Bisbee Family Gold Field LettersAbstract and transcriptions provided by the California History Section, California State Library in Sacramento.
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In the 1850s members of two related families from Sumner, Maine, joined the California gold rush. The Solomon Bisbee family sent their son, Timothy. He joined his uncles, Amasa and Charles Byron Heald, in Pine Grove, Sierra County, where they worked at the Lone Star Mine and on their own claims for some years. Of the three, only Charles Byron remained in California; he died in Covina in Los Angeles County in 1927. Amasa returned to Wisconsin where the family had business interests and Timothy went on to Oregon.
Seven letters from Pine Grove, Sierra County (postmarked Table Rock), dated from Dec. 21, 1854 to Dec. 29, 1865. They are addressed to the Solomon Bisbee family in Sumner, Maine and written by members of the family. Four are from Timothy Bisbee to his parents, Solomon and Hannah; two are from Hannah's brother, Amasa Heald, to her; and one is from C.B. Heald to Maria Bisbee, Solomon's daughter. This last letter has an accompanying envelope with a sketch of trees on a mountainside. All letters have been transcribed.
In 1854 Amasa Heald writes to his sister, Hannah, and her husband, Solomon, with an added note to their children, Timothy and Moriah. He reports on his current occupation (keeping a vegetable store) and then responds to their concerns.
"Hannah I've not got ready to leave the country yet but am in hopes in one year from this time circumstances will allow me to meet my friends in Maine. ... Solomon I keep from bad company by keeping none at all. Good society is hard to find here."
To his nephew and niece he sends this advice:
" Remember now is your best time to get knowledge. Soon you will have to look out for yourselves when you will see the need of learning to do business in an easy & ready manner."
Timothy Bisbee writes to his parents on Feb. 6, 1859 and May 13, 1860, addressing each separately. His tone is often affectionately teasing as in this reply to his father:
"I think you would have made a first rate school teacher if you had appyed yourself to it in your younger days judging from the quantity of your questions."
He enumerates some 20 answers to these questions, presenting an overview of his life in the mines.
"17. I am at work between 60 and 70 feet under ground. -- 18. It is lighted with candles. Every man takes has one. -- 19. The canker in my mouth is better but not well. I hardly think it is a canker. I think it is occationed by my teeth. I believe I shall have them cleaned in the spring when a good dentist comes up here any how."
In response to his Mother's concerns he comments:
"Why mother! do you expect I am going to suffer for the want of things to keep me comfortable in this land of gold? Comfort comes with me before money and if I did not have clothes enough to keep me warm I should buy some but I have enough at present so you need not borrow any more trouble. A fellow can get any thing he wants here almost. They keep about as good an assortment of things here in the mountains as they do at that great metropolis Buckfield Village."
His second letter contains more detailed information about mining.
"Perhaps you do not understand about our washing tailings. We wash our dirt twice. The first time we wash it into a correll ie. a dam built round a hollow like on a side hill, that will hold all the dirt we take out in 4 or 5 months after it has been once washed. The dirt being in the correll slackens and conquencely pays well for washing the second time."
The letter that follows is once again from Amasa Heald who writes to his sister on Jan. 11, 1862. After commenting on his recent marriage ("My short experience of a weded life gives me no reason to complain ..."), he recounts a recent storm in an appropriately grandiose manner:
"I may as well apprise you that whilst the eastern or southern portion of our confederacy is raging with rebillion and made desolate with civil war, the vallies of Cal. & Oregon are made equely desolate by the unprecedented floods which has inundated cities, torn and covered up with tailings (dirt washed from the mts.) ranches and vinyards, swept off & destroyed thousands of cattle, horses and hogs and left the whole country almost one mass of ruin."
On July 20, 1862, C.B. (Charles Byron) Heald writes to Maria Bisbee. On the envelope of the letter he draws a charming sketch of a wooded mountain range. The heading of his letter is equally charming:
"Camp Hardscrable July 20th 1862, 3 miles from any place in the cot (?) in the valley, I love ---- I love it very badly"
C.B. reports on his activities mining with Amasa and also on the whereabouts of Tim who is in Oregon.
"He does not like Oregon a bit you bet but I did not expect he would as I know what this deep loamy soil is in rainy weather you bet I do. I have seen it to my hearts content but still if I was a going to make a farm that is the place."
He asks about Maria's activities as a school teacher:
"I suppose that you are teaching this summer are you not if so how does it go. By the way have you any contribands for schollars this summer if so I expect some of the federal officers will see that they trabble the road to knowledge stright as H."
Two more letters from Tim complete the collection; they are dated Jan. 4, 1863 and Dec. 29, 1865. Both are full of detail about his work at the mines; he is associated with both the Lone Star and Northern Mines. He also provides information about acquaintances from Sumner including: Byron [Heald], C. Barrett, H. C. Adams, Wm. Heald, J.S. Barrett, L. Ford, E.A. Stetson, and Mr. Barrows and wife. He responds to sad news from home about another Sumner relative:
"I was sorry to hear that Jimey Heald was no more among the living. This rebelion has sent many a one to his long home and I am affraid will many more before it is put down."
Timothy himself is discontented as he mentions in both letters and is thinking of moving on or returning home. He closes the last letter:
"I am not working this week. Thought I would take it easy between Christmas & new years. I don't know as it makes much difference whether I work or play. I have got to get into some buisness where I can have something to look after before I can be contented but I don't want to start [continued cross-wise on first page] into anything more here."
|Owner/Source||California State Library, Small Manuscript Collection|
|File Size||7.68 KB|
|Folio version||v220.127.116.11 (4 Aug 2018)|
|Linked to||Timothy Heald Bisbee|
|Download PDF||Bisbee Family Gold Field Letters, Abstract and transcriptions provided by the California History Section, California State Library in Sacramento.|
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