstances, a coat is a perfectly useless article of apparel such a thing as a bosom or collar why hardly any one in the land but gamblers ever think of putting one on.
I will be sure to remember my namesake & bring him a lump of gold as big as a piece of chalk when I return provided I am able.
How different home will look when I get back. H. M with a large family of little one bawling about & climbing onto the knees of their Cal uncle. Delia in the situation H. M. was when I left. Jhede & Burr so large one will not know them & sis claiming to be a big girl & myself perhaps changed more than all & not able to abide a civilized community.
I live so quit life now, seeing nobody but my “compañeros” that there is no manner of news about here that can possibly interest you, nothing new exept the growth of our stuff & the appearance of our animals & the ferocious attacks of mosquitoes, so I must say good bye, give my love to all friends & relatives & be assured I will receive your letters regularly now.
P.S. I see by your letters you didn’t received my letter from January 7 by October Steamer. Dr. Newcomb’s brother was to send home to his wife by express, promises to send letters for me in the package. I sent letters to you & to the Kings with specimens of gold in each letter.
Direct to Stockton, Cal.