A Gold Rush Letter

This random one-off letter from G.W. Lawson to Charles L. Hansicker is in the Sutter’s Fort Pioneer Collection at the California State Library, along with papers from John Bidwell, John Sutter, and George McKinstry. It’s a glimpse of the news of the day from a rich mining camp that would become Nevada City. There is one word in the first line that baffles me, otherwise it is pretty easy to read. Here is the entire letter:

Nevada April 27th 1850

Dear Charley

            As you are [kindee?] connected with the press now I want to tell you some few things concerning this diggings & if they are worth repeating put them in the paper if not I hope they will interest you enough to secure your perusal. I also wish to correct a statement made in the paper about “Gold Run”. It is not wanting in water as stated but the water has just subsided enough to let all hands in, and it will last long enough to work out all the claims. Today I went up the run its length, one company of five men washed down the forenoons work, & shewed it to me, 4 & ½ pounds of grain gold. [Inserted] Evening: one of the company has just come in & informed me that the days work is 12 pounds. Ain’t that some? 20,000 is asked for some claims of 120 or 40 feet. East Branch (close by it) is now attracting attention. 3000 is asked for claims of 60 feet. I think Deer Creek itself will turn out very rich. They are turning it here every foot. A gentleman tells me tonight that he saw 9 pounds which was taken out of a small space on the side of Sugar Loaf Mountain (close to this place). Don’t it go ahead of anything.

The place is growing from 1 to 4 houses a day. Seeing so much earth throwed out today suggested to me a way of building a Rail Road to California. Let the government, or a Great Company, collect about 100,000 of the poor laboring men of the states such as would like to come & have not the means, manage them in sections completing along as fast as practicable. In that way, supplies from the States could be furnished the laborers by the road itself cheap and one year would bring them all here. Reward each man with a good gold claim when he got here (this the Government could do) & thus a road could be built upon the labor of men wishing to get here either by the Gen. Government or a heavy company. Don’t laugh now.

I have not heard from home, & though weighing out the dust half my time I get homesick. I should like to “scratch gravel” in that direction, wouldn’t you, Charles. But when we get back, won’t there be some “prospecting” about them diggings, “striking of leads,” & perhaps some “jumping of claims.”

I meant to have written you more, but so many are in, talking and using me that I can’t think of what I would write & the mail is in haste.

Yours truly, G.W. Lawson

A little sleuthing in the census records of 1850 and I discovered that Charles Hansicker, age 24, was employed as a printer by the Sacramento Transcript. The statement about water that the writer corrects in the first paragraph appeared in the paper on April 12, 1850.

G.W. Lawson didn’t make it into the 1850 census, which was a hit-and-miss affair, but seems to have remained in California. George W. Lawson shows up up in the 1860 census: a 38 year old lawyer, living at Rose Bar Township in Yuba County, married to Mary, with baby son Herman.

Charles Hansicker served in the Mexican War as a 2nd lieutenant. After the war he probably returned to Indiana, but when the news of gold in California hit the States, he joined the rush for gold. He soon turned from mining to printing, first working at the Sacramento Transcript, and then founding the Sacramento Daily Union.

20 March 1851

He returned to Indiana in 1853. His “prospecting,” as his buddy George joshes, was successful and he married Gabriella Preble. They had two daughters. Unfortunately, he died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1859.

The address on the letter

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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3 Responses to A Gold Rush Letter

  1. nosey bear says:

    So much interesting history hidden in museum collections until a history detective like you finds the information and reconstructs the story. Very interesting! When I read the first line I just put in the work “Kinda”. Looking at the original letter that don’t seem to fit, but the word seems to match the tone of the first line.

  2. Michael L Hearty says:

    It looks like a phonetic spelling of kindly (kindlee). The writer has nice penmanship.

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