Society Saturday: Phineas Howe writes of Gold and Lincoln

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Howe Letters
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Last Saturday I asked for some advice from folks about how I should pursue this self-publishing thing, but I didn’t get many answers, so I’m still waffling. I did get a response from the editor of my society’s journal, though, and it helped me narrow down quite a bit what I will be writing for him, however. I’m going to gloss over what brought the Howes to Idaho and just focus on their time in this area, in keeping with the society’s mission to educate about this particular region of Idaho. The next journal due out in December is already being proofed, so I will get started writing and hope the article to be published next year. Based on how that goes, I will consider the book or longer publishing in more depth at that point. :)

So, as promised, I return us to Phineas Howe’s adventures in the gold fields of California! We last saw him in 1858, and now a year has passed. The letter he writes to Osborn is a contradictory one, much like all human nature – he expresses regret about leaving Maine, but he refuses to give up at making money in California until he has something to show for his time and his pride. He gives an interesting commentary on what it’s really like to be a miner versus what the rest of the country thinks it’s like, as well. Remember that these are just transcriptions, so the spelling errors are Phineas’, but the comments in parentheses are mine!


Dear Osborn, My Son:

I received your kind letter and was glad you had not forgotten me. and was glad that you have been to school and am satisfied that you have made a great proficiency in your studies especially in writing for your writing looks better than mine. try to improve and victory is yours.

You wanted to know what my prospects are, I will tell you. they are like all California miners: mighty uncertain. I work hard and keep trying but have not succeeded in making much yet, and if I had known as much before I started as I do now, I should not have left Maine. But they say perseverance will accomplish all most anything and I am bound to make something before I lee California if it is a possible thing. when you read the papers you do not get but one side of the question for they only give (the big strikes) the best side. people in the States think they could go to Cal. and dig gold anywhere but it is not so. the best diggins have been worked long ago and it is only a lucky few that now and then get good diggins. I have spent a good deal of time and money prospecting for good diggins but it has not been my luck as yet to find them but keep trying.

You have got to be almost a man in years & stature and I feel bad that I cannot help you to a libiral education and it may be so yet, but cannot now and therefore I want you should do the best you can for yourself. be steady. Keep good company and be prudent…it is my greatest anxiety that you and little Morris should grow up to be respectable. I do not want you to think of running to Cal. yet a while for it is no good place for the hardships would be greater than you could undergo and at any rate would not have you come unless Morris come too…

…there is considerable excitement about Pikes Peak Gold diggins in Kansas but I am fearful they will turn out like Frazier River (mentioned in a previous letter as something he hoped would be a good prospect – apparently not), a humbug…

…I went to an O(dd) Fellows celebration at Murphy’s the 26th it being 2 miles from where I live or stop for I do not consider a miners living living but stoping. I am in company of five men some of us are mining and some prospecting for a better claim they are first rate men. I have got me a garden and 19 peach trees which will bear next year. I shall endeavour to come back as quick as possible but I want you to take good care of your self and write me often what you are doing and what wages you get and all the particulars…

…I am going with 5 other men tomorrow to a place called Eho a China name to try my luck about 3 miles from here but want you to direct your papers and letters as before, Vallecito Calaveras County                                                         from your unworthy father

In the next year, Phineas is still in Douglas Flat making a living doing more farming than mining, and he references politics occurring in the region that explain why I found him not in Douglas Flat in the 1860 census, but in Campo Seco, as he mentions in the next letter:

Douglas Flat, Sept. 28, 1860

My Son:

I received yours dated July 6th and have been somewhat neglegent in answering for the reason that I have been so engaged in hard work and politics that is has taken all of my time. we are having quite an exciting time in this State but think we stand a good show of electing Lincon and Hamlin (Abe Lincoln and his VP, Hannibal Hamlin). I went to Campo Seco as Delegate to County Convention had a good time heard a good Speach from the Hon. Mr. Pixley from Sanfrancisco (potentially Frank Pixley?).

I am well and hearty and doing about after the same old sort not very well. I have raised all the peaches that I want for my own use this year have got a hundred chickens which I have raised besides having all the eggs that I wanted from 12 hens this summer. I have bought me another House and got paid $150 which I rent for 65 dollars per month. I Bot it because I got it cheap and think I can making something by the bargain…                    P Howard Howe

What changes will the Civil War bring to his life, if any? Will he finally strike it rich or return to Maine? Stay tuned for more next Saturday!

(These are transcriptions of actual letters written by Phineas H. Howe to his family and friends in Maine. The real letters are currently in the possession of the Nez Perce County Historical Society, which has generously loaned me these transcriptions for the project I’m doing for them. All other writing herein is © 2011, copyright Genealady & JustFolks.)

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