Ranney Letter #36

Lemuel writes to Henry at Lucius’s request, to inform their brother that Lucius and his wife Clarissa have lost their seven-year old daughter, Carroline. She died of Scarlet Fever a week earlier, after an illness of two weeks during which Lemuel says “she suffered very much.” Lucius and their brother Anson’s one and a half-year old son, Everett, are also ill, but both their cases are less severe than Carroline’s. The fever is a bacterial infection (strep), and this is before the discovery of antibiotics like penicillin -- which, unbelievable as it may seem, is less than a hundred years old, discovered in 1928.

Lemuel says Carroline’s death is not only “a severe stroke on Lucius and Clarissa,” but that their friends and neighbors all “feel her loss very much as she was a general favorite in the school and neighborhood.” But after devoting the first half of his letter to the details of Carroline’s illness and the spread of the fever in the area, Lemuel moves on to other matters. The recession historians know as “The Panic of 1857” is in full swing in Michigan. Land prices have eroded and farm commodities are selling at very low prices because there is no cash in the local economy and there has been a general collapse of credit. Lemuel says a number of local merchants will be unable to pay their debts, which will result in more bankruptcies and “assignments” of assets.

In spite of all the bad news, Lemuel remarks that the snow is finally falling, so there’s “a prospect of having some sleighing yet this winter.” Even in the middle of disaster and a letter filled with tragic news, there’s a glimmer of hope and an acknowledgment that life goes on.

My Transcription:

Hillsdale February 9
th 1858

Dear Brother

As Lucius is sick and not able to write, I at his and his wife’s request will address you a few lines to inform you of their affliction. They have lost their little girl.
Little Callie is dead. We buried her last Wednesday. She had the Scarlet Fever in its most malignant form. She was sick about two weeks. Her tongue and throat were badly swollen and cankered and she suffered very much throughout her illness. It is a severe stroke on Lucius and Clarissa I assure you. In fact, all the friends and neighbors feel her loss very much as she was a general favorite in the school and neighborhood.

Lucius was taken with the same disease about a week after she was and was quite sick for a few days, but is able now to be about the house again. The Scarlet Fever has been quite prevalent in that town this winter. Anson’s little boy has got it now but is not very sick, not considered dangerous. One of Mr. Fox’s little girls has it also. Hosea Folger’s wife is very sick and not expected to live a great while. The rest of our friends around here are well I believe.

Clarissa and I have made a visit to South Haven this winter. We found Densmore’s folks all well and prospering. I have some expected to make you a visit this winter, but it is such hard times here that I shall have to postpone it this winter I guess. I have talked some of going to California next spring. But I don’t believe I can raise money enough to go with. Wheat is worth 65¢ a bushel. Corn we cannot sell for the cash at any price. Butter is worth only 10¢ per pound. In fact everything sells low for cash. The price of land has fallen 20 per cent since you were here last fall.

We have not had any sleighing here since November, until today. It commenced snowing here last night and is snowing yet. So there is a prospect of having some sleighing yet this winter. It was very warm and pleasant during the month of January, and there was considerable plowing done around here.

Jim Pratt and W. C. Campbell of this place have been forced to make and assignment lately, and there are a number of other merchants here that will be unable to meet their payments next spring. How are the times down your way this winter? I hope not as tight as it is here.

Our respects to you all. Write soon and often.

Yours Respectfully
Leml S. Ranney

Ranney Letter #32

Lemuel writes Henry from Lucius’s home in Allen, to let Henry know they arrived home without mishap. Anson has gone to his father-in-law’s place, to help while John Baggerly is ill. Harrison has received a letter from Henry regarding Peppermint Oil, and thinks he can get it for less than the local farmers are asking. Lemuel mentions that he and Alonzo Franklin in Phelps had talked about the possibility of Henry buying land there. He says he and Harrison may come down again in the winter.

My Transcription:

Allen Sept 24
th 1855
Dear Brother

I am happy to inform you of our safe arrival home. We arrived last Friday and found every one well. Harrison wanted I should write you a few lines this morning concerning the oil peppermint. He received your letter last Saturday and will start for Florence next Wednesday. He has not run out there yet but saw a young man from there a few days ago, and he says they hold oil at Four Dollars a pound there. But Harrison thinks he can get it for 3.50 or 3.75 and will let you know the result as soon as he returns.

There has been a great deal of fever & ague here this fall. Anson has gone to John Baggerly’s to work. John has the ague pretty bad. Lewis & his wife were here yesterday and carried home a wagon load of Peaches. I wish you had about 3 or 4 bushels. They lay here on the ground rotting.

I spoke to Frank about you buying out there. He didn’t say much about it, but said that he should think you ought to come out this fall and see for yourself, but said he would write to you about it. Harrison and I may be down there this winter.

Give my respects to all enquiring friends.

Very Respectfully Yours
L. S. Ranney

Ranney Letter #29

Lemuel writes to Anson in December 1854, saying he had just received Anson’s letter dated October. This letter apparently took a similar amount of time getting back East, since Lucius forwards it on to Alonzo Franklin in Phelps in early February, saying it has just arrived. He asks A. F. to forward it on to Henry in Ashfield. At some point along the way (probably in Phelps), the entire letter seems to have been transcribed, because the whole thing is in the same hand. Interestingly, the transcriber in Phelps makes a “true” copy, including Lucius’s side-message to A. F. in the final copy. I think this letter is just one of many that made its way from place to place, which might help explain some of the gaps in the Ashfield archive.

