Category Archives: Gold Mining in California

1858: A. John Camblein to his Mother Margaret

This letter was written by A. John Camblein (1826-1859). He was married to Elizabeth Jane Sroufe (1832-1863) and together they had three children—Margaret Josephine (1853-1924), David Anthony (1856-1935) and George (1859-1863). In the 1850 US Census, John was enumerated in Diamond Springs, El Dorado county, California. According to the mortality schedules in California, John froze to death in November 1859 when he was 33 years old. John’s wife Elizabeth died of breast cancer in 1863.


Minersville, [California]
July 3rd 1858

Dear Mother,

Your kind letter of the 24th of April has come safe to hand. I had almost despaired of ever receiving another from you but thank God, through the kind dispensations of His providence, it come, and upon breaking the seal and glancing quick as lightning over the heading and discover it commences, “Dear Son”—Oh! what an inexplicable thrill of happiness bursts like a tornado upon my soul. My mother is yet alive! I am glad to hear Mary and William and family are well but I would much rather have them coming West than going to Robinsons and as he has no disposition to come to California, you had better persuade him to come to Missouri—Kansas—or Nebraska. If Peter moves to where Patrick lives and William would move to either of the above mentioned places, you could come with them and you would in all probability not be as far apart as you are now. And in either of these three states, there is thousands of acres of vacant land to be entered at one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre and better land than ever was in Ohio.

I am glad to hear that Jonathan is doing so well. He is in a money making part of the world. I am well acquainted with all that country. I helped build a Fort the winter of 1847 where Nebraska City now stands. The site of the city and the surrounding country is delightful during the summer but the winters are extremely cold.

But now a few words in regard to California. As for the mines, I see but little difference to what they were eight years ago. For health and pleasant sleeping, she is unsurpassed on the habitable globe. For morality and religion she has no equal of her ago. I am still living in Trinity county. We are all well. Margaret Josephine is getting to be quite a smart girl. She will be five years old the first of September. Is fat and very healthy. She is quite a scholar. She can read the Bible or any book or paper you give her. David Anthony was two years old the 11th of last month. Is stout and hearty. Talks plain.

There is a great many leaving California at present and going to some new gold mines which have been discovered on Frazier River. This river is in the fifty-fourth degree of North latitude. The mines is said to be very rich. However, I shall not go to see them as I am perfectly satisfied with a comfortable living and intend to spend the remainder of my life with my family.

Eliza Jane and the little ones send their love to you and long to see you, if such a thing could be.

[A sheet follows addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Shimers]

— A. E. Camblein

1862: Thomas Wainwright Colburn to George Wood Colburn

This letter was written by 46 year-old Thomas Wainwright Colburn (1816-1882), the son of dry goods merchant Joshua Colburn (1783-1873) and Eunice Jones (1784-1871) of Boston, Suffolk county, Massachusetts. Thomas wrote the letter to his older brother, George Wood Colburn (1814-1896) who married Sarah Hovey Foster (1820-1914) in 1842.

Thomas made his way to gold fields of California in the early 1850s, taking up residence in Nevada City, California as early as 1852, possibly earlier. In was here in Nevada City that Thomas met and married his wife, Louise Mather (1821-1916) of Albany, New York. While in Nevada City, Thomas apparently entered into the firm Colburn & Jenkins which went bankrupt in 1856. I don’t know for certain what this business was but think it may have been a water canal enterprise associated with the mines. In 1870 Thomas was still affiliated in the mining industry, serving as secretary of the Hidden Treasure company in San Francisco. Thomas died in Stockton, California in 1882.

