The Sight of a Pretty Woman

A story told by D. F. Crowder in the Chico Enterprise, December 29, 1917—

Of women in those days there were very few. In fact, women were somewhat of a curiosity. Men would go many miles just to look at a woman and when a woman, a pretty one, came in to camp, the news flew for miles . . .

I remember one woman, a Mrs. A. M. Sadorus, who afterwards settled on Rock Creek and died later in Nevada, who told about the curiosity her presence caused when she came West. . . . It was mooted about that a very comely woman was in camp and one miner, more venturesome than the rest, said his eyes were just watering for the look of a pretty woman  . . .  it would do his heart good to see one of God’s fair creatures again. So he went to the Sadorus camp where Mrs. Sadorus and her husband were resting for a few days. Mrs. Sadorus was in the tent and the miner who wanted just to see her approached the husband who stood outside.

“See here, pard,” said the miner, “If you don’t object I’d like just to look at your woman. I ain’t seen one since I left home, back in the States five years ago. No offense meant and you can tell her for me that if she will come out of that thar tent and let me look at her for just one minute I’ll give her ten dollars in dust.”

Sadorus, being a man of humor and appreciating the situation, and likewise acknowledging the reason for the miner’s whimsicality, laughingly told his wife about it. Mrs. Sadorus entered into the spirit of the occasion and putting on a pretty dress came from the tent and stood before the enraptured miner who had removed his hat in awe.

“God Almighty,” he said, “you air a purtty woman. It does my old heart good to see one of your kind again.”

For a full minute the old miner gazed upon the lovely vision and, pulling out his wallet, he handed her a $10 pinch of dust and took his departure.

I have heard Mrs. Sadorus tell this story many times and there are those here yet who will vouch for its truth.

D.F. Crowder 1909. Photo courtesy Special Collection, Meriam Library, CSUