Lyman writes Henry in the winter of 1852, saying that he is healthy and that his older brother Harrison is “still living in the Indian Nation,” after apparently taking the job that Lyman had done there the previous year. Lyman has served on several juries, and tells Henry about the weather and local conditions.
Henry has said he plans to visit Michigan the following summer, and Lyman says he would like to do the same. Lyman also mentions that he wants to go the World’s Fair. He is referring to the “Exhibition of Industry of All Nations,” held in New York City from July to November, 1853. This was the first such fair held in America, and it attracted over a million visitors and featured a “Crystal Palace” that emulated the one built for the very successful 1851 fair in London. But this is the final letter from Lyman in the collection, so I don’t know if he ever made it.
Van Buren Arks Dec. 6th 1852
I embrace the present opportunity of writing you a few lines. I have enjoyed remarkably good health for some time past. Harrison is still living in the Indian Nation at the point where I stayed last winter. The United States District Court has just closed here after holding for some three weeks. There has been twelve or fifteen convicted during the term of the court. Some are sentenced to the penitentiary. Others are (three) sentenced to be hung for murder, among whom is an Indian. I was on four different Juries, one the Jury was “hung” for three days.
The Arkansaw River is in fine boating order at present and has been for some time. The boats are arriving here almost every day, bringing some of the delicious fruits of the “South” such as Oranges, Pine Apples, &c. Mr. Bishop is absent at present on a trip to New Orleans.
I have not heard from Mich for some time, hope to get a letter from there soon. I have not heard from Lemuel but once since he started for California. That by way of Lucius who recd a letter from him somewhere on his route. I am hoping to get a letter from him soon.
You say you think you will be out to Michigan during the next summer. What time do you think it will be? I should like to visit the north during the next year. Don’t know as I shall. Not the fore part at least. When I do I shall give you all a call. I would like to attend the World’s Fair if convenient. Mr. Bishop thinks of going north next summer and attending the Fair.
The weather here is as pleasant and warm as the month of September is at the north. There has been but one or two frosts and no freezing weather here. I have recd two numbers of the Home Journal coming from the office of publication. You may order it sent to Mich. or make some other disposition of it if you choose, as Mrs. Bishop takes it and I am not very partial toward it to say the most. I this day recd the Boston Atlas after an intermission of about 2 months.
Write soon & give my love to all your family.
Lyman A. Ranney
Lyman sends Henry a short note with a five dollar bill to renew his newspaper subscriptions to three Eastern papers. Lyman says the banknote is from “the N.O. Bank which I think will go there without much if any discount, it goes at par here.” Until Federal Laws were passed during the Civil War, State-chartered banks printed their own currency. Some varieties of this money were more widely accepted than others, depending on the remoteness of the bank and its perceived solvency. Rather than flatly refuse the notes of a distant or shaky bank, people would sometimes “discount” the note, saying in effect, “I’ll take this, but only at 90¢ on the dollar” or some other amount below the par or face value of the note. Historians disagree on how common this practice was, often citing the fact that people were taught in elementary school how to “discount” in their heads. Personally, I don’t see the point of taking a note at 90¢ or 95¢ on the dollar, if you think the issuing bank is likely to not honor the paper. The reason people were taught how to quickly calculate discounts was that many of these notes carried interest. They were promises to pay a month or two in the future, so people needed to know how much the five or seven percent interest would come to over that length of time.
Lyman briefly answers Henry’s questions about the size of the firm he works for, saying they do about $140,000 a year and that they sell a lot of goods at wholesale prices to smaller merchants who lack the capital to go East and buy for themselves.
Van Buren Arks. Oct 17th 1852
I recd yours of — Sept. And was glad to hear from you again. Enclosed you will find a five dollar bill (5$) on the N. O. Bank, which I think will go there without much if any discount, it goes at par here. This as you will no doubt understand is to pay for another year of the Tribune, Atlas, & Blade which I wrote you about some time since, as the two former papers have already stopped, the year having run out I suppose.
You wished me to give youth amy of goods sold by the firm with which I am staying. We have four stores in different parts of the State and two here in this place. The goods for the other stores all pass through the stores here before they go out to the branches. We sell in the year about 140,000$ here and and at the branches. We wholesale a great many goods here in the course of the year. The country merchants buy, some who have not capital enough to go east to buy for themselves.
I have to cut my letter short as I am writing on Monday morning, and I have now to close.
L. A. Ranney
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.”
Illustration: Shasta City 1855, J. M. Hutchings
Allen Nov 24th /52
I here send you a true copy of Lemuel’s letter that we received from him, Dated Sept 25 1852.
Shasta City Sept 25th /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
Eighteen year old Anson writes to Henry for the first time from Florence, Michigan, where he is working as a farm hand for day wages. Anson is getting seventy-five cents a day, which he considers good pay. He reports that he is in good health, “which is the first thing in letter writing.” Then he gives news of all the family, and thanks Henry for the newspapers he has sent over the years and invites his brother to write back to him “without fail.”