The letter is marvelously written and readers will no doubt marvel at the author’s prescience—and the confidence with which he expresses it—at the outcome of the civil war that has erupted between the North and South. He, I think, fairly accurately puts his finger on the cause of the “acrimony,” attributing it to the lack of understanding between the residents of the two regions who for too many years were fed falsehoods about each other by biased newspapers, leading to an “unjust prejudice.” [These distortions of reality are captured wonderfully in Thomas Flemings’s book, “A Disease in the Public Mind” published in 2013]

I particularly like his final sentiment which reads: “But while the Country is struggling through this sad and bitter experience in order that it may arrive at that future greatness with greater speed and certainty that is its unequaled destiny, let us who have not been so bereaved drop the tear of sorrow in sympathy for those who have offered up on the field of battle their sons and brothers, to secure to us and to those who shall come after us, the preservation of of the most beneficent and freest Government the world has ever experienced.”

Engraving of San Francisco in 1862


Per steamer via Panama
215 California Street
San Francisco [California]
February 20th 1862

Dear George,

Since my sojourn in this city, which dates back to the middle of October last, I have written sundry and various letters to the members of the family at home, to none of which have I as yet received any response and I am therefore during this long interval without any intelligence of whatsoever kind or nature of the movements, welfare or condition of those to whom I am bound by the ties of family and love, in the land of my fathers. This state of things is not, I assure you, the most agreeable; and to obviate it I will make at the present time another effort by remarking once more, that all communications from home sent to me by the overland mail during these troublous times, are quite sure either to fall into the hands of the Rebels hanging and prowling about the State of Missouri, burning bridges and robbing mail bags, or in the event of their escaping such a catastrophe, have hitherto met with the delays and total losses, incident upon the attempt to make the passage of the Continent during the inclemencies of a winter for the severity of which, the history of the county has no parallel. My letters homeward, therefore, during this interval, have been forwarded per Steamer via Panama in charge of  the Express of Wells, Fargo & Co. and I have especially recommended letters from the family addressed to me to be dispatched by the same route in preference to having them subjected to the uncertainties and vicissitudes of the Overland Mail.

In the letters which I have written and remain unanswered I have adverted to the fact that it was my purpose to make this City my future place of business and home. That in this resolution, I had to some extent been encouraged by the prospects before me and I have no reason as yet to regret the determination to which I had arrived, but to the contrary shall make every effort to finally accomplish this purpose within the next two months at farthest, in removing my family from Nevada permanently to this City. I only feel sorry that circumstances have prevented me from carrying out this project a long time ago, but I feel that it is even now, better late than never.

San Francisco is and must ever continue to be the great emporium of the Pacific and as such contains within itself many more resources for all classes of society than a country village like Nevada. Besides which, to me, there is something more congenial to the feelings to live in and be identified with the affairs and events of a large city such as this has now become. When I can see my way clear for making some money, over and above current expenses, I will dilate fully upon my business matters generally. That time, I trust and have reason to think, is not far distant.  Meanwhile my letters must continue to deal in anticipations and generalities. “Rome was not built in a day.” Neither is the hydra headed monster Rebellion to be annihilated in a moment. But we commence now to witness the beginning of the end.

Our last telegraphic news is the fall of  Fort Donelson and the flag of the Union floats from the housetops of the City in commemoration of the joyous event. California has been from the first as loyal as any State of the Union and her great heart throbs in unison with her loyal sister States east of the Rocky Mountains. Sarah asked me some time since whether when this foul rebellion is once crushed, we would ever again become in sentiment—as well as in name—a united people. My reply is most emphatically in the affirmative. The acrimony which now exists on the part of the South had its origin in an unjust prejudice based upon almost inexcusable ignorance as to the real sentiments and feelings of the North. When the truthful page of history commences to make the record of this eventful period, this and future generations of southern men—when the passions of the human heart have subsided and reason reigns once more supreme—will peruse that page thoughtfully & dispassionately, and when the task is done, they will acknowledge with shame their ingratitude, their madness, and their blindness in the suicidal course they have pursued.

“But while the Country is struggling through this sad and bitter experience in order that it may arrive at that future greatness with greater speed and certainty that is its unequaled destiny, let us who have not been so bereaved drop the tear of sorrow in sympathy for those who have offered up on the field of battle their sons and brothers, to secure to us and to those who shall come after us, the preservation of the most beneficent and freest Government the world has ever experienced.”

