The Basin (Placer County, California): 16 December 1855. Quarto bifolium(ca. 25x19,5 cm). 4 pp. Brown ink on blue-lined laid paper. Fold marks, a couple of minor tears on folds, but overall a very good letter written in a legible hand.
Historically Interesting unusual extensive and content-rich letter from a California gold miner, with several pieces of original poetry about the Gold Rush embedded in the text. The letter was written by one P.W. Nevill [?] from the town of Dudley (possibly, Worcester Co., Mass.), employed at the Basin Mine several miles northeast to the town of Michigan Bluff (Placer Co., California). Addressing to his cousin Mary, Nevill vividly described his life as a gold miner, talking about his success in cooking, lonely life in the cabin during long winter rains, hard work in a rock tunnel which required constant blasting, the regularity of mail service, high prices for provisions, etc. Several pieces of poetry reflect on his longing for home, family and friends, hopes, hardships and frustrations of gold mining, loneliness and despair. Overall, a rare example of a California gold miner’s letter so eloquently and poetically describing his life.
The text of the letter (all spelling is original): “I am seated here by my stove, the rain is [falling?] down onto the roof of my Cabbin. But what do I care; I have had my supper and that which was good enough. What a cook I am; I am afraid I could put to blush many a Girl in that line. If you could see what Bread I bake! What a kettle of beans I can get up! I know you would want to share them with me! I can not say so much as of my Pastry cooking, but I believe I should not be slow at that.
I am seated here and have got a good warm fire, so let it rain. It is the miner’s delight, it is what he has wanted for a long time; it is a commodity he can not go without; it is the agent he employs to sepperate the gravel from the Gold Ditches we dug and flumes that conveys it to the driest places. Soon the Poor Miner will be at work. The streams that the long and severe droughts have dried up, will again be full of life, and then mad waters will go foaming, leaping and dashing along in their precipitous course. There is no place in the world when it is fair, it is as fair as here, and when it rains, it rains so hard. Most of the miners have learnt by experience to provide themselves with comfortable houses. But it is many times the case when they are out prospecting there is no shelter to be found. Many an instance of suffering. I could relate, there has been improvements within two years that have added a good deal to the comforts of living.
The rain is falling further. It is a dark and stormy night.
O Yes, Let it rain, it is the miner’s delight;
Let the south winds blow, and hasten the thaw,
It is to him a welcome and joyous sight
And sound he’ll sleep, on his pallet of straw.
He dreams of the Gold, that he’ll wash from the banks
He thinks that his trials and hardships are o’er
And his lips tremble as he murmurs his thanks
As he stands before his own Father’s door.
Long years it has been, since he stood that before;
Times ruthless step, has been [busy?] on track
Many are the Friends that he’ll never see more
Many are the voices that’ll ne’er welcome him back
He raises the latch all trembling with fear,
And Friends flock around, the wanderrer to greet,
He looks in their midst, their’s many should be near,
He calls and calls, and wakes from his sleep,
What have I been doing here.
<…> I am seated here by the stove alone, I feel sort of lonsome. I have no books to read and nothing to employ myself about. At present there is no one camping with me. My mind wanders back to the old familiar scenes of youth (May I not say it, I feel as I was pretty old) and calls up one or another of my associates in and about old Dudley. <…> I am situated at present quite handy to the Office, it is but about 8 miles. The mail goes out once in two weeks, I have a chance to send once in every week or two. Where I am stopping now, it is the place where Father stoped most of the time while he was here. For a description of the place I will refer you to him. I hardly know what to write that will be of interest to you. Shall I tell you of hopes defered, of plans frustrated, of the many hard days works in the hot and burning sun, or in the old and chilling storms and all for naught; of the many hardships, exposures, privations, and trials, of the many dangers escaped & of the long prospecting tours, camping out at night, sleeping on the cold and damp ground, the canopy of Heaven for your covering, you guardian spirits the wild beasts of the wood. Packing your provisions on your back with your frying pan and cooking utensils, of the many times your brightest hopes seemed about to be realized, and then were dusted away, of the many times your heart almost failed you, of the new resolves and resolutions, the longings after society.
Now you afft think of your own native land
In a moment you seem to be there,
But Alass, recolection at hand
Soon hurries you back to despair.
Here the Sabbath is turned into a holiday, the privileges you once enjoyed – the Church, the Sabbath school, the Library, the hymns of praise you once listened by with so much pleasure, how you miss them all.
The sound of the Church going bell
These hills and these rocks never heard
Nor sighted at the sound of a knell
Or smiled when the Sabbath appeared.
Shall I write of the many pleasures too, certainly there is many. Free from mentall restraints, the wild roving life you lead, the excitements tending gathering the golden sands, the frolics of camp. Hark! We will listen to the song that they are singing in yonder Cabin:
When the Gold fever raged, I was doing very well
With my Friends all around – young and old
It’s a long time ago that I bid them farwell
And embarked for the land of Gold
O miners, poor miners, hungry and cold
Though poor, I’ll return to my home, fare away
So farwell to the land of Gold.
<…> I am work here in the Basin running a tunnel through the solid rock, expect to have to run it some 250 feet. We can go some 2 feet per day. So you see we have a pretty hard job of it, we have to blast it all with powder. We do not expect to get it in before another summer and then we do not know as we shall find anything. There are several families that have settled in this vicinity within a short time. It begins to seem more like sivilisation. Provisions of all kinds are very high. Flour $1200 pr 100 lbs, pork 34 cts, butter 87 ½ cts and other things in proportion. <…> If you write to me, direct to Michigan Bluff, Place Co., Cal.”.
Price: $1,750.00 USD