October 28, 2005
There have been a great number of letters written from and about San Francisco through the decades, some by visitors and some by citizens, some known around the world, others anonymous. It is fascinating to hear voices from the past brought temporarily back to life, to see the city and its environs through the pens of contemporary eyewitnesses… some who wrote with an eye towards posterity, but others who were just sending their thoughts across the country to loved ones left behind. There really is nothing like the comfortable details of a letter back home to connect us, to provide a glimpse into the humanity of previous generations.
This week I’ve selected a letter written from the Northern California gold country at the height of the rush in 1850. Mr. William Swain’s letter to his brother George back in Independence, Missouri is a treasure, a straightforward look at the reality of life in the northern Sierra at this crucial juncture in California history. I’ve extracted the letter from the classic gold rush book by J.S. Holliday entitled The World Rushed In.