Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP1277

Sent by:
John Wallace
Sent to:
? Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
28 December 1851

Sent by John Wallace, Mill Seat Camp, California, USA to ?Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell) [none given] on 28 December 1851.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM
Verified by:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


One of a set of excerpts of letters providing in-depth descriptions John Wallace's life in the gold mining town of Columbia, California, building a system to bring water to gold mining operations in the town.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP1277.1056)

A transcription typewritten  in English.

Typescript copy c. 1948, incomplete.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/96/3
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




7. Letter from "Mill Seat Camp". Dec[ember]. 28, 1851.

...The winter is now thoroughly set in, although the falacy[sic] of not being able to work in the mines in the rainy season is entirely exploded. In fact, most miners depend upon the rainy season for making up for losses during the summer & autumn months, when they are not able to work for want of water. The rainy season is therefor[sic] looked upon as a boon to most miners. There are many places, however, where it is impossible to work to advantage even with any amount of rain, & to overcome this difficulty, ditches are cut from the nearest creek or river to supply these places with a stream of running water. It is for this purpose that we have been toiling among the mountains for nearly six months, & have not yet completed our work, although when it is completed it will be a valuable & extensive work, & will furnish water to gulshes[sic] & flats covering an extent of upward of twenty miles of the richest kind of mining district. Our saw mill is not yet completed, as the mill wright we employed to do the work left it in such an impossible state incomplete state that after the mill had been going only about a week or so it so much out of repair that we were obliged to get some other mill wright to come to examine the works, & they found that the foundations were not put down low enough, & several parts of the machinery had to be made over again, so we are all now busy in digging out the foundation & laying new timbers, & doing everything to make it substantial. The alterations will cost us upwards of a thousand dollars, besides the loss of time, but we are determined to have one of the best mills in the country, & we think [[2]] after our present work is completed, we may be able to sell boards & timber so as to make the mill a permanent source of profit. The great inconvenience is that we are so far from Sonora, but we have a pretty good road made. We have also ox teams & wagons. You will probably imagine that I was very foolish to join this company, & enter into such a large speculation, but the fact was none of us at first were aware of the magnitude of the work we had undertaken. Things of this kind are managed differently here to what they are in England. Instead of accurate surveys being taken & calculations being made as to the expense etc., a superficial examination was made of the probably route to be taken & a meeting called of the miners & inhabitants of the neighborhood[sic], speeches were made by different persons who had examined the route, & the probable distance to the river was calculated at from eight to ten miles, & the time required for a company of 150 men was estimated at not over three months, & it was at once determined to go ahead about the work on the following week. A code of laws and regulations were drawn up, directors and superintendents appointed, & I was chosen surveyor of the company. We all commenced in high spirits the following Monday, which was the first of July, commencing at a pass in the mountains, which we named "Summit Pass", & working from thence toward the river. Our first object was to grade a road on the side of the mountain, 6 feet wide, following all the inequalities of the rugged mountain side, but keeping a perfectly level road but that is not strictly true. As we progressed we kept the road on a gradual rise of about 10 feet to the mile, so as to allow the water to flow when we have completed the work. The setting out of thecroador[sic] [the road or grade] was of course my work, so I had to keep ahead, and put down pegs at every rod (16½ feet) for the men to work to. I had 3 or 4 men constantly with me cutting pegs & driving them in, measuring the distances, & holding the staff, etc., while I carried the Theodolite & levelled & directed the driving of the pegs, etc. It thus took us about two months before we graded the road to the river, a distance of fifteen miles from the place we started from.

We had originally intended to put up a water power Saw Mill at the place where we struck the river, but when we arrived there we found that there was not enough water for the purpose at that time of year, & therefore some other plan had to be decided upon. We accordingly decided agreed to send to San Francisco for a steam Saw Mill Engine & put up a steam Saw Mill at some convenient spot on the mountain, & first complete [1 word deleted illegible] the canal from a creek 5 miles from Summit Pass where in the winter time we shall have sufficient water for our purposes, & afterwards to complete the remainder befort[sic] [before] the ensuing summer. It took us upwards of a month before we could get the Steam Engine up here, & we have been ever since building the Mill. We are all ready now for building the flume or canal as soon as the Mill can go cutting on the boards, which I expect will be in another week, & we shall then soon complete this portion, if the weather is favorable[sic] although there are symptoms of a very wet winter, as it has rained nearly the whole of this week (Christmas Week) & we had a violent snow storm about a month ago. We have had a great deal of timber work to do on the grade in bridging over all the gulches & ravines which we pass, & also several rocky places which we are also obliged to put timber work around. We also have sleepers laid along the road 6 feet long and 4 feet apart, with two mortices in each for upright side pieces to support the sides of the canal. My being surveyor does not ensure me any pay, as we all work alike. This is another feature in California speculations which I suppose is not found in any other part of the world. Each member of our company contributes his labour to be employed in the most advantageous manner, & we are consequently all on the same footing. We have in our company lawyers, doctors, ministers, mechanics, sailors, & laborers[sic], all working to-gether[sic] with Frenchmen, Spaniards, Germans, Norweigians[sic], English, Scotch, & Irish, & of course, Americans, yet we are all on an equality, & have to work alike. We have several members who do not work at all but they have to pay into the company five dollars per day which is the average value of a mans labour, each member, besides his labour, has paid in at different times nearly 100 dollars to defray expenses, so that you see we have paid near 15 thousand dollars in hard cash, besides our labour for six months. Our Chief Engineer & super- [[3]] intendent is a General Bernard, who has general control of the works, assisted by the board of directors. We also have a President, Vice-President, Secretary & Treasurer, chosen monthly by the company. A great many of our members have from time to time sold out their interest in the company, not being able to keep it up. We have therefore constantly new members coming in, in the room of the old ones going out. The value of shares now is about 400 dollars, although each share, reckoning on mans labour cost him much more.

...I feel very much interested in the company myself. I have been very active, and worked very hard from the first, & I mean to stick to it, if possible[,] to the last. There is probably no instance in any part of the world where a small company of working men projected & carried out a work equal in expense and engineering difficulties to many of the small railways in England, & under disadvantaged which do not occur in more settled and civilised countries. When it is fully completed, it will be one of the greatest works that has yet been attempted in this country.

There is one fact, however, of which there is not the least doubt, namely, that this company would never have been formed if the full difficulties & expenses of the undertaking could have been discovered & explained at the first meeting, but our difficulties & expenses have gradually been coming upon us, till we had at last gone so far that it would not do to give it up & we have consequently determined to complete the work, & to show to the world what a combination of hard working miners in California can do.


1. This transcript is typewritten.

Please note that work on this transcript is not yet complete. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document, if available.