[N.p.]: 1954. 15,901-1347pp. [Approximately 470pp. total, containing 148 letters, 95 of which are written from the American West]. Illustrated with four original photographs and several original manuscripts. Red cloth, manuscript title on spine and front cover. Light soiling and wear. Related newspaper clippings pasted to first few leaves. Internally clean with minor wear. Very good. Item #935
Volume of letters copied at a later date, charting part of one family's history from West Virginia to the West Coast and back. The letters here are written by three members of the Alexander family -- Henry Ruffner Alexander (1866-1935), Henry's wife Blanche (1869-1941), and Henry's son William, who also appears to have been the compiler of the volume. The table of contents lists letters to family, letters written to William at College, and transcribed postcards written home during William's first auto road trip in 1934.
Perhaps most interesting are the first two sections comprising Henry's letters written from out West, primarily from 1898 to 1911 while living and prospecting in Washington State. His letters are full of detailed descriptions of the places he visits, recording each place through the lens of a seemingly religious and tidy young man. An interleaved map charts Henry's journey from Cincinnati through Missouri and Arkansas, across Kansas and Colorado to Salt Lake, then to California and Washington. His letters follow similar course. Some of Henry's original manuscripts have been used to illustrate the volume, including maps.
A few of Henry's earliest letters are included here, written from Kansas in 1886 when he was twenty years old. He describes life working on a cattle ranch and living on the prairie hunting for employment. From Kiowa he writes, "This country is overrun with men and it is hard to get work. I have about come to the conclusion that W.Va. is as good as the West. You can make more there working for 50c a day than you can here for a dollar." He describes local Indians, the emptiness of the West, and a trip to Dodge City in May 1886: "Dodge City is about the size of Charleston [W.V.], and crowded with cowboys, Mexicans, gamblers, and penniless men. Several poor fellows have asked me for enough to buy them something to eat. I was not able to give them anything but my sympathy and advice. I did that heartily. My advice to each one was to go to your home if you have one as soon as you can get there. ... Hundreds of covered wagons pass here every week going west to take up land. There is quite a drought here, the dust shoe mouth deep and the weather very warm."
Despite his admonition that others should head back east, he seems only to have gone as far as Arkansas before eventually making his way out to Colorado en route to Washington, where he stays with his uncle. (The letters jump in date from 1886 to 1898.) He gives Pueblo a glowing review, with beautiful scenery and a pleasant climate. In a letter dated February 1898 he writes:
"Pueblo is a live and free town of about 3500 population with room around it for 35 billion within plain view. ... Just east and about half a mile is a Mexican village and all of the houses native built with adobe. ... There are several gold smelting shops in the town that run night and day and Sunday. They get the gold ore from Cripple Creek, and the surrounding mountains. The farming is done by irrigation, which is a large main ditch running out in the country from the Arkansas River, laterals running out into the farms from the main. Without this nothing could be raised here as it rarely rains, and never in the winter. The dust on the roads and in the streets is one inch thick."
By March he is in Sacramento, having traveled through the Grand Canyon -- which he found "fantastical" -- and Salt Lake City -- which he found tremendously overrated. "I stopped in Salt Lake City about 8 hours. I expected to stay a day or two but saw all that interested me or that would interest you in a few hours. It is the most overrated city I ever saw or heard of." While offering vague praise for City Hall, he notes that beyond that "there is nothing in Salt Lake to see but the 3 blocks of the misdirected work of the Mormons. The Temple, the Tabernacle, and the place the marriage service is performed compose one whole block and 3 separate buildings, surrounded by a stone wall about 10 feet high with iron gates at intervals. A Salt Lake City block is about the size of six Charleston blocks." While in Sacramento he visited the "Chinese Quarter" and "saw a poor fellow, nicely dressed, come out of an opium den 'presumably,' for his eyes were glassy and he looked like an opium slave. I stepped in on five Chinamen at supper, which was to me a curiosity. They held two square sticks in one hand and used them more gracefully than we do the knife and fork with both...." He continues, writing, "I saw dozens of Indians coming through Nevada. They were very much the finest looking Indians I ever saw. One sat on the opposite seat in the car from me. A Chinaman got on the train, the ugliest man I ever saw, took his seat behind the Indian and begun to talk jargon to the Indian, who thoroughly understood him but looked disgusted and answered in monosyllables. It was a good time to compare the Indian and the Chinaman. The Indian compared favorably, finally curling up on the seat and going to sleep. The coolie then directed his attention to me, peeling an orange and offering me half. I thought of leprosy and declined."
Writing from Seattle several days later, he describes Portland as a "wide open" town, with saloons and businesses open on Sundays, chock full of prospectors and adventurers headed for the Klondike. He describes both miners and the town. Several days later he leaves Seattle and heads west for central Washington, where he stakes a mining claim with a partner on the Columbia River. Writing from Wilbur at the start of April 1898:
"I will take an early train in the morning for Spokane to complete a prospector outfit, and return here the next day at noon, when I and my partner will start for the Columbia River, where we will wait a few days to see if the Colville Reservation will be opened. My partner is about 50 years old and named Robinson. He is the only one I have found out here that does not swear, preachers excepted, and an experienced miner. The Colville Reservation is inhabited by Indians and supposed to be rich in gold minerals, or more properly speaking, quartz. The government is going to throw it open for mineral purposes only. The Indians are not dangerous, although a squaw horsewhipped a white man here the other night."
He and his partner stake the claims they want once the Reservation is opened -- Henry claims to be the first man in -- and he and his partner work their mining claim for a couple of years, presumably with some measure of success. Included here is a map of his claim -- his original manuscript -- outlining his location near Keller. In early 1900, Henry sends for his sweetheart, Blanche, and she joins him in Washington. In November 1900 he is among the first men elected to the office of county commissioner in Ferry County. He writes: "The office pays $4.00 per diem and 10c a mile each way. I am 50 miles from the court house so my mileage will amount to $10. We meet four times each year. There is nothing in the office but prestige. It will bring me in contact with the very men I want to meet, mine operators. You will wonder how a man can get an office living 50 miles from the courthouse ring. This county is not old enough to have a ring. The officers elect are the first elected in the county."
Henry continues to prospect for the next decade, writing letters home which discuss local Indians, his neighbors, mining and miners, local politics, and more. The final letter from Washington State is written in February 1911. There follow several letters from Henry to his mother written after Henry and Blanche returned home to West Virginia. A handful of Blanche's letters written to her mother-in-law also follow, datelined Washington. The final eighty pages contain letters written by Henry to his son, William, while William was away at college. These are followed by a few pages of transcribed postcards William sent while on a road trip in 1934.
Although these were copied at a later date, the letters provide a wonderful descriptive look at the life of a prospector in Washington, covering a substantial period of time. To the best of our knowledge, these letters have not been published in any way.