Ranney Letter #10

Lyman writes again from Van Buren, in August 1850. He has not heard from Henry, so he suspects his letter never made it — although, since his letter is in the archive, apparently it was Henry’s reply that was lost in the mail. Lyman seems lonely, and writes again about wanting to study medicine, but not having the funds.

Van Buren is apparently a “wild west” sort of boomtown at this time. Lyman says “merchants are getting rich here,” but he also says that murderers walk the streets and that people are regularly killed in duels “or just for some grudge they had.” And since there are many young men looking for work, Lyman’s wages are low. Lyman hints that if he had some money to invest, he could probably make enough to get back to the north and study medicine. But he doesn’t come right out and ask for it.

(Illustration is Van Buren in 1888)

My transcription:

Van Buren August 8
th 1850

Dear Brother

After waiting some time for and answer to a letter I wrote you come time since I have come to the conclusion that you did not receive it, as I have not yet recd an answer. But be that as it may, I will once more write you. I have enjoyed remarkably good health since at the South, although we have exceeding hot weather. I don’t know but that I may leave here between this and next April and try to make some arrangements about studying
medicine. I like merchandising very much yet I think I would rather practice medicine and should have made greater progress that way ere this if I had possessed the means. Merchandising is a good occupation but it takes a long time to get a start in that business.

Merchants are getting rich here. Mr. Bishop four years ago when he came here had not over fifteen hundred dolls and is now worth about 2000$ which is doing well.

I have not heard from home but once since I have been here yet I have written home several times. I recd a letter from Lemuel a short time since. He wrote from Albion Mich. I expect he strolls about too much to save a great amt of his wages.

I think I have been well paid for coming here, having learned in several ways. For one in the way of business, keeping books, &c. I am keeping books here at present, which is done by double entry. Yet there is but little chance of saving much here as wages are small comparatively. There being a surplus of “clerks” who work for next to nothing apparently. It is about all I can do to clothe myself here at present.

There is quite a chance here for speculation if a man has a little money, say 4 or 500$ to commence with. I think he can double his money in a year and perhaps more in buying and selling different articles. Wheat you can buy in the Indian States about ten or fifteen miles above here for from 10$ to 20$ you can sell for from 30$ to 50$ and other things in the same proportion.

If I could see any prospect in the next year for making a few hundred dollars in any way I would do most anything. There is a good society here in this place. Mostly Eastern people. But with those in the country it is far different. There is not over 1/10 of them that can write their own name, and are a desperate sort of men most of them. There is many a man here I have seen who has killed one or more persons in some way, whether in a duel or just for some grudge they had. And yet these persons are passing about seemingly as unconcerned as though they never had committed any act. There has been one or two quarrels here in town since I have been here, and one or two killed, but perfectly without effect.

Write as soon as you receive this and let me know what you are doing and what you are a going to do for the next generation to come. How the children are and Sister “Marie” and the friends in general?

Mr. Bishop gets a paper from Elisha Basset occasionally. I have not sent you as many as I ought, I have had to distribute them to so many different people, but will try to do better for you in future. Send me some papers occasionally as you have done since I have been here. Write on receipt of this and let me hear from you all.

I send my love to sister Marie, the children, and our friends in general and tell them I may visit them in future if nothing takes place other than expected.

Hoping this may find you all well I now close.
From your affectionate brother