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A Group of Four Original Letters Back Home
from a Pennsylvania Miner [William Y. Coleman]
Seeking His Fortune in the Colorado and Montana Territories

"Written from various places in the Colorado and Montana territories. 1862-64. [9]pp. of manuscript comprising four letters on varying sizes of stationery. Three of the letters include the original stamped mailing envelope. Some slight tearing at folds on first letter with loss of a couple of words, minor dampstaining to another. Overall condition is very good."

Catalogue description:  "A wonderful group of intimate, highly descriptive letters written by a miner from Clarion, Pennsylvania, seeking his fortune in Colorado and Montana gold mining.  Coleman relates his experiences and adventures while traveling in the Rockies and the Plains, and although he did not strike it rich, he seems generally optimistic about the diggings.  After spending a time in Kansas, he opted to seek his fortune in Colorado mining and describes his trip there, with incidents of buffalo hunting, Indians, etc.  He then made his way to Helena and Virginia City, Montana Territory.  The letters are warmly conversational in tone and reflect the predilections and concerns of the western emigrant of the time.  Below are a few excerpts from the four letters."

May 25, 1862, from Central City, Colorado Territory

"Dear Niece [Elizabeth Coleman]... As I promised to write more in my next I will try now to give you some account of my travels.  I came to Kansas in November 1857 I was there one year and half and in the spring of 1859 in may I left Douglas County, K.T. for the Rocky Mountains to seek my fortune.  on my way out from Eastern Kansas I had one yoke of oxen and light wagon I had Quite a pleasant trip the first 150 miles... We came into the Buffalo range then we had quite A good time shooting among them there was innumerable numbers we was often obliged to stop our teams and shoot among them to drive them away it woud [sic] be impossible for any one to count them the plains is swarming with them as far as A person can see.  I came out the Arkansas River.  At walnut creek there is a fort of private consern [sic] built for the purpose of trading with the indians... I came to the mountains.  I have been in these mountains nearly three years.  I have seen some men make a fortune in a short but I was not one of the lucky ones... times is good wages is from 2,50 to 3,00 dollars per day...."

April 13, 1862, from Central City

"Dear Niece I received a letter from Thomas C. Mitchell he informs me that you expressed A wish that I would write to you...."

Nov. 23, 1864, from Virginia City, Montana Territory

"James Coleman and Family  Dear friends it has been a long time since I have heard from any of your family...  This place is situated 80 miles from the line between the United States and British Columbia and about the same distance from From [sic] Fort Benton on the Missouri River, and 450 miles from Salt Lake City  these mines is on one of the tributaries of the Jefferson fork of the Missouri River.  Provision here is pretty high Flour ranges from 25 to 27 dollars per cwt, Bacon 50 and 55 cts per lb. coffee 75c Potatoes 20 cts per lb and other things in proportion  Wages range from five to 9 dollars per day men working wet Tunnels get 9 and those at work in the surface diggings get 5 dollars per day  I am glad to hear of the reelection of Abraham Lincoln  I am in hopes that Traitors will soon knock under...."

April 9, 1865, from Helena City

"Dear Brother and Family...  I am now about 120 miles North of Virginia City where there has been some new Diggings found during the winter  I think these mines will prove good when fairly opened...  In regard to the price of living flour is at starvation price it is at present selling at 54 cts per lb in gold  Bacon 80 Coffee $1.25 cts per lb Potatoes 30 Beef 20 and 25 per lb. Molasses 8 and 10 dollars per gal...  the reason things is higher here than usual is on account of so much snow between here and Salt Lake teams cannot cross the divide...  In regard to indians I do think they are the most filthy specimens of humanity on the top of ground they will come in winter and within A mile or two of the mining towns put up their lodges composed of long poles tied together at the top and covered with Buffalo or elk skin and about once a day can be seen the squaws and boys going to the slaughter pens where the Butchers kill Beever and gather up intrails and other filth that they can find and load their ponies...  the tribe that inhabit this part of the mountains is the Bannacks and nesperces all the indians I've seen about will steal every thing they can lay their hands on if government would give them devils fewer blankets and more oz balls it would be much better for the people in the mountains...."

From William Reese Company's catalogue #160, "The West," March 28, 1997.  Item number 199.  This information is preserved here for its genealogical value.  No copyright infringement is intended.

The letters were sold to a private collector, but the information is too valuable not to preserve because many Clarion County men made their way to Colorado to work in the mines.  Please note that William Reese Company has no copies of the letters and, to preserve his/her identity, can not divulge the identity of the purchaser.

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