Letter from a gold prospector who served as the “judical chair” for a mining camp. W. B.

Letter from a gold prospector who served as the “judical chair” for a mining camp

Osceola, [probably Nevada]: 1880. Unbound. This letter is in nice shape, with short splits starting along a couple of the mailing folds. It has no accompanying envelope. A transcript will be included.

In the letter, W. B. reports to his mother that although he had found gold, it was not enough to keep him from moving on:

“I sent you a small piece of gold. . .. I will send you more soon. So whenever I send you a paper you look for gold. I would like to send you a hansome one, however I will do my best under existing circumstances. . .. The Camp is still dull, Alltho I am doing very well . . . however Mother when warmer weather arrives I must hunt better diggings. . .. I shan’t forget you if I ever strike anything good.”

He also describes his last day as the head of his camp’s miner’s court and his relationship with the local Indian tribe, (probably Utes):

“Someone gave whiskey to the Indians who are camped but a short distance from me. Those who did not drink were exposed to the abuse of the drunken ones. They made a great noise all night. One of them came to my cabin and made complaint. I told him I would be the Judge in the morning and have the guilty parties punished. I did as I promised and that was the last of it. The present incumbent of the Judicial Chair is not fit for the position. He is very fond of the juice himself. The Indians are in a starving condition and have been all winter. They are constantly coming to me for . . . food. There should certainly be something done for them. There maine dependence is the pine-nut crop which was a complete failure this year. Winter has been very severe It as been as low as 22 below zero, which makes it still harder on them.”.

Very good. Item #009530

W.B.’s reference to serving as a Judical Chair is related to his camp’s miners’ court. These courts administered any camp rules, protected claims, and addressed crimes. They were chaired by Judges or Judical Chairs elected by the camp at large. Proceedings were informal, and there was seldom a dedicated court room. In some camps, 12-man juries were emploed, and at others, anyone who happened-by during a court session was allowed to vote on the verdict. Since camps had no jails, if convicted of a serious crime, the guilty party faced one of three verdicts: whipping, banishment, or hanging.

Although there was minor gold mining near Osceola, Colorado, the mining district of Osceola, Nevada was larger and more productive. Scattered gold lodes were first discovered there in 1872, and In 1877, after rich placer gold was discovered, a gold rush began in earnest. Over three hundred claims were established and the town of Osceola grew to well over 1,500 people; it had several stores, a butcher, a blacksmith, a Chinese restaurant, and was served by two stages that connected it with the larger town of Ward about 50 miles away. During its boom, about two million dollars’ worth of gold (in today’s money) was uncovered including a 24-pound nugget.

Nevada goldmining letters appear to be far less common than those from California, and letters from miners’ court judges are very scarce. At the time of listing, there are no miners’ court letters for sale in the trade and none listed at OCLC or the Rare Book Hub, however one institution holds a court docket from a miners’ court in Colorado.

Price: $400.00

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