Lemuel says he is planning to stay through another summer in the gold country, because the winter rains prevented him and his partners from working their claim completely. They have diverted Clear Creek, and are harvesting the loose gold from the creek bed. Lemuel says they made a little over a thousand dollars apiece after expenses. While this isn’t a fortune, Lemuel defends the result as “better probably than I could [have done] in the Atlantic States.”

Clear Creek, California
My Transcription:

Clear Creek, Shasta County, California
December 18
th 1854

Dear Brother

I have just received your kind favor of last Oct. and take the earliest opportunity to answer, as I know you will be anxiously looking for a reply.

I am digging in the mines yet, trying to make a couple of dollars. I did think and in my last letter to Lewis stated that I should probably start for the Atlantic States next Spring. But I think now that I shall stay until next fall when I shall certainly make a break for the East. You wrote that you would like to know how I have made it since I have been here. Well I have done much better probably than I could in the Atlantic States. I will tell you what I made the last summer.

I have two partners. We commenced working in the Creek or digging a race so as to turn the creek out of its natural bed, about the first of June. And we worked in the bed of the creek until about the first of October. And we took out in that time Five Thousand dollars. And our expenses were about Fifteen Hundred, including hired help & everything. We did not get the claim worked out as the rains drove us out about the first of Oct. and we cannot work in it again until next June. Hence my reason for staying here another summer. We are making about five or six dollars a day to the hand now. Wages for good hands here are four dollars per day, they board themselves. We have two hired hands and are paying them that.

I received two letters from Harrison the past summer, but he wrote to me not to write to him again until I heard from him again as he intended going to Mich. But I have not heard from him in a long time. I am indebted to Lewis for a letter too. I believe you say he is located in Branch Co. Write to me his Post Office address and I will write to him again when I hear from you. How has he made it in selling & buying again?

I hope you will redeem your promise to wrote again as soon as you receive this and let me know what new neighbors you have got there and where your place is and how many acres you have got and when you are going to & &. I shall certainly be home next fall. Write about all the folks. I don’t think of anything more to write in particular. I have never seen anything of the boys from your parts out here.

Give my respects to all my old acquaintances
Yours respectfully, Anson B. Ranney
Leml S. Ranney

Allen Feb 6
th 1855

We received this letter last week & thinking you would like to know what Lemuel wrote I thought best to enclose it & send it to you, A. F. Please forward this to Ashfield.

A. F. I have this evening wrote a letter to you. We are all well.

Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #20

Henry receives a transcript from the family in Allen of a letter they have received from younger brother Lemuel, who has gone west in search of gold. Lemuel had been planning on trying his luck in Oregon, but too many people were heading that way, so he went to northern California instead. The party he was traveling with lost a horse, and then traded the remaining horses for cattle at Salt Lake City, which means Lemuel probably traveled at least the final 750 miles on foot. He says the journey overland was “an awful hard trip and one that I would not advise any of my Friends to undertake.”

Lemuel writes a little about the mining prospects and the high cost of living in the camps. He says he imagines they’d like to hear all the details, but “I hope I shall see you all again,” and it would be easier to tell the tale in person. It’s interesting that Lemuel is aware there’s a chance he will not see the family again, and yet this possibility does not cause even an independent, free-spirited person such as Lemuel who takes off for the West on his own to be less concerned about the people back home. Write soon, he says, “for I am anxious to know how you are all getting along in that far off country.”

Shasta City 1855, J. M. Hutchings
My Transcription:

Allen Nov 24
th /52
Dear Brother

I here send you a true copy of Lemuel’s letter that we received from him, Dated Sept 25 1852.

Shasta City Sept 25
th /52
Dear Brother & Friends

I am happy to inform you that I have once more reached the pale of civilization. I arrived here about ten days ago perfectly well & hearty. I wrote you a letter at Fort Larima which you have probably received long ago. I stated in that or the one before it that it was my intention to go to Oregon and it was at that time. But there was such a flood of emigration a going that way this season that I thought I would try my luck in this
Awful Country.

I am at work at present on Clear Creek, 12 miles from Shasta City, in the mines and I am getting ninety dollars a month and boarded. Board is quite an item in this country. It costs a person about a dollar a day to live here, that is if he buys the raw material and cooks it himself. They charge $2.00 a day at the Boarding Houses. Flour here at present is worth 30¢ a pound. Pork from 85 to 90¢. Vegetables all sell by the pound here. Potatoes are 12¢ a pound. Onions, Cabbages, Beets & Turnips from 15 to 20¢ a pound. Beans 25¢.

Well I thought at those prices I had better go to work by the month. A short time anyhow, so as to be sure of my board and make a little raise. For it looked rather dubious for a new emigrant that knew nothing about mining and no money to go to work on his own hook. I am in about as good a mining vicinity probably as there is in California. Some are doing very well here and some not so well, but they generally average from 5 to 8 dollars a day. There was one lump taken out about 4 miles above where I am to work that was worth about $2,000.00 by an emigrant that came in this year.

We were considerable longer through than we expected to be. We lost one horse before we got to Salt Lake City, and traded the others off for cattle there. There is a great many things I presume that you would like to hear. That is, how I got a long and what I saw and how I like the country and what I think of the trip anyhow &c &c. But I hope I shall see you all again and then I can tell you all the particulars much better than I could describe them to you with Pen and Ink. But I can tell you now in a very few words what I think of the trip overland. I think it an awful hard trip and one that I would not advise any of my Friends to undertake.

If this will pass with you for a letter send me one in return as soon as possible, for I am anxious to know how you are all getting along in that far off country. My respects to Mother and all the rest of you.

Lemuel S. Ranney

Copied by Anson B Ranney
(Copied by Hope Packard)

PS Direct your letter to Shasta City, Shasta County Calif