MMS 1289 - Louisa Cook Walters Correspondence
|Title||MMS 1289 - Louisa Cook Walters Correspondence|
Letters to mother and sister, describing overland journey on the Oregon Trail in 1862 and life in Placerville, Idaho from 1864-1865.
Letter Written on the Oregon Trail
On the plains near Boice [Boise] River,
Dear Sister Emma,
I wrote a letter to Mother last night & will put in a few words to you. In the first place, this is one of the greatest old trips that was ever heard of & we have had a full sight of the Elephant you may be sure. Only think of not sleeping in a bed for 6 or 7 months, not eating at a table, drinking out of tin cups, eating on tin plates spread on the ground, no letters from home, no news about the war or the country, wandering for weeks among the mountains, teams nearly worn out, provisions nearly gone & then talk about seeing the elephant. We are with the soldiers now & so we are all right now & look forward to getting through sometime this fall. You would laugh to see us come into camp about 5 every afternoon; tired, hungry & of course, cross, ragged shoes, every article of clothing trimed [trimmed] with fringe (all the style here), hoopless [hopeless], spiritless & disposed, would we give way to our feelings, to be dissatisfied with every thing. But after supper, what a change. Some 6 or 8 camp fires burn brightly round the corell [corral] & round these a cheerful group of men & women seated on a box, inverted pail, or true Indian style squatted on the ground, laughing over the exploits of the day and cracking jokes at one anothers expense. Truly, with all that is disagreeable, there is much that is enticing about this wild gipsy life. I suppose you have enjoyed yourselves at home as usual this summer, grumbling if your biscuits were not light enough, your coffee sweetened too much or not enough, potatoes rare done, sweet cake heavy, apples too sour & so on, never thinking how glad your sister Louisa has been to get a dry piece of bread & a tin cup of black coffee, thinking it was sumptuous fare if there was only enough of it. Well, I dare say I relish my meals much better than you do, but if ever I get into civilized society again, won't I know how to enjoy it.
I have been much disappointed in what I have seen of the Indians. I thought when I got away from the white man's settlements, where they could roam at will & live uncontaminated by society, that we should see some of those noble qualities that have been attributed to them by so many writers, but O dear, what a contrast. Filthy, degraded, deceitful & treacherous they seem to be, but a little above the brute creation. They often visit us in camp to beg or steal, no difference which, sometimes a blanket around them or perhaps an old shirt or vest or coat. Seldom but 1 single garment. There have been a good many emigrants killed along the route by Indians, but we have been very watchful, never being without from one to four guards, but one night since we left Leavenworth & then we lost 2 oxen. We know that we are watched all the time, but they do not like to attack a good sized train & we stick close together. Indeed, we do not realize that there is any danger, only when we hear of others being killed or losing stock. We often pass graves where some poor emigrant has died or lost a wife or child. A week ago we passed three little graves & on coming up to the soldiers last night we found the parents of 1 of the children, the father very sick & I fear unlikely to recover. His disease, like most others, is mountain fever. There are no children but Mary in Mr. Smith's train, but in the wagons accompanying him there are some 24. Well, I can think of nothing else & will close. Write often & do not wait to get an answer or if you do not hear from me for a long time you must not think I am dead or married (might as well be one as the other), but keep writing. Direct to Portland, Oregon.
Your affectionate sister,
A long time has elapsed since last I wrote you, although I commenced a letter to you about seven weeks ago, but before I could finish it I was taken down with the measles and am just getting to feel like myself again. I was very sick for about a week before the measles came out and then I took cold and they settled in my eyes and on my lungs for a few days. I was perfectly blind and O so sick. My friends got frightened about me and had a counsel of physicians and what with my cough, measles, doctors and all, I guess I did come as near giving out as ever I did. But for the last eight or ten days I have been gaining very fast and O such an appetite as I have got is a caution to all boarding houses. I can just eat everything before me and than cry for more. I think I wrote you that I was teaching in the City of Placerville for one hundred dollars a month. I had taught six weeks when I was taken sick. I shall try to resume it again next Monday morning. This is a good place to make money and it is a capital place to spend money. When I was taken sick, I had over two hundred and fifty dollars on hand. Now I have not got a hundred. Easy comes, easy goes. 25 cts is the smallest change they have here. You can not get a darning needle for less than that. Flour is very cheap now for this place, 20 cts per lb, butter $1.25, eggs five dollars a dozen, corn meal 30 cts per lb., cheese .75, bacon .50, sugar .60, coffee .60, tea $1.50, etc. While I was sick the doctor said one day I might eat a little chicken broth if I had it and a young man who heard him say it started right off to find one and what do you think he paid for a hen, only eight dollars in gold. He made me a present of it, but it was a big price I thought.
