Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP1630

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

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

Record created:
06 July 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline
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)

View item:

LETTER (WCP1630.4445)

A transcription typewritten  in English.

Typescript copy, created c. 1948

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/96/1
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
23/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




5. Letter from "Headwaters of the Stanislaus River. Fifteen miles from Civilized Habitation. August 1851. (To his mother) See sheet 13. Note 2.3

You will see by the heading of this letter that I have left thecomforts[sic] of partial civilization in Campo Seco4 to be a wanderer in the mountains, and a sojourner in the wilderness. I am in fact speculating on what may be a failure, or what may turn out very advantageous. I believe in my last letter I mentioned that the waters in the creeks were getting very low and the 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 along with about 160 others, forming a large company for the purpose of bringing 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 mountains, and precipitous rocks, a distance of nearly 20 miles.

When I tell you that this canal cannot be dug in the ground (like ordi-nary canals), but must be built of wood, you will have some idea of the magnitude of the work we have undertaken. We are only at present marking the grade, that is a level road along the sides of the mountains, for the purpose of laying the canal, or flume (as it is falled[sic]) upon. This flume will be about 4 feet wide, and 2 feet deep, made of boards 2 inches thick, and properly braced and fastened together to prevent leakage. This will be about 15 miles in length. and the rest we shall be able to manage by digging a canal in the ground. The reason we cannot dig it all is that the mountains are so very steep and rocky, with very little loose earth upon them, so that no permanent banks could be established. These mountains are of immense height ans[sic] steepness, only tenanted by grizzly bears, deer and coyotes, and other wild animals. The mountains of Wales, if placed here would be entirely lost, or only recognized as small hillocks.

* Also, at times, Chief Engineer and also President.

** From "History of the San Francisco Bay Area". By Bailey Millard.

This sheet rewritten August, 1948.

[[2]] We had at first proposed putting up a water power Saw Mill for the purpose of cutting the immense quantity of boards which we will require, but we have now purchased a Steam Engine, & are about erecting a saw mill on the top of the moun-tains, where there is plenty of timber growing, and there to saw a great quqntity[sic] of the boards required, and then shift the mill to another place further on as we progress with the work. You will see that this is a great work and will require a great many months to complete, yet it is all undertaken and intended to becompleted[sic] by miners by their own labour, which is the principal capital required, except for the purchase of Steam Engine and Saw and machinery and tools, for which eachmember[sic] has contributed about 30 dollars. As I was the only practical surveyor of the com-pany, I have been engaged in leveling[sic] and setting out the line, and have now nearly completed it. It has been a very laborious work as the hills are so steep in some places that it is difficult to stand and fix the level. My level, which I had had[sic] stolen at San Francisco would have been of great service here if I could have had it. The company purchased a theodolite in San Francisco, and paid 170 dollars for it, which does not answer the purpose nearly so well as my old level would have done. When this work is completed we shall have a large stream of water running into the richest mining district in this part of the country where there are several thous-and acres of land that will all yield gold sufficient to repay the minor for working if water could only be obtained on the spot. Every miner will therefore 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 & mill purposes.


1. This transcript is typewritten.

2. There are 4 lines are handwritten, in an unknown hand in the top right hand corner of the page.

3. Paragraph labelled "WP1/3/96/1" in pencil, in an unknown hand, in the right margin.

4. Campo Seco was a mining camp in Calaveras County, California.

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