Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP1324

Sent by:
William Greenell [ARW's son] Wallace
Sent to:
Alfred Russel & Annie Wallace
5 December 1897

Sent by William Greenell [ARW's son] Wallace, 3923 Highland Avenue, Denver, Colorado, USA to Alfred Russel & Annie Wallace [address not recorded] on 5 December 1897.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM


No summary available at this time.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • envelope (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP1324.1103)

A typical letter  .

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/139
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family

Physical description

Transcription information




Cheyenne. Wyo[ming]. W.S.A.

W. W. Tel[ephone]. Co[mpany]. Outfit.

c/o Miss Delaplaine

3923 Highland Ave[nue]. Denver. Col[orado].

Dec[ember]. 5th 1897

My dear Pa1 & Ma2

Your's of Nov[ember] 16 just to hand, containing our phrenological characters etc.

I will first fill up that gap at Chicago -- Tuesday Oct[ober] 19. Reached Chicago at 2 P.M. after a long & tiring journey by train.

After getting some lunch & a wash we went to "Hull House" on S[outh] Halsted St[reet].

This is a co'operative educational community & Miss Addams is at the head of it.

They give all kinds of classes for chidren & grown ups & it is situated in a poor quarter. Alf Hicks knows several of the co'operators including Miss Addams & we were all made welcome at once. We stayed there a week & only paid for our breakfasts which we, together with [[2]] the rest, took at a coffee house in connection with the place. So we did it very cheaply & comfortably. They were all very nice people.

We did not do much whilst in Chicago. Alf had several people to call on & Mac & I went about a little & saw things. One day we looked up the "L.A.W" ("League of American Wheelmen") Consul & got his advice as to our route west. He gave us a list of towns & distances all the way to Denver & also a Map of the first part of [the] route for nil. It proved very useful all the way.

Another day we took our wheels & rode all round the Boulevards taking in several parks & the Exposition grounds. This took us all day. We went through all the better parts but we still think Chicago is a "beastly hole" -- it quite came up to expectations.

We had been keeping our eyes on the ads & one day we went out to a & Oak Park [[3]] to get a painters job, but we were too late. Very little help was wanted whilst we were there (Chicago).

On Friday, One of Alf[']s friends, Mr Weeks, & his wife, invited us out to spend the night at their home at Winettka[sic] on the lake shore north of Chicago.

We rode out & spent a very pleasant time. Mr Weeks was of the Mr Jacomb[?] type -- very friendly & nice -- His wife was very advanced in her ideas -- a socialist etc (not a new woman) She was also a speaker. He was nothing particular by himself but followed his wife. They had your "Australasia".

I think we did nothing else except loaf. One day we saw two ladies riding horses in the only rational way, & several policemen on wheels.

So much for the gap[?]. We left Chic[ago] on Monday. [[4]] (This paper won[']t tear of[f] the block properly & the pen doesn't suit me.) Other letters cover journey to Denver.

Wednesday Nov 24. 1897. Denver.

For more than a week we had been hanging on to a Mr heBort[?] -- the General Foreman of Telegraph Construction on the W. P. Denver & Gulph R[ailwa]y. We saw him everyday & sometimes two or even 3 times -- poor man! He bore it all very nicely & seemed to take a fatherly interest in us. He had half promised us a job, but the opportunity to actually employ us did not come, so at last he took us to the Western Union Telegraph Co[mpany] & introduced us to the foreman there. That night we left Denver with free passes to Cheyenne. Wyo[ming].

We arrived at 11 P.M. & had to hunt about the R[ailwa]y yard for the accommodation cars. At last we found them & got in -- but every one was asleep -- so we lit a match & found an empty bunk & turned in. We had bought an empty [1 word illeg.] box for 5 c[ents]. This contained our humble belongings. [[5]] We did not wish to appear too "loney".

Next morning we got up with the rest of the crowd (about 20) & had breakfast in the dining car.

It was Nov[ember] 25 & thanksgiving day -- & snowing & as the head foreman was away in Denver (we had slept in his bed) the men refused to go out so our first day was an easy one & we got acquainted with our mates.

There are 8 or 9 hire men including Mac & me & the rest are ground hands (or laborers). They are all good fellows -- very rough & fue[?] -- there[sic] language is frightful -- "painful & free" is too mild[,] their morals are apparently absent, but they are not really half as bad as they make out. They take pride in saying they have done bad things but most of it is bluff.

