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    A fascinating and informative relic of this romantic era of our history.

    California Gold Rush: Miner's Diary for the Year 1857. It tells the story of John McFallen Thompson of Trumansburg, New York, who left his wife and children behind to set out by steamship to take another stab at the California Gold Fields, where he had worked a claim in 1852. Preserved inside the original leather cover, embossed in gold "Diary, 1857", it is in remarkable condition. The narrative opens on April 16: "I left town for California. It required all my energy to start. I felt like an exile that was to be borne far away from friends at home for some little yet that could have been easily avoided. Under my present circumstances I don't regret starting." There are entries for virtually every day for the remainder of the year, including various interesting observations about his voyage and the transfer over the Isthmus of Panama. Thompson arrived at San Francisco on May 29, so destitute that he had to borrow $6.50 to get to Sacramento. There are several references to borrowing from various parties, suggesting that there was a certain camaraderie among the fledgling gold seekers. Upon arrival at his old claim, he renewed a friendship with a former partner, who generously gave Thompson a claim to work. The new arrival was able to buy a cabin on credit and to fix it up, as well as to buy interests in a couple of gold claims for nominal down payments. But by September, the luckless gold hunters had succumbed to reality, and were unsuccessfully seeking jobs that would pay wages. The diary is filled with little insights into daily life, and evocative observations like the one he made on October 3: "I received two letters from Sarah. I certainly am in luck as the Miner Expres [sic] is himself when he finds a lump of gold. I value the letters more than I do the gold. It makes me feel as though I had one friend left." On December 27 he wrote: "I was in my cabin all day. Two men stab each other in the evening. One of them was killed it was a horrible sight. It originated from a drunken row. Made during the week twenty-four dollars."

    In the back of the volume are laboriously transcribed copies, many of multiple pages, of twelve letters written to his wife and parents from May 13, 1857 through Feb. 14, 1858. While the letters contain some details about the life and work of a gold miner, they are mostly of a more personal letter, relating the ups and downs of his moods and expectations. Apparently Thompson anticipated that some of his letters would not get through, a fact which was confirmed by a letter from his wife complaining that she had not heard from him often enough (at one point he observes that he sent a letter "by a gambler to the post office as I had no other way of getting it there"). So he lovingly copied each missive into the diary, which he always intended would be given to his wife so that she would not miss any. Indeed, in the last entry he states that he is sending this diary to her, along with ten dollars tucked in the pocket. Clearly the diary itself made it through; however, one wonders if the money did as well. Other letters had also had money enclosed, which may have accounted for her failure to receive them.

    Included with the diary are two cartes de visite of the bearded Thompson and a long, chatty letter about family life at home from "Your own true wife Sarah Thompson." By 1877, however, he had returned to Trumansburg and apparently achieved some level of prosperity, since inserted in the diary is an elegant invitation to the wedding of his daughter Blanche. A fascinating and informative relic of this romantic era of our history.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2010
    22nd Saturday
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