Thomas Colburn, citizen, San Francisco, 20 February 1862

The North in its magnanimity towards a conquered brother, will seek every opportunity to show its generosity by word and deed and thus within this generation link again the South to itself in bonds of fraternal amity which no future contingencies can ever sever again. And another decade will witness the great and glorious spectacle of the most united people—the most prosperous and the mightiest nation on the face of the globe—never again to be disturbed by any internal dissensions and impregnable against the combined forces of the Old World. It takes no prophet nor the son of a prophet to predict this—and even far more. But while the Country is struggling through this sad and bitter experience in order that it may arrive at that future greatness with greater speed and certainty that is its unequaled destiny, let us who have not been so bereaved drop the tear of sorrow in sympathy for those who have offered up on the field of battle their sons and brothers, to secure to us and to those who shall come after us, the preservation of the most beneficent and freest Government the world has ever experienced.

With much love to Sarah and through you to our dear and venerable parents and the rest of the family in which Louise would heartily join me were she here, believe me, dear George, always

Your affectionate brother—Thomas

Mr. Geo. W. Colburn, Boston, Massachusetts

1860: Egbert Jacob Bloomer to David Rose

This letter was written by “E. J. Bloomer” (b. @1825) who seems to have been running a sawmill operation in California near the Liberty Hill Gold Diggings “that were located on a ridge between Steephollow Creek and the Bear River, about 10 miles east of Nevada City and about 2 miles north of Alta, as the crow flies. It was part of Little York Township and within what was generally called the Lowell Hill mining district, a rich channel of gold bearing ore that ran around Remington Hill to the north down to the Bear River and then crossed over towards Dutch Flat and Alta.” [Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission]

How E. J. Bloomer might have looked (Crocker Art Museum)

Placer mining for gold required a good supply of water and laborers were required to dig ditches or to saw wood into lumber for making flumes—particularly to carry water to gravelly “dry diggings.” To make sure there would always be a constant supply of water to feed the trenches and flumes, a reservoir was built at Liberty Hill and it appears that Robert Gardner, a “water agent” from Illinois, was at least partially responsible for its construction.

The 1860 US Census for Red Dog Post Office, Little York township, Nevada county, California, enumerates 35 year-old Jacob Bloomer (a laborer from NYS) residing with 24 year-old laborer Peter Rose (also a laborer from NYS) in the household of 30 year-old R. Newton (a “water agent” from Illinois). Also in the same household were 25 year-old Alphonzo Sweet (laborer from Illinois), and 21 year-old Frank Voit [Voight] (a laborer from Illinois). Residing next door was 38 year-old Joseph Gardner (a placer miner from NYS), and 40 year-old Robert Gardner (“water agent” from NYS).

I’m inclined to be believe this letter was written by Egbert Jacob Bloomer (1823-1900), the son of Joshua Bloomer (1792-1835) and Betsy Scott (1797-1888) of Ovid, Seneca count, New York. Egbert was married in 1846 to Mary Vanpatten and they had a child named Ella Rebecca (1848-1905) when they were enumerated in Fairfield, Michigan, in 1850. He was remarried to Mary Vaughan (1839-1914) in Adrian, Michigan, in 1868 and with her he had two more children born in the 1870s. In the 1870 US Census, the couple were enumerated in Fairfield, Michigan, and 23 year-old Ellie (his daughter by first marriage) was living with them.

Egbert’s ancestry record is substantially complete with the exception of the 1860 Census record which is absent. My hunch is that he went to California under the name “Jacob Bloomer.” In November 1862, a letter awaited “E. J. Bloomer” at the post office in Sacramento.

The 1870 US Census for Little York, Nevada county, Ca., enumerates 40 year-old David Rose from New York State as the head of household with two others—50 year-old Oscar Berg from Finland, and 32 year-old Henry McGinn from Ireland. All three were identified as “miners.”