To each other they are kind & even polite in their way & on the whole I quite like them. They are a curious mixture -- they wash hands & face regularly before every meal & their feet now & then, yet they wear their shirt & draws night & day for weeks. After work in the evenings we read or play cards -- no one has any money so we can[']t get drunk. We turn in at 8 or 9. The work is to reconstruct the Tele[phone] line between here and Denver -- i.e. put in new poles & change over the wires. We go to work on hand cars like the navvys have in England only you work them by a double handed lever like a ship pump, each one will carry 8 men.3

When we have got about 6 or 7 miles, the whole out fit will move to the next depot & work out from there.

I have been doing all kinds of work up till [the] day before yesterday & then I was told to take an ax[e] & cut down all the old poles & take off the old cross arms. It's a fine job. I work by myself & although the weather is bitterly cold (about 6°F & blowing hard) I can keep warm.

It is good practice too. My left handedness comes in very useful too as sometimes the poles are so close to a fence that I have to cut 1st right handed & then left.

[[6]] Mac is framing poles -- i.e. putting on cross arms & roofing the tops. Then another gang digs holes & still another sets poles & then 6 line men change over the wires.

We get $35.00 a month all found.

Plan of our sleeping car:4

There are two tiers of bunks[.] the lower ones hold 2 & the upper ones one each. each compartment has [a] wash basin & stove & the one we are in has a large cupboard. There are windows all along the sides & at the ends[.] the dining car is like this.5

I am writing this on the dining table.

On the whole we are very comfortable & they feed us like kings -- really splendid stuff[,] plenty of it & plenty of choice. 3 dinners a day[.]

The last few days have been very cold & the wind & snow terrific. We wrap our legs in pack cloth & tie up our faces in hankerchiefs & put on all the shirts we can find. We look like ar[c]tic explorers.6

We move out 10 miles tomorrow.

We come in to dinner from 12 to 1 & start home at dark. When on the handcars we have to look out for trains & once we nearly got caught & we had to through throw the hand car & tools down an embankment in a hurry[.]

[[7]] We have only had one exciting incident. One night we were pumping home by moon light when two of the men began to quarrel. In a little while one turned round & hit the other in the eye. No 2 then put on the brake & swore horribly. He picked up a hatchet & jumped off the car -- but it was still going pretty fast & he fell & rolled right over. He got up & ran round the car after us, waving the hatchet & evidently meaning business -- he couldn[']t catch him so he tried to throw the hatchet -- The rest (3) had got off to try & catch him & take the hatchet away[.] No 1 got behind me so No 2 couldn[']t get a good clear shot. Whilst he was trying to get round the rest collar'd him & after quite a struggle, they got it away & quieted him down a bit[.] Then we went on & every now & then No 2 made a reach for the hatchet & once he hit out with his fist at No 1 but by the time we got to the car they were quiet again but No 2 had a black eye. Later that evening the two were talking together & next day were fairly friendly.

The moon light gleaning on the bright new hatchet added to the effect. Well I think that is about all the news. I have heard that our gang may be taken off this job & sent down to Oaklahoma[sic] in a few weeks.

The Blizzard in Denver was very sever[e] for a day & wrecked about 7000 miles of wires. I am glad you got some orchids from Percy Burrell, but I don[']t think he is home yet though now [that] I think of it[,] his year must be up. I am surprised that he remembered you[.]

Will send oppinion[sic] of our characters later. I wil get Alf Hicks to say what he thinks of both of us too & send the lot[.]

Love to you both & Violet | Yours affectionately W. G. Wallace7 [signature]

P.S. During the cold weather we used to get icicles on our moustaches & beards an inch long & sometimes we were frozen up so that we could not open our mouths.

I heard the other day that Don Burrell was married.

I got a very annoying letter from Casson a week or two ago. He seems to have enjoyed his Parkstone[?] visit very much. We asked him why the West was called "Wooly"[.] He said because so many sheep go there to be fleeced! We are more than 10 miles from a town now & there is only one house in sight.

I will try & get the cook to post[?] this somehow.


1. Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823-1913). British naturalist and co-discoverer of natural selection with Charles Darwin.

2. Wallace, Annie (née Mitten) (1846-1914). Wife of Alfred Russel Wallace.

3. At the end of this sentence, on page 5 of the manuscript, a small sketch of a hand car has been drawn.

4. At the end of this sentence, on page 6 of the manuscript, a sketch of a sleeping car has been drawn.

5. At the end of this sentence, on page 6 of the manuscript, a sketch of a dining car has been drawn.

6. At the end of this sentence, on page 6 of the manuscript, a sketch of a worker in the attire described has been drawn.

7. Wallace, William Greenell (1871-1951). Youngest of 3 children of Alfred Russel Wallace.

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