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Record number: WCP1634

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Sent by:
John Wallace
Sent to:
? Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
25 May 1852

Sent by John Wallace, Summit Pass [California] to ?Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell) [none given] on 25 May 1852.

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 (2)

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LETTER (WCP1634.1413)

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 WP1/3/102
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




Summit Pass May 25th 1852

I read [the] letters from England written at X’mas about a month back which were very acceptable as they contain many sundry questions which require answers[.] I will endeavour to do so -- [.] in the first place you ask whether we have have[sic] any animals that would be rare in England -- to this I answer in the affirmative although the variety is not very great. The wild animals here are mostly small with the exception of the Grizly[sic] Bear and the Elk. There are several species of Cougar the Poll[sic] Cat, Fox, wild Cat, racoons, wild dogs (or Coyotes) and a species of Cougar or Lion of California as it is sometimes called which some say is rather a formidable animal, but I never had the pleasure of meeting with one during my rambles, as most of these animals only prowl about at night they would be best taken in traps, the assistance of the natives however could not be had and I expect would not be of use as they [[2]] as they hunt very little[.] they kill squirrels and birds with their arrows and the only animal they hunt is the deer[.] An Indian if he wants some Deer meat will go out early in the morning with his bow and arrows and if he comes within sight of Deer he utters a yell and starts off after it[.] the animal of course starts off to[sic] and is soon out of sight over a hill or rising ground where the deer generally halts and looks round, -- [.] The Indian however stops not but starting into a kind of trot or half run follows steadily in the track of the deer till he again comes in sight of him and the poor animal again starts off as soon as his presence comes in sight and is soon lost to view, but the hunter halts not, but over hill and dale across streams and ravines steadily follows in the track till the affrighted and wearied animal begins to flag and can only just keep a head[sic] of the its hunter -- [.] This is the time he could wound it with his arrows and readily dispatch it, but he by this time [is] several miles from his camp and wishes to return, so by a little skilful manoeuvering[sic] and leading the animal occasionally he gets it to take a pretty direct line towards his camp, he still following in the same unwearied pace till he finally perhaps drives it into his enclosure still alive or dispatches it a short distance off. But I must return to the subject (I started from in pursuit of the Deer)[.] There are few birds in this part of the Country with the exception of wild fowl of which there is a great variety -- [.] there are a few handsome birds, which arrive here for the Summer months, but leave in the [word illeg. crossed-out] winter. Of insects there is an abundance, especially Beetles, moths & Butterflies in the Spring and Summer[.] Beetles are particularly abundant at this time, especially small ones, Dragonflies are also plentiful & Scorpions & Tarantula’s are frequently met with. There is also [[3]] There is also[sic] a small sprinkling of snakes and lizards and Rattlesnakes being the only one that I have yet found at all dangerous, there is also a curious lizard found frequently here which is called ominously The horned toad. It is in truth a perfect lizard only its great breadth & short tail gives it the appearance of the toad[.] it has spikes and a sort of Crown of sharp & long spikes round its head of a yellow & brown colour & is not very nimble in running so that they are easily captured. The best time for a Naturalist to arrive would be about April, he would then have the whole of the spring and summer before him, and he would have the chance of collecting plants & flowers seeds of which there is a great variety. I sh[oul]d much like to see my Brother here if he thought he could make it answer as I do not expect to be able to leave my Post for a year at least and possibly not then. But I could put him into the way of getting along here either in Gold mining or Insect hunting and I expect the Southern mines would be about as good a place as he could select for either -- [.]

We have just passed a very severe Winter and we being in the mountains have had an extra share of it[.] during Feb[ruary] & March the snow came on with redoubled violence for a whole week and then a deluge of rain,[.] this rain & snow from the mountains caused such an immense quantity of water in the rivers that the flood covered [word illeg. crossed out] a large Tract of Country and nearly carried away the City of Sacramento destroying much property of every description,[.] this rainy season & heavy storms have delayed our work considerably but fine weather is coming & we may expect a long continuance of it. We are getting on rather slowly [[4]] with our Upper works as we have so much to do now down here at Columbia as we have the water in from the Creek and have a great many side ditches and canals to distribute it regularly through the different mining regions[.] I take the opportunity of writing now as I shall soon have to go up in the mountains to attend to the other part of the work. I have now a great deal to do as besides my post as Surveyor which has engaged me nearly the whole time I have for the last three months been President of the Company and have consequently my head and hands full. The distance from one end of our work to the other is now about 25 miles and as I am required at both ends you will perceive I have enough to employ me. The water which we distribute now brings in about 500 dollars per day which about clear[s] current expenses. We have still a large amount of work to compleat[sic] and a large debt to pay off so that it will be some time before we can realize much ourselves -- [.] In our Upper works the lumber is ready for use, part of the canal is dug and we have a tunnel about 8 chains (or 500 ft. long) through a hill of soft granite which will soon be finished[.] there is yet a vast amount of timber work to do which I have I have to oversee as soon as I can be spared from this end. I have now been in the mines two years [and] have seen many changes and learnt much of the nature of the Country and its resources during that time. Times are indeed changed surprisingly and rapidly in so short a period, the necessaries and even many of the luxuries of life all now sent to obtained at a moderate charge --[.]

Women and children are now [[5]] are now[sic] seen (in various parts of the Towns) a sure sign of civilization to enliven and cheer the dull monotony of our mans[sic] existence[.] The mining population are doing remarkably well and of course the merchants flourish accordingly[.] The presence of water by means of man’s perseverance and engenuity[sic] is developing he wealth of the Country in places hitherto untried and unthought of, and holes which two years ago were supposed to be worked out are now by improved modes of working handsomely remunerating the industrious [word illeg.] miner for his labour. In fact I consider there is as good a chance for a working man in California now as there ever was and there is every appearance of its continuance for many years and there is no place in the world for a hard working man equal to California -- wages in the mines are now 5 dollars a day -- and they were no higher two years ago. Many men (who have saved money) are going into agriculture and gardening -- [.] even the seasons appear to have changed[.] we have had several heavy showers this month (May) and last summer there was only one month in which we had no rain. --

I send this to go by the mail on the 1st of June.


1. The letter is a transcription made by Mary Ann Wallace (1792 - 1868) of the original letter sent to her by her son, John Wallace (1818 - 1895). There is a second, typewritten, transcript made by John Wallace’s son, John H. Wallace (Catalogue no. WCP1634_L4447), that accords with sections of this letter.

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