Unlike Lucius, Lewis, and even Lyman, Anson and his older brother Henry really have no shared experience. Anson was born just before the family moved to Phelps, so although Henry may remember him as a newborn baby, Anson’s only face to face contact with Henry would probably have taken place on the rare occasions when Henry visited Phelps (I don’t think he had been to Michigan yet, at this point), before their father George died and Achsah moved out to live with Lucius. So it’s noteworthy that Anson feels a family connection and decides to initiate contact with a brother who he only knows through letters and family stories.
Florence May 2nd 1852
Being that I am out here in St. Joseph away from the harm of Friends & alone today I thought there would be no harm in dropping a few lines to you, as I had never done the like before. As to health, which is the first thing in letter writing, I have been blessed with good health for the past year & hope this to find you in the same.
I am to work by the day now & probably shall continue to work by the day through the summer. I get $0.75 a day or $19.00 per month, which are good wages for a common tug like me. Probably I am an extra hand, let me tell the story. I have been here about six weeks. I think that I can stay away as long as until fall if not longer. I have a notion of going to Iowa in the Fall if I can make things shape right. If I don’t go there I shall go home & go to school through the winter.
Anyone would judge from the looks of my writing that I had ought to go to school winters, but I do not pretend to be a scholar. Neither at writing or any other branch of knowledge.
We got a letter from Lemuel just before I started from home. His calculation then was to emigrate for California about the 10th of Apr. I am afraid he will see some hard times before he gets back if he should happen to live until he got back. But luck to him I say. There has been a great many from here that started for California that got as far as Council Bluff & turned about & came back on account of there being such a rush this spring. But I say if there is any that want to go there let them go. I think I can better myself in some other country. Everyone to their notion. I can enjoy myself here for the present well enough.
Harrison was here about a week ago on his way to Mt. Carmel. He says he shall probably be back in the fall, but I guess it is different. I had a letter from Lyman a short time ago. He wrote no news in particular. He is getting pretty good wages down in Van Buren. Lewis has had a hard time of it for 6 or 8 months past. It is hopeful that he will recover fully.
As I have written a pretty long letter I think it is best to hold up now, for if you write to me I may want to write again. I am very thankful to you for those papers you have sent me in times past. Write to me when you receive this without fail. If you should feel disposed to write me a letter you may send it to Constantine St. Joseph Co. Mich. I send my love to you & the rest of the family.
From Anson B. Ranney
Lyman writes Henry again from the “land of Bowie Knives and Pistols.” He describes a recent murder and says that there have been fifteen or twenty killings in the vicinity since he arrived three months earlier. Lyman hopes to leave Tahlequah after the next big infusion of U.S. Government money in the Spring.
Lyman remarks that he has read a notice in the Greenfield, Massachusetts, newspaper that Henry has been elected to the Legislature. Henry was an early member of the Liberty and Free Soil parties that contributed their abolitionist agenda to the Republican party in 1860. The History of Ashfield says this: “About the beginning of the forties, the Liberty or Abolition party made its appearance in the shape of perhaps a dozen voters, or whom Jasper Bement, Henry S. Ranney and Dea. Samuel Bement were most prominent…this small beginning was the nucleus of the Free Soil party, which was in turn the nucleus of the Republican party in Ashfield, as well as in the nation…” The History describes the growth of the abolition movement in Ashfield, noting that in 1849, Hosea Blake was elected in a contested race that included the recruitment of at least one black voter. The election was protested and decided by the Legislature in favor of Blake, who won reelection in 1850 and was one of the men who voted to elect Charles Sumner to the Senate. Sumner was elected by a single vote.
Tahlequah C. N. Jany 18th 1852
Once more I drop you a few lines from this land of Bowie Knives and Pistols. There has been not less than fifteen to twenty murders in this nation since I have been here (3 mos.)(all Indians I believe). Last night there was a man part Indian (who had a grocery at this place) cut in pieces by two men under the influence of liquor. They killed him in his own house, where there was five or six more at the same time. They have the murderers but there is no certainty of their being hung as they clear more than half of the perpetrators of that deed here in the Nation.
This morning the news reached here of another man being murdered a few miles from here. The one that was killed at this place was badly cut up. I saw one cut in the breast that was not less than eight inches long and laid the heart bare. A man has no certainty of his life I must confess. Yet I expect to have to stay here six months or year longer.
We have had some very cold weather here for the last few days. Snow about 3 inches deep, the first there has been here this season. Trade is dull here at present, the money that was paid out last fall to the Indians being nearly all gone. There will be another payment made to the Indians about the 1st April next (amt. 1,500,000$) which will make money more plenty once more, after which I hope to leave the nation as it is not the place to suit me.
I see by the “Greenfield Paper” you sent me that your elected a representative to the Legislature and will no doubt be in Boston at the time this reaches you, but I will direct it to Ashfield and then it can be forwarded if necessary. Nothing more of importance to write at present. Give my love to all our friends in your vicinity. Write soon and let me hear all the news.
From Your Brother
L. A. Ranney