Well, Ma, I have found an old acquaintance here in town, one who has been living here for the last eight months, within five miles of me and we never found each other out till since I was sick. Who do you think it is? For fear you'll never guess, I'll tell you, George Plumey. I had been sick about three days when he sent me his name by a friend and that he would like to come and see me as soon I was able to see him. It was as much as two weeks before I could see him and then I could not speak loud. I could only whisper a few words to him, as I lay on the bed with my eyes shut and so weak that I could hardly raise my hand. But I have had a good many chats with him since that. I like him first rate and I guess he is a very good man. He says he has not heard from home in a long time and he does not write because he does not get any answers. Uncle and Aunt think they will go to Cal. this fall. If they do I shall go with them. Hiram Smith is on his way across the plains with another lot of passengers. I hope he will bring them on a little straighter road than he brought us. Mary had the measles the same time that I did, but a week after she was taken, she was as well as ever. She grows quite fast. The greatest fears I have for her is that she is going to get old too fast. There are so few girls or ladies here and so many men. The girls are made so much of that they are spoiled. Since last fall she has had six new dresses given to her and some other little notions. You will think I had not ought to have to buy much, but the trouble of it is folks dress so much more than they do at home. Well, it is the same as the cities there, I suppose, and of course I have to keep Mary the same as the rest or there would be trouble in the camp directly. I will send you some of the pieces. We had a nice May party and a May Queen with her four maids of honor. Mary was chosen one of the maids and she had the white dress made up and presented to her for the occasion before she knew anything about it.
We have a flourishing Sabbath School here. They have just got up a nice library from San Francisco and what do you think it cost. It cost $30 in S.F. and $52 for freight, eighty two dollars in all. That's the way things cost here and yet it is twice as easy to get things here as it is at home because there is plenty of money. Well, it is time to go to bed and I must close. Write often. By the way, I got a letter from Henry, while I was sick, with his photograph in it for which I am obliged. I do wish Emma would send me hers and Sarah, too. I would think so much of them and yours, too. There are no artists here or I would send you Mary's. Half past ten, so good night.
Your affectionate daughter & sister,
[At head of letter, reversed]
Dear Sister Emma,
I received a letter from you last night, dated May 26th and was glad to hear from you, as it was the first line I have had from you since I wrote to you last fall. I think it was in Nov., but I have forgotten and may be mistaken in the month. My letter was mostly in relation to family affairs and I presume must have seriously offended you or you would have answered it long ago, but I will try to avoid that subject hereafter, although what I wrote was written with the best of motives. You seem anxious to sell your land and wish that I would buy it. I hardly know how to express my opinion on this subject without offending you, although I would like to.
As far as I am concerned (not speaking for my sisters or brother) I feel that father and mother worked hard to take care of their children, that they both earned and paid for that land and that as long as Ma lives she ought to have undisputed possession of it. If she can get the right to sell it (which I do not doubt she can) and wished to do it, I for one would never lift a finger against it. In the other hand, even if Ma could not dispose of it ever and I could buy your share and the rest, of what use would it be to me while I am out here. When I was at home I used to think I would like to have it, if I could have got a lawful right to it and when I come back home, if you can give a title for ten or fifteen acres of land, I will give you as much as any one will. If you think the only way you can ever get anything for your land will be by selling it to me, I will buy it or help you in any way I can, but you must have patience and wait till I come back. When I come away from Ohio I set my "home stake" at one thousand. I have nearly half of it now and have made it since last fall. If my life and health are spared, I hope in a year or two at the longest to see Ohio again. Well, enough of this. You will perhaps want to know what I am doing, etc.
