Detailed letter from a miner at the most infamous of all California Gold Rush camps, Mokelumne Hill
Detailed letter from a miner at the most infamous of all California Gold Rush camps, Mokelumne Hill

Detailed letter from a miner at the most infamous of all California Gold Rush camps, Mokelumne Hill

Moquolumne Hill, California to Plymouth, New Hampshire: 1851. Unbound. This three-page stampless folded letter measures 15.5” x 9.75” unfolded. The letter is datelined “Moquolumne Hill Oct the 22nd 1851.” It bears no postmark so undoubtedly ‘favor carried,’ probably by a returning miner. It is complete with a few small holes that do not hinder legibility. Some light dampstains. A transcript will be included. Good to Very Good. Item #009244

In this letter to his uncle, Holmes describes in detail life at Mokelumne Hill and the dangerous mining method used by prospectors there:

“I reside at Moquolumne Hill and . . . if the rains sets in this winter the prospects will be very good for the miners they have got there dirt out of there holes and are laying it deep in piles to wash when the rain comes on. Some I suppose will get amply paid for their labor the holes here run from seventy to a hundred and twenty five feet deep. It would aston you if you would decend one of them and see the wonderful work of man. They have tore the gulches up and ravines and have gone into the hills there they find richer than ever there is trouble though and more time and expense in sinking these deep holes and a grate many of them get disappointed sinking them for some do not make enough to pay their way through whilst some get their piles and return home to the states. The hills around this vicenity have proved very rich but then they have not been half worked . . . and it is very dangerous to work in them when the ground is damp and wet on account of the bank caveing in but then there is some though big fools enough to work in them if they thought they was to be killed the next minute so eager are they for the precious metal but I consider my life worth more than all the gold ther is in Calafornia. . . .

"There is now in this town about four or five thousand inhabitants where a year ago their was scarcely five hundred this place is improveing fast houses are building here now every day Not cloth ones but good substantial frame buildings such as we have at home. . . . There is now under way at the time of my writing two large frame buildings and one meeting house the latter will be much used here I hope by the people for there is plenty who ought to have the word of God preached to them. . . .

"Lett me tell you how a Sunday is spent here, there is agenal thing more people in town on a Sunday than any other day the come in from all quarters from three and four miles off and by two o’clock the streets are crowded with men some are buying their weeks Provisions others are drink and curousing and other Playing into people that is loseing their money at Gambling and by night through the influence of Liquor they have a pretty noisey time of it here at sundown, these houses have a band to play for them to entice men into their houses to spend their money at the lower end of the town it is mostly inhabited by Mexicans and Spainiards and carry on their shouting and singing till Midnight I hope I shall reach home soon so I shall get out off this den off sin and inequity.”

Gold was first discovered at Mokelumne Hill in 1848 during the Mexican-American War by a member of the New York Regiment of Volunteers, and soon a party of miners from Oregon descended upon the region. The original placers were so rich in gold that the first miners were said to have risked starvation rather than travel to Stockton to replenish supplies. Soon, it was discovered that the hills surrounding the original claims were filled with gold, and ‘Moke Hill’ became one of the largest towns in California. Its population mushroomed to almost 15,000 miners from the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Mexico, China, and Chile, whose 16 square foot claims were packed tightly together. The town was a haven for criminals and filled with gambling dens and bordellos. Violence was ever-present and during 1851, at least one murder a week occurred over a four-month period.

This is possibly the earliest extant letter from Mokelumne Hill. Although the American Stampless Cover Catalog suggests a letter from 1850 may exist, no earlier mail than this example is identified in searches of OCLC, Rare Book Hub, Frajola’s PhilaMercury database, or major philatelic auction house records. Additionally, Durham’s "California Geographic Names" gazetteer reports the town’s post office opened in 1851, and Homes reports a change in his mailing address: “I told Lydia to direct them to stockton. direct no more their as there is a Post Office here in this town and if you direct them here, where I am I should be most likely to get them safer and at less expense. Now let me tell you how to direct them. Moquolumne Hill. California. Calaveras, County word these the same as I have worded them.”

A scarce, detailed, first-person gold mining account with both historic and philatelic value.

Price: $1,500.00