[Tuolumne County, Ca. 1852-1866]. Seven manuscript letters, completed on bifolia, totaling pp. Previously folded, with some wear along old folds. Scattered minor dust soiling and staining. One letter with some pronounced patches of paper discoloration, not affecting text. Accomplished in a fairly neat, legible hand; accompanied by typed transcriptions. Very good. Item #1772
A fine and descriptive group of six manuscript letters by prospector and gold miner Alden Kingman, detailing his experiences Tuolumne County, California, and later in San Francisco during the mid- to late 1850s and early 1860s. Kingman, who was born in Maine and came to California from Waltham, Massachusetts, arrived in Springfield, California, in 1854, and his first letter from there, dated June 4 and addressed to his brother, discusses his arrival, initial work, and the fortunes of mutual acquaintances:
"I am not so fat as in the winter, but I still feel well as any body and I have to work vary hard now, but I get paid vary well for it, so I don't care much. I have the best week's work last week that I ever done in my life. I arnt [i.e., earned] half as much as I could at home in a summer, [or] very near, but don't let this flatter you, for I may not do so well the next, but we have a pretty good show for a summer's work I think. Yes, for two or three, if it pays as well as it has, but perhaps it won't. The boys are all well and doing pretty well, I believe. Elliot & Salomon lost thair last week's work $140 that came hard. It was stole from them thay say out of thair cabbin...."
In February 1858, Kingman was still working the "tunnels" in Springfield, but employment was only intermittent, likely due to the Panic of 1857, and "it is the hardest times here for money that I have ever seen." By August 1859, writing to his father, Kingman was working steadily, but still demoralized over his returns on his years in California:
"You wished to know how the Virginia tunnel was paying. We get vary good prospects in it, but they are so far apart that it hasn't paid us any thing to speak of yet, but thare has ben heaps of the shining ore passed through it. Some day & if we can get whare they bed rock ain't so steep, we shall be likely to get good pay. I think the Boston tunnel is paying first rate now. I have an interest in that yet, so I am in hopes that I shall come out better than I expected a while ago, for it looked very dark; come to prospect over four years & and pay out over four thousand Dollars & not be likely to receive one cent.... I would like to go home & see my folks & friends, but I am situated so I can't at present. I suppose you think I have got plenty of the shining Ore by this time, but you are mistaken. I have had some of it since I came here, but you see whare some of it is gone & I have not spent but nary little foolishly, but money will go here if a man is lucky enough to have any."
Kingman saw another difficult period in late 1860, which led him to lament to his father that, "The time has past when every man can make a pile here in a few days. I have done vary well since I ben here, but have paid the most of it for prospecting far more, so I have to wait until I can make another raise.... I still continue to work in the Boston tunnel & expect to as long as I mine for a living & that won't be a great while, I hope, if I have my health." Nevertheless, he is still at it in May 1864, when he endured days of seasickness to join a silver rush on Catalina Island:
"Thare has been great excitement about lead & silver are being found on the island, so of course, I had to go -- not, however, til I let one of my old friends from Ellsworth have two hundred dollars to return with, for he had been thare & was very much excited about the mines & wanted to go back, but couldn't for want of money. So I let him have it. I started also. Well, I got there. You ask did you find your pile. I did & was very glad to come back. A pile of hills was all I found. There is some lead & silver in the island, but not enough to pay -- that is, as far as prospected & I don't think ever will. I have gone to work in the old tunnel again quite contented. This is the first excitement that I have chased after & I think the last for a while that is since I came to Cal...."
Perhaps this was one of the final straws for Kingman's mining career, for in his last letter, to his brother and dated March 1866, he reported that he had been working for some time as a watchmaker in San Francisco:
"I am repairing clocks & watches. I have been at it about a year & a half & can do most any work thare is to be done. I like it first rate. It is nice pritty work & pays vary well, the best of any thing that I know of at present. If I had plenty to do all the time, I could make a fortune in a little while. I put pivots in watches & put teeth in wheels, put main springs in & have springs & all the fine work. It is a natural gift, I know, for I love it.... Well, I must say that I enjoy meyself the best I ever did in my life since I left school."
He must have indeed had found his calling, since the San Francisco directories list Kingman as a "watchmaker and jeweler" at various addresses in the city for more than a decade after this final letter, until 1877. One additional letter present here, discussing family business and news, dates to 1852, when Kingman was still in Massachusetts. Overall, an excellent and cohesive group of correspondence, literately and engagingly written, that well-delineates the arc of one man's mining career in California during the Gold Rush.