Category Archives: Pikes Peak Gold Fever

1859: Willard R. Wetherell to Darius B. Wetherell

The following letter was written by Willard R. Wetherell (1832-1863), the eldest son of Bradford Wetherell (1803-1887) and Sophronia Randall (1809-1892) of Russell, St. Lawrence County, New York. He wrote the letter to his younger brother, Darius B. Wetherell (1838-1930) just as he was reaching his maturity of 21.

In his letter, datelined from Harmony, Vernon county, Wisconsin, on 13-16 January 1859, 27 year-old Willard stresses to his brother the importance of a good education and congratulates him on staying in school. He also speaks of the Pikes Peak gold fever that has struck the inhabitants of Vernon county and of the numerous offers he has had to rent cheaply the farms of many of those desiring to take off for the gold fields. His letter says the folks were inflicted with the “yellow fever” which I infer to be gold fever and says that that one of those affected was Alexander Lowrie (1839-1880) who would later serve as a captain in the 6th Wisconsin, part of the vaunted Iron Brigade.

The second half of the letter is devoted to giving his younger brother some advise should he decide to leave the family farm and seek his fortune in the world. He ends by reassuring him that should he leave home, he can always return to the family circle where he will be welcome.

Two years later, Willard would enlist and be mustered in as a corporal in Co. D, 60th New York Infantry on 30 October 1861 at Ogdensburgh, New York. He died on 12 March 1863 at the general Hospital in Harper’s Ferry, a victim of chronic diarrhea.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Harmony, Wisconsin
January 13th 1859

Dear Brother,

I have once more had the pleasure of reading a letter from you bearing date of 23rd. I was extremely glad to hear from you & also to learn that you are attending school this winter. The older you grow, the more you will see the need of an education. See to it. Improve your time well, as you will see the time when you will feel sorry.

There has been good sleighing since it commenced but not much snow—not over 8 or 10 inches at a time. We had one week of severe weather the first of the month (January) but is quite mild now.

I am a boarding at H. Allen’s. He is a Yankee of the pure stock. He is a teaching school about 2 miles from here (in Newton). I attend the evening schools which is more agreeable than it was last winter (6 miles from white folks, alone that half the time). I am not making a great deal this winter. I have been old & steady for 2 years but I am now getting young again. The principle fever here at the present time is the yellow fever. It is very contagious. Almost every man, boy, & some of the women have got it. Barlow, F. Banger, 3 of the Allens (Martin, Levi, and Truman A.) & also Alexander Lowrie & hundreds of others I could mention if you and I were acquainted with them. But strange to say, there is no deaths among them.

They are a going from this place in companies to the gold diggings in Kansas. They think of starting in March, take oxen and wagons and provisions enough for 6 or 8 months (of course they will get rich in that time). It is about 11 or 12 hundred miles from here. Almost every man wants to rent his farm. I have had three after me to take their farms. They offer to find me everything (board & washing), seed, team, &c., and yes, a woman too, and give me one-third. And I have almost a mind to take a farm (as I can’t go too). I do not believe that half will go that say they are. If they do, there will be a great many widows.

James Lowrie has taken the gristmill at S[pringville]. The old miller and all his boys are a going. I hope they will do well but I am afraid they will not all of them.

January 16th. I have just received a letter from Loran. He is is Oak Grove yet getting hoop poles at 4 dollars per thousand. He appears to be in good spirits. Says the gold fever is raging there to an alarming rate.

Three years & over have rolled by since we have had the consolation of conversing with each other, otherwise than the silent movings of the pen, & you have come almost that period when you must act for yourself. What is the course you intend to pursue (if you will allow me the question)? You, I am well aware, have no trade aside from farming. Do you intend to remain there in sight of your nativity home, or are you a going to run the risk of having your eyes picked out for globe lamps. As many appear to think if they get out of the sight of home, that their eyes will be sold for globe lamps and their teeth sold for ivory. But sir! let me tell you, you may read of all the things that is going on, you have but a picture, which in traveling you have a reality which, you will never know as long as you stay within the bounds of your own town.

You are about to launch your little bark upon this broad world of strife & to baffle with the flood-wood of scoundrels that daily infest every harbor and depot to decoy the unexperienced into their dens, there to pick from his pockets the last cent of his earnings. But there is a remedy for all of this—have few words & less friends (or those that would be) with those that you are not acquainted with. Keep your eye in the alert and with a feeling of self-competency, you can overcome that feeling of I can’t go away from home. I do not advise you to go away from home if you do not want to. But if you should, may you go with a feeling that when you wish to rest for a time, you can find a place in the old circle where you were a welcome guest & I hope you ever will be.

I must close with my best wishes to all. Your affectionate brother, — Willard R. Wetherell

Write soon. Direct to Springville, Wisconsin.

to Darius B. Wetherell