Item #3001 [Archive of Thirteen Pocket Diaries Belonging to Swedish Immigrant John E. Peterson, an Oregon Miller and Carpenter]. Oregon, John Peterson.

[Archive of Thirteen Pocket Diaries Belonging to Swedish Immigrant John E. Peterson, an Oregon Miller and Carpenter]

[Afton, Mn.; Various places in Oregon, including Dallas, Corvallis, Philomath, Portland, and the Siletz Reservation: 1866-1881]. Thirteen pocket diaries, approximately 250,000 words; plus small album with eleven family photographs. Most diaries in contemporary sheep, wallet-style bindings. One diary lacking covers and rather chewed at head of spine, affecting some text on final leaves. Otherwise, scattered wear to cover flaps and edges. Light toning and occasional staining internally. Accomplished in a fairly legible script throughout. About very good. Item #3001

An extensive and cohesive set of thirteen manuscript diaries kept John Emanuel Peterson, a Swedish immigrant to the United States who lived through the Civil War with his family in Minnesota before leaving for Oregon in the late 1860s. The Petersons came to America in 1850, and lived and worked on a farm near Afton, Minnesota; Peterson's father, also named John, died in 1864 while serving in the Union army, while the younger John and his brother Victor were also Union soldiers. Throughout the diaries, Peterson records his daily labors, which were varied and included farming, carpentry, barn raising, milling, and lumbering, amongst other employments. He also records his social and family activities, such as local masonic meetings, singing in church and in informal groups, playing the violincello, and many local events and outings.

The bulk of the diaries (ten of thirteen) records the life of Peterson in Oregon from 1868 to 1881. There he was employed at the Siletz Indian Reservation full-time between October 1872 and April 1874, and again from September 1878 to July 1881, with additional intermittent stints there between those two principal periods. In the first several years of his residence in Oregon, Peterson operated and part-owned a saw mill in the Willamette Valley, southwest of Salem. The diaries are rigidly maintained, with a page-long entry for every day of the year; and thus, despite a couple of gaps in the run, the body of manuscript material is large, detailed, and coherent. In one of the earliest diaries, Peterson devises his own code, and portions of many entries throughout the diaries are written in this language. Perhaps he was correct to be concerned over his privacy, as a sardonic note from his second wife in one of the later diaries indicates that his entries were read by others.

Peterson's first diary here covers 1865 and begins by recording his last school days in Afton, on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border due east of the Twin Cities, before he sold himself as a substitute to join the Union army in February. He served five months with the 22nd Wisconsin, first as a hospital orderly at Camp Randall and then as a guard for Confederate prisoners held at the camp until he was discharged in July. He took up farming upon his return to Minnesota, and after his sister married Louis Shogren, he began to learn saw milling on a mill owned by the family of his brother-in-law. His diaries for the next two years continue to document his agricultural life on the St. Croix River, before he mentions having a conversation about Oregon with a neighbor in mid-1867. By the end of the year, Peterson had sold off his farming interests and begun to make plans to go West.

In February 1868, he bid farewell to his family and sweetheart, Mary Allen, and boarded a train to New York. From there, he bought passage in steerage to what he calls Nicaragua on a ship called the San Francisco, departing February 25. He crosses the isthmus of Panama overland, and obtained a place on the steamer Moses Taylor, which arrived in San Francisco on March 25th. After a week in the city, he found passage to Portland on April 1, whence he travelled down the Willamette River to Independence, Oregon. By April 19, he was working at the Enterprise Mill near Dallas, and he soon negotiated a deal to purchase a one-third share in the business, payable over the course of a year. For the next three years, Peterson plied his trade at the mill with his two partners, John Hellems and Peter Palmehn, during which time his sister and brother-in-law also moved to Oregon to join him. At the end of each year, he keeps a meticulous log of his expenses and income, both personal and business (a consistent practice throughout the diaries).

The arrival of family seems to have provided impetus to Peterson to sell his interest in the mill, and in March 1872, they briefly moved to Corvallis where he took work as a carpenter, before Peterson followed his sister's family again to the Siletz Indian Reservation in July, where he was offered a job by famed Oregon pioneer Joel Palmer, who had become a state Indian Agent. Both Peterson and his brother-in-law were hired on the reservation as carpenters (Shogren specifically as a wagon maker), but the pair spent much of their time doing all manner of necessary jobs, such as building houses, butchering animals, milling grain, maintaining fences, and making coffins, just to list a few. Peterson relates not only his own quotidian activities, but also significant events on the reservation (he specifically mentions a large tribal council and later the resignation of Palmer), and his interactions with the Native American inhabitants, whom he seems to have often employed in his larger tasks.

Peterson's Minnesota sweetheart, Mary, joined him in Oregon in early 1873 and they were married in June of that year; however, the premature birth of their son, Victor, in January 1874, and Mary's prolonged illness following the early birth, led to a lengthy period of turmoil. Having to care for his wife and infant at home, Peterson lost his job on the reservation in March 1874 and moved his family back to Corvallis, where he could take odd jobs with local businesses. After a year of illness, Mary died in March 1875; following her death, Peterson returned to the Siletz Reservation to visit his family and to extract a promise of work from the new Indian Agent, J.H. Fairchild. He remained on the reservation to repair some of the old mills and to complete repairs of Fairchild's house; at the end of the year, he decided to partner with Fairchild and Shogren on their own private sawmill enterprise near Oneatta, on the Pacific Coast.

The next two years are spent struggling with the operation and logistics of the business. Peterson and his partners traveled between Oregon and San Francisco while failing to find a steady market for their lumber. When the mill finally went bankrupt in early 1877, Peterson had taken up residence in San Francisco and was again doing day labor and construction to make ends meet. While there, he met his second wife, Christina, with whom he and his son returned to Oregon by 1878, where he worked in Portland and Philomath while waiting for another job opening on the reservation. In September, he was offered an official carpentry job paying $150 per quarter and was tasked with repairing reservation buildings, continuing the construction of grist and saw mills on the site, and the building of a new boarding school. Over the next three years, he worked at several additional projects as well, including the construction of residential homes and a new store. One of the principal reasons for Peterson's intermittent employment at the reservation was an inconsistent and unreliable budget, and by July 1881, resources for the maintenance and expansion of the facilities were reduced to the point that his job was finally and irrevocably cut. He and his family moved to Newport, on Yaquina Bay near the site of his failed saw mill at Oneatta, where he is once more working as a carpenter-for-hire when the diary entries end in October 1881.

Several additional pieces of material are also present in the collection. The most significant is an 1868 diary kept my Mary Allen, which Peterson mentions reading upon her death in 1875. There is also a small photo album, compiled later by one of Peterson's descendants, which contains images of Peterson and Mary Allen, as well as a 1901 account diary of Peterson's son Victor and a 1933 daily diary of his grandson Robert. Overall, a significant manuscript account and an outstanding resource for the study of immigrant life in Oregon after the Civil War.

Price: $16,500.00