Chickens at Rancho Chico

All this talk about the price of eggs reminded me of this letter, written by one of John Bidwell’s employees in 1851.

Letter courtesy California State Library, John Bidwell Papers.

Edward Shackelford Darlington, who was only 19 or 20, can’t resist spoofing the etiquette of 19th century letters. It looks like something Mark Twain would write.

Here is the text, but the bare text cannot do justice to Darlington’s courtesy and flourishes.

Neal’s Oct. 24th [1851]


I neglected to tell you to have water placed in the chicken coop – also in the small pans around the house. This is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the health of the feathered tribe. – By complying with the requests herein named you will much oblige

Yours very respectfully

with great regard

Your obt servant

in great haste etc.

E. Shackelford Darlington

Eggs were a valuable commodity in Gold Rush California, routinely costing one dollar per egg, at a time when back East, you could get a dozen for 20 cents. Gold seekers often mentioned the high price of foodstuffs in their letters home. No wonder that Ed Darlington was concerned to preserve “the health of the feathered tribe.”

I have a flock of chickens myself and they keep us well-supplied with eggs. I don’t know if I save any money, but they are fun to have. They are entertaining to watch, they eat up kitchen scraps, they produce fertilizer for the vegetable garden, and I always have fresh eggs.

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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