Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP1633

Sent by:
John Wallace
Sent to:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
7 March 1851

Sent by John Wallace, Saw Mill Camp, California, USA to Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell) [none given] on 7 March 1851.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM
Verified by:
22/05/2012 - 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 (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP1633.1412)

A transcription handwritten by other in English and signed by unsigned.

A contemporary handwritten copy in hand of Mary Ann Wallace.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/101
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
22/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




Saw Mill Camp

March 7th 1853

My dear Mother

I take the opportunity of a little leisure to write to you, a violent Snow Storm has been raging some days which prevents our progressing with our work while it lasts, I have lately been in company with our Chief Engineer General Bernard[?] engaged in a survey of the mountains round about this region of Country endeavouring to find out a better route for the remainder or first portion of our Canal which I think I explained in a former letter [is] ten miles from the creek to the river according to the gr[id?] [paper folded over] which we had made on the main [1 deleted word illeg.] mountain side [paper folded over] this survey we travelled over some of the most rug[ged] [paper folded over] conceive and where I suppose no white man had before ever trod where the Indians trail & the footprints of the Grizly [sic] bear and Deer were the only signs of animated nature,[sic] However we managed at last to find a better and easier route than our old grade and although we have to go ten miles further up the mountain river and about a thousand or fifteen hundred miles feet higher, yet we shall obtain a shorter and less expensive route than the old one - seeing that the nature of the ground here is such that about two thirds of it can be dug and the remainder which is 3 miles will have to be slurried[?] & trusselled[?] - that is - a framework of timber will have to be constructed to carry the aquaduct over some craggy points, deep ravines about two miles in length and then about one mile will have to be flumed[?] over some grading and slight timbering, the water will then flow into the head of the creek and from thence down to where our flume (or Canal) which we now are [[2]] compleating[sic] will receive it It will have to go run about 5 miles down the creek but when once there we have no further trouble as it cannot get away[.] We have contracted with a man to put up a water saw mill at the River (where there is a capital location and plenty of timber) for four thousand dollars and to be compleated [sic] in 5 weeks. Our saw mill here is now in a substantial and flourishing condition cutting about 10 Thousand superficial feet in 24 hours but we have had bad luck with it till lately, the alteration (which I told you of in a former letter), we were obliged to make to it cost us 15 hundred dollars and Cash besides loss of time &c soon after that was done one of our main cranks broke and we were had to send to San Francisco to get another one cast which delayed us upwards of a week, since then our the Mill [edge of the paper has been ripped and is missing] been going very well and we are all in hopes of g[etting] [edge of the paper has been ripped and is missing] the first part finishes in about two mon[ths] [edge of the paper has been ripped and is missing] the whole of it in about three more. The expen[ses?] [edge of the paper has been ripped and is missing] are now very great, there is spent weekly in L [edge of the paper has been ripped and is missing] above one thousand dollars, I calculate for the next four or five weeks to spend about three thousand dollars weekly in script payable after our work is compleated [sic] when we expect we expect to have a handsome revenue[?]. Our present income is caused by several members[?] who do not work and who pay into the stock five dollars per day instead[.]

I must tell you as I have before that I never have received any of the many Newspapers you say you have sent, letters are generally forwarded regularly but Papers never - therefore have come to the conclusion that not to send any more - when I Enquire for Papers all the satisafaction [I] get is "none comes there". They are doubtless detained at San Francisco or at the Isthmus [[3]] I send with this letter a two provincial papers one of them contains an article about Our Company by which you will see that it is thought much of in these parts - and is to all intents and purposes a Great work. I was surprised and grieved to hear of the death of my old [2 words deleted and illeg.] M.W. he used to be to all appearances a very healthy lad I hope his brother is doing well in Australia either in his business or at the Gold diggings - but none but those who have been accustomed to hard labour can expect to succeed - as it is not a general rule to pick up the Gold on the surface - tho[ugh] there are exceptions which some luck few have availed themselves of and then report their success in glowing colours to their friends, thereby inducing young Shop men and Clerks to quit their sedentary employments for the land flowing with milk and honey which most of them repent of too late --

A few days ago I unexpectedly received a letter from Alfred my Brother the only that has reached me for two years, it was written just as he was preparing an eight month voyage to some out of the way place up the Rio Negro which he says is one of the most savage districts on the face of the earth. He says he expects to be in England by July or Augt [August] and that I am to answer him there he wishes me to collect for him here Butterflies & Beetles, this I am afraid I cannot so as I have no means of and no time at present for capturing them, and then no place to keep them in afterwards, I might collect a few beetles as I might chance to meet with them, they appear to be more numerous in this Country than Butterflies. The weather is very changeable here in the Winter it is now cold with snow thick on the ground and raining hard - two months ago some days I it was so hot that [[4]] that we were glad to get under the shade of a tree to eat our dinner. We had a serious accident in our works a few days ago, the mill is situated on the top of a mountain at about a quarter mile distance from the grade and about 400 feet in perpendicular height above it, [sic] The way we take the lumber down is by means of a large trough or shute [sic] constructed on the sloping side of the mountain into which the planks are put at the top & they slide down with great velocity to the bottom where they are immediately removed and carried on trucks/tracks[?] along the grade (or canal to be formed) the signal had been given from below to stop sending down the planks till something near the bottom of the shute [sic] had been fixed two frenchmen that were attending us below were sent to repair it, [sic] They had been there only a minute or two and I was going up to assist them when the man at the top who could not see to the bottom having mis misunderstood the signal sent a large plank down. I heard it coming and cried out to the men to jump out of the shute [sic] one of them did so but before the other one could - this plank came down with immense velocity and struck the poor French-man, knocking him compleatly [sic] out of the shute [sic] into a ravine nearly 20 feet below the plank on top of him - I had but just time to jump out before the plank struck him -- When I went to the poor fellow he was laying on his back quite insensible with his thigh broken, the bone protruding through his trousers & appeared to have injured his head in the fall we immediately removed him to a tent close by and sent to Columbia for a medical man about 6 miles off - two surgeons arrived in the course [[5]] of the day, but could not do anything for him as he was quite insensible and in too weak a state to suffer amputation. He expired the next day, we buried him the following one on the top of a hill near the saw mill all the men attended and one of the French men gave an oration over the grave of his countryman which as I could not understand much of it I shall not attempt to translate it. This is the only man we have had killed on the works, last summer a french man was accidentally drowned while bathing in the river, and about three months ago one of our members died here partly through excessive drinking, and another a Welchman [sic] was injured in the back by a large stone rolling down the hill upon him he was laid up severally days months but is now able to work again.


1. The date here given for the continuation of the letter on the same sheet of paper is in conflict with the year 1853 given on page 1.

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