Some time in April I commenced teaching the public school in Placerville City and taught six weeks when I was taken down with the measles and was very sick for about six weeks. I advised the people to get another teacher and assured them that my lungs was so much affected that I could not go into school again. But they did not believe me or for some reason they did not get any one else and at the end of the seventh week I went into school again. I asked them a hundred dollars per month in the first place, but day before yesterday the board met and raised my wages twenty-five dollars, so now I get $125 per month. It costs me about forty dollars per month to board myself and Mary. Uncle Robert lives about 6 miles from here and keeps a hotel. He has six cows, too, and sells about forty quarts of milk a day for 25 cts per quart. George Plumey has a store three blocks from my house on the same side of the street that I live on. He is a good steady fellow, not a bit like his brothers. He never gets drunk and that is more than they can say. I took a horseback ride with him last Saturday evening and enjoyed it real well. O, there are so many men here compared with the women. I presume in this basin there are fifty (some say a hundred) men to every marriageable female. Louis, Medger Plumey's nephew, is packing between here and Walla Walla. Mary goes to school every day and learns fast. She writes, studies geography, arithmetic, reading & spelling. She says she is going to write to you, but I am afraid she won't have her letter ready. She is quite tall now, but not as big around as when she left Ohio and if I am any judge, Mary Cook is a very different appearing girl from what Mary Galin used to be.
There are about half a dozen girls of her own age and all real good, well-behaved girls, too. The only trouble is the girls get old too fast by being taken into company so young. They make as much fuss about their dress and talk about their beaus more than a girl of sixteen ought to.
I want to get back with Mary, for I am afraid if I stay more than three or four years longer I should lose her. It is so fashionable for girls to get married at 12 or 13 years of ages. Well, I think I must close. I would like so much to have the photographs you spoke of. I would like to send you mine, but they charge six dollars for a single one and ten dollars a dozen here, so I think I will wait till I go below to Portland. Please send yours won't you. Give my best love to Mrs. Johnson and the children, also Mrs. French and Mrs. Bury, if you ever see her. Tell Mrs. Johnson I often think of her and hers and I would like so much to have their photographs.
With much love,
Dear Sister Emma,
Pardon me for neglecting to answer your very welcome letter of Oct 10th, which came to hand nearly two weeks ago. So long, but my time has been so occupied that I have had no leisure for writing. But I know that I must write letters in order to receive letters, and letters from the friends at home are among the greatest pleasures I enjoy in this land of strangers.
I can hardly realize that it is now going on three years since I bid you all goodbye, and yet I think there has been a great change in myself and in my circumstances in that space of time. My health has greatly improved, that hacking cough has left me, and that constant load of heavy wearying pain and heartache has long ago ceased to be felt. My glass shows me that a healthy, rosy color has taken the place of my usual pale, sallow complexion, and I do not think I am boasting when I say I am one of the happiest of women. You may well believe that ten years of sorrow such as mine has well prepared me to enjoy happiness when it came. I have been highly favored with good friends, ready to do anything for me. Ever since I have been in the country, have had plenty to do, good health, and been perfectly contented, but the last four month I have known more of real solid home comfort and happiness than I every enjoyed before in my life. And why should I not when I am reminded every day by my friends and neighbors that I have one of the best men the country can afford, intelligent, noble-minded, kind-hearted, and lover of home, and in short, to comprehend a great deal in one or two words, a Bible Christian. And do you know, Emma, I think a good Christian, the right kind of one, will make a good husband or father or whatever relation he may sustain to his fellow beings. He will strive to do his part well. Such a one is my husband and my heart is every day made glad by his kindness to myself and Mary. But you will think I am silly, I fear, to write so much about myself and my affairs, but out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, you know, so please excuse my style. I had a letter from Mr. Porter not long ago. I must answer it this evening. George Plumey called a day or two since. I read a part of your letter to him. He wished me to send you his kind regards and best wishes. I have been trying to get him to go home for a wife, there are so many more girls than boys at home, but he seems to be afraid to try. It's for fear he could not get one, or worse than that, get one that was of no account. O the quantity of bachelors there are here, some good, some bad, and some indifferent. Society is the same, of all kinds, but there are many real fine families here. A Sanitary Aid Society was organized last week, of which I have the honor of being vice-president. Tomorrow evening the ladies meet to choose a committee to see to the getting up of a Christmas tree for the Sabbath School. Mr. Walters is the Superintendent of the Sabbath School and he manages some way to keep up more interest in it than I ever saw in a school before, not only among the scholars, but among the people generally.
