Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP1630

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

Sent by John Wallace, Headwaters of the Stanislaus River [California] to ?Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell) [none given] on August 1851.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM
Verified by:
23/05/2012 - 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 (2)

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LETTER (WCP1630.1409)

A transcription handwritten by other in English.

A contemporary handwritten copy possibly in hand of Mary Ann Wallace.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/98
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
23/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




Head Waters of the Stanislaus3 River

(15 miles from civilized habitation)

Aug[us]t 1851

Dear Mother

You will see by the heading of this letter that I have left the comforts of partial civilization in that I ha "Campo Saco4" to be a wanderer in the mountains and a sojourner in the wilderness. I am in fact speculating in what may be a failure or what may turn out very advantageously I believe in my last communication I mentioned that the waters in the creeks were getting low and that gold washing was therefore getting low likewise as it is impossible to get the Gold without the water. I have therefore gone into a speculation with about 160 others forming a large company for the purpose of conveying the water from the Stanislaus River to a place called Columbia where there is a great extent of land which only requires water to yield a large crop of gold to the industrious miner. For this purpose we have to build a canal along the sides of steep and mountains & precipitous rocks a distance of nearly 20 miles (and when I tell you that this canal can not be dug in the ground (like ordinary Canals) but must be all built of wood) you will have some idea of the magnitude of the work we have undertaken. We are only at present making the grade that is a level road along the sides of the mountains for the purpose of laying the canal (or flume) upon, this canal will be about 4 ft wide and two feet deep made of boards about 2 inch thick and properly braced and fastened together to prevent leakage, This will be about 15 miles in length and the remainder we shall be able to manage by digging a canal in the ground (about 5 miles) the reason we cannot dig it all is that the mountains are so very steep & rocky, with very little loose earth upon them that no permanent banks could be established. These mountains are of immense height & steepness only tenanted by grisley[sic] bears, Deer, Coyoties[sic] & other wild animals [[2]]5 The mountains of Wales if placed here would be entirely lost or only recognized as small hillocks. We had at first proposed putting off up a water power saw mill for the purpose of cutting the immense quantity of boards required for the work -- but we have now purchased a Steam Engine & are about erecting a saw mill on the top of the mountains where there is plenty of timber growing and there to saw the boards required and then shift the mill Engine to another place further on as we progress with the work. You will perceive that this is a great work and will require many months to complete -- yet it is all undertaken and intended to be completed by miners by their own labour which is the principal capital required except for the purchase of the machinery & tools for which each member has contributed about 30 dollars. As I was the only practical Surveyor of the company I have been engaged in levelling and setting out the line and have now nearly completed it. It has been a very laborious work, the hills are so steep in some places that it is difficult to stand & fix the level. My level which I had stolen at San Francisco would have been of great service to me here if I could have had it. The Company purchased a Theodolite at San Francisco and paid 170 dollars for it which does not answer the purpose near so well as my old level would have done. When this work is compleated[sic] we shall have a large Stream Engine of water running into the richest mining district in this part of the Country where there are several thousand acres of land that will yield Gold sufficient to repay the miner for working if water could only be obtained upon the spot. Every miner therefore will have to pay us for the use of the water whereby a good daily revenue will be obtained, sufficient we hope to repay us for our present labour and expenses, the water will also be of great use and value for agricultural and Mill purposes.

[[3]]6 I hope before sending this off to receive one a letter from you I long to hear more of the Great Exhibition as every American paper we see is full of it, admiring & extolling the beauty and grandeur of the Chrystal[sic] Palace and its contents and also the British Nation its enterprising people and even the Queen herself receives her due share of praise for the great interest she appears to take in the objects of the Exhibition. all[sic] this is very gratifying to an englishman[sic] who in this distant republican country can read the praises of his native land in foreign journals although in his mother tongue -- as far as I have seen of American Politics and maner[sic] of government I admire the system & the people and can see more fully the errors of some parts of our own government, and yet I can exclaim "England with all thy faults I love thee still." although there is no place like California for freedom of action and scope for enterprise where a man can dig where he likes for gold even in a mans garden if he thinks proper, can cut down timber when he wants it and can erect a house or a sawmill in any convenient spot (not occupied by a previous party --) can roam over mountains and valleys in search of game -- and can shoot deer, bears, hares & rabbits with out fear of game laws or any interference whatsoever --

As we are all now camping out about the mountains shifting about every week and sleeping under a tree on the bare mountain sides we have a good opportunity of observing the habits of some of the animals although they mostly feed at night, a bear would sometimes come growling round our camp at night but they will not hurt any one unless wounded or hurt in some way it is dangerous to meddle with one unless there is a large party armed with rifles -- as they are immensely powerful7


1. "WP1/3/98 [1 of 3]" in pencil in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page.

2. "118" in blue pencil followed by "118" in ink or black pencil, both in an unknown hand, in the top left corner of the page.

3. The Stanislaus River is in the U.S. state of California.

4. Campo Seco is a community in Calaveras County, California.

5. "2" crossed out in the top left corner, followed by "119". Also "WP1/3/98 [2 of 3]" in pencil in an unknown hand in the top right corner.

6. "120" in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page. Also "WP1/3/98 [3 of 3]" in pencil in an unknown hand in the top centre.

7. The letter ends abruptly here.

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