[This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Addressed to Mr. David Rose, Charlotte Centre, Chautauqua county, New York

August 26, 1860

Mr. D. Rose, Sir,

I received your letter today July twenty-eighth and was glad to hear from you and from my folks and about my children. I received a letter from Love some two weeks ago stating that you had been there and should been glad to have had you stayed longer. I should like to see them.

I will give you how things have went since you left the best I can think. We finished the old logs the first day of June and R. Gardner had let some men the job of cutting logs that day we went to Nevada [City]. They came from Fraser River—some connection of Moody of Liberty Hill. they cut the sugar pine up above the house. The best logs scaled sixty-seven inches and made when sawed twenty-four hundred [and] fifty feet.

Joe Muncan’s [Munson’s] boy, or child, was buried the 9th of June. The cattle got here the sixth and looked first rate. Sam Latta has got a yoke of oxen. Give two hundred [for them]. He had them picketed out on his ranch and one got his foot fast in the rope and killed him. Now he has bough that ox that Sweet claimed. John Smith of Liberty had one bone of his leg broke the 12th of June in the diggins. Liberty has used up some men this year. A[bert] Nutting has got well so he begins to work. He was a hard-looking sight. R. Gardner though most too much to do so. He had Frank Voigt to come and work. He came some two weeks after you left and he had one by the day some four or five weeks to help me and help pile the lumber.

The oak trees commenced looking green Sunday the 17th of June. They had a ball at J. Duffy’s the twentieth for his benefit and they took in some seven hundred dollars. John Whitedge and Jim Myers had some words and John shot Myers arm off—or so they have to cut it off close to the shoulder—and John left and they have not got him. Jack McConnell gave up the chase and said that he would not try anymore.

The Fourth of July they had quite a time at Dutch Flat and Pete went, and a picnic at York and Jack went to York. Robert went to York in the afternoon but I stayed and sawed all day alone. It commenced raining the night of the tenth and rained all the next day. The eleventh about eight o’clock I was sawing [when] that guging they put in last winter dropped off. I was sawing sugar pine and went without any jare. Got a new one in and started the nineteenth and plenty of water till the first of this month. Quit sawing last Thursday the 23rd. Water was turned out of the ditch on Friday and Jack came back from turning out the water and went to York that day and the next day he said he was a going home. He is to leave York today. I suppose he will go on the same boat with this.

They had a dance at Parish on Saturday, July 21st. Quite a turnout. J. Gardner went down to Sacramento the last of July and got a span of Spanish horses. They are not broke to work. He got them to draw lumber. They built a blacksmith shop across the road from the logs under that fur tree and had Old Tiger of Remington Hill here to fix the wagons. We got up August the 4th and shop tools of all kinds. He had most all out of the mill [which] was burnt slick and clean to the ground and the woods on fire and the fire going towards the mill when I got there at four o’clock, August 6th.

Donald McKenzie was killed in V[alentine] Curran’s diggins [when] the bank caved in on him. He got some sixty feet when it buried him up. It catched Tom [too] but he got out. It took some time to find him for they did not know where he was was. He was buried some four feet deep with red dirt and [7 year-old] Jimmy Dryman fell and broke one arm the same day. Jack Stuart left here the last of June for home. He sailed the thirty-first. Pete [Rose] and Jack is a team a drawing logs and they have got most all in, some fifty more to haul. Gardner has commenced his flume for Christmas Hill. I started for there with the team on Friday with nineteen hundred feet [of lumber] and got down below long ravine where that bridge was. They took off the plank and filled in with brush and dirt. I went on and over went the load and wagon on top so I came back and tried it again. Yesterday I went through but they had to fix it some.

I do not know what I shall work at now. [Robert] Gardner is a going to make the reservoir larger. Oh yes, they have got a school house just above that spring up from the reservoir and have a school. Cooper—that one is sick—teaches. I can’t think of anything more. If you can make this out, you will do well. You must write again.

Oh, Miss Ann Swift is here yet. She goes by here some two or three times a week. My best respects, — E. J. Bloomer