Uncle Robert was here last week and took Mary home with him. They have no children and they think a good deal of her and are real good to her. Uncle lives about 6 or 7 miles from where we do. Snow has fallen about three feet deep. The climate is colder than in Ohio, but it is dry, so that I do not think we feel it any more than there. But I must close by asking you to write soon and often. Mr. Walters sends his love to you and would like to see you very much. Give my love to the friends and believe.
Your affectionate sister,
[Written in margins]
Do you want to know how old my husband is? He is thirty three this month, real good looking, a Tennessean by birth and one of the strongest kind of Union men. If you want to know anything more about me or my folks or sister Sally Jones and her folks, just ask me all the questions you like in your next letter and I'll answer them to the best of my ability.
Mary wanted to write to you the next time I wrote, but she is not here. She may write the next time and tell you all about the Christmas tree. Good Bye. Emma, when are those photographs coming. How much I would like them and your A's [Amos] too. I will send you ours the first time we have a chance to have them taken. Direct to Mrs. L.C. Walters, Placerville, Idaho Territory.
Your letter of March 12th was received last evening and if you could have seen how welcome it was and how much pleasure it gave me, I am sure you would have felt more than paid for the trouble of writing. I read it aloud and when I got through Mr. Walters said he should think that would be almost as good as a visit home, and so it was the next thing to it, though not quite equal to it. But O, I seldom get a letter that does not give me a heartache too.
'Tis only three years this month since I left the States, but what terrible changes have taken place in that time. It seems as though the destroyer has taken the flower of the country and among them all, dear Mary, none came so near to me as the loss of your two boys, none that it seems so hard to be reconciled to as that does even yet; and now comes another, poor William Brayton. Oh dear! Oh dear! How hard it is for such poor, weak, short-sighted mortals as we are, to understand that all things are well. How many are left who seem to be but a bane to society, of no use to themselves or to anyone around them, while such as Milton, Wm. Brayton, and his father and thousands of others who are the stay and staff of helpless youth and old age are taken. Truly "as far as the heavens are above the earth, so far are my ways above your ways, saith the Lord". And well that there is one who guideth the affairs of nations, and maketh even the wrath of man to praise him. While all lovers of their country were rejoicing over the victories of our armies at Richmond, and all over the South, the telegraph flashed to us the terrible intelligence that our Chief Magistrate had fallen by the hand of a treacherous, cowardly assassin. I think no news could have struck such a chilling blow upon the hearts of the people as that did. A defeat at Richmond, or even the loss of Washington would have been nothing to it. But now that the deed is done, now that our noble President is gone, and we must needs look calmly at things as they are, may not our great loss be eventually for our country's good? Abraham Lincoln has done his duty faithfully, honorably, and from principle, and his country will ever honor and cherish his memory with the same veneration as they have our Washingtons; but Lincoln was so magnanimous, so whole-souled, and generous, was there not danger of too much leniency; would this wicked rebellion have met its just deserts at his hands? Be it as it may, we are sure there is some wise end to be accomplished. Copperheads, I think are a little in the majority, at least they managed to win this election last fall in this territory.
Nearly every country in the world is represented, but Bridget and Patrick are the predominant elements. The good, the bad, and the indifferent are here, but as in all new countries, a great many are here who are too mean to be tolerated anywhere else. A few weeks ago a man was shot by his brother in a house just across the street from where we live. Mr. W was the first one in the house after the shots were fired; they quarreled about some trifling matter, drew their revolvers, and in a few minutes one was shot through the hand and the other was dead. Yesterday two men had a dispute about a mining claim, when one drew his revolver and shot the other through the thigh, and then through the heart. These are the first instances of the kind in this city since I came here about a year ago, although these shooting affairs are quite common in mining countries. I think this state of things will not last long here, as the people are getting roused up about it, and if this last affair does not, one more such case would be sure to call Judge Lynch to a seat on the bench and a mob jury would bring in and execute the verdict and sentence, before one of the officers of the law could make a common arrest.
I wish I was a word painter. I would try to show you our town as it looks to me from the window where I am writing. It is so different from your idea of a city at home. There are people enough and houses enough and many of them are quite tidy, but the most of them temporary residences, put up in the cheapest way possible for a transient stay. They are built of slabs or shakes or logs or anything that could be procured. The inside where there are any women, however, generally look real well. We have no such thing as plaster here, as there is no lime, but we buy the cheapest kind of cotton which is about three or four shillings a yard and line the rooms with it and then paste on wall paper the same as on plastering. This makes a room look neat and is quite warm. The houses generally look just as they do in the suburbs of your large cities, where it is filled up with Irish cabins. We have a very good school which Mary is attending. The teacher gets $100 per month. Wages are five and six dollars per day, women get $50 per month and board. Board is from 12 to 16 dollars a week. Flour is 40 dollars per hundred, but when the roads are better, so it can be got here, it will be down to 20. Bacon is 60 cents per lb, butter one dollar, sugar 50 cts, coffee 1.55, tea $1.50, dried apples 50, peaches 75, eggs 3 dollars a dozen, hay 20 cts per lb., chickens 5 dollars apiece, cows 75 to 100 dollars, milk 50 cts a quart, etc. Tell George if he was 23 or 24 yrs old I would say come, but this is the hardest place to live upon principle I ever saw and the young are almost sure to be led away. Sunday is the business day, all accounts are settled, marketing done for the week, and one half of the men work as hard as on any day in the week. Gambling houses, saloons, and restaurants abound on every side.
My brother Henry talks of coming, but I must say, though I would like to see him or Georgey either, yet I could not advise them to come. Georgey, when you can bring a wife with you, then come, for I find a pleasant home is one of the best safeguards a man can have in this country, but when you come, then come to us first and I have got one of the best men in the country who will welcome you and do anything in his power for you. If you want to come the quickest way, come by water with about 100 dollars; if the cheapest, come across the plains and work your passage with some one who is driving teams. Your shoemaking I cannot say much, the work can be done so much cheaper somewhere else and imported here than it can be done here, that there is little of it done here in the basin. O how I would like to see you all. Mr. Walters says [written in margins] I may go home this fall, but I do not want to go yet for a year or two, as I shall probably never make but one visit more to the States. I would not go back there to live for anything. I like this coast much the best. You ask me if I am getting old. I suppose according to the course of nature I am, but I do not feel as old as I did ten years ago and my glass tells me that I have lost that sickly, sallow complexion I used to have. Indeed, I should feel quite young, only that I have a girl around here almost as big as myself calling me Mother. Give my love to my friends in Ottawa Co. I suppose they, some of them, feel hard that I do not write more, but if they only knew how hard it is to carry on a one-sided correspondence I think they would blame me less. I have written so many letters that I received no answer to that I am quite discouraged with writing.
I have a good Christian husband, Mary, and it is such a help to me. I have spent the last winter so pleasantly. I wish I could have one of our good visits tonight. I should enjoy it so much. Tell Grandma Brayton that I sympathize with her in her loss, but tell her that I am sure she has a comforter who will be more to her than sons or daughters. Write to us often. Janie, you must consider this letter is to you too.
Your affectionate friend,
My Dear Sister Emma,
Your letter dated May 11 came to hand yesterday, and found us in that kind of halfway state between sick and well, with the exception of Mr. Walters, whose health is quite good. Mary has the whooping cough and today is quite sick with a fever. She has coughed about four weeks and lately she has no appetite, and if she eats anything she cannot keep it on her stomach, so that she is getting quite weak. Nearly all the children in town have it, and some of the grown folks, too. I caught a cold five or six weeks ago, and now I am coughing as hard as ever I did in the States, just from sympathy with the others. I think barking must be contagious, for I cannot hear a child cough without having a real time of it myself. You wanted to know if that deep snow was gone yet. Yes, the old snow is gone except in the tops of the mountains, which are not far off, but if you had been here yesterday morning you could have seen some that was "bran new" and fresh. The day was cold and real wintery, but today the weather has changed and the air is warm and quite like our June weather at home. If I do not get better of my cough, Mr. W. says I will have to take a trip to the valley, where the climate is warmer. The air is so light here, so high up in the mountains, that I do not believe it is good for the lungs to stay here too long.
Well, Emma, I am real glad you have got a good husband and I hope you may long live to enjoy each others society and to be a comfort to each other. I believe the married life is the happiest or the most miserable way of living and I believe that I know by experience the truth of this in its fullest sense. I think Mr. Walters has but few equals and it is my greatest pleasure to anticipate his wishes and to make our home cheerful and inviting as possible and I know it is fully appreciated by him, and so far, I think there are but few happier families than ours has been and I hope will be as long as we both live. But Emma, I think I have the advantage of you in one thing. My husband is an active Bible Christian, and though he is my superior in the Christian graces, yet my tastes and his are perfectly agreed in this matter, and we are trying to go hand in hand in the narrow road that leads to life eternal. You, too have a Christian husband, and O Emma, do you not think that now is a good time to choose your father's God for your God? I do not know how you feel on this subject. Perhaps I shall offend you, I do not wish to; I only wish to entreat you to choose now that better part which cannot be taken from you. Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you.
Amos is interested in the Sabbath School too, is he not? Mr. Walters has been superintending the Sabbath School here for two years. He makes it a very interesting one. He has his own way of managing the school and the children think there never was such a man before and I think they are about right.
Tell Mrs. Johnson that I am much obliged for that little photograph. I think it looks like the other children. I would like to send ours, but there is no artist in the country. There has been one at Bannock City, 12 miles from here, through the winter, but the whole town and everything in it was destroyed by fire about two weeks ago. They charged 12 dollars per doz. for them.
I must tell you that Mr. Walters has been buying a new house this spring. We have rented a house since we were married, until last Monday, when we moved into a house of our own, and for want of something better to write about, I will describe it to you. It stands with the end to the street, with a front door and one large window. The front room is about twelve by fifteen, I guess. Back of this is a sitting room with a nice fire place and back of this is the kitchen. There are two cupboards, one open and the other a real nice close cupboard and a sink with a tin spout to carry off the water to a ditch some distance from the back of the house. The rooms are all lined and papered and altogether I do not think there is a nicer house in town, although there are many larger ones. Well, I must close for I am owing a letter to Ma and will try to write to her tonight. I am getting quite negligent about writing to everyone but Ma, but I think it my duty to write to her, whether I have time to write very much or not.
I like the silk you sent me very much. The floss is 50 cts here & the silk two dollars. They have brought some in this spring. I think it a very good way to get little notions, only it takes a good while. I sent to Godey's in Phil. for needles and sent a dollar about the time I sent for the silk to you. About a month ago I got an envelope with ten papers of needles from them. The same needles would have cost me five dollars here. Bye and bye I am going to send to you for a collar. The plainest worked ones here are three dollars apiece. Collars & cuffs five dollars a set. Mary sends her love to you and says you must not get jealous, for Aunt Sarah hasn't got anyone to get things for her as you have.
Give my love to Amos. Tell him I wish you both very much happiness. Mr. Walters joins me in good wishes.
Write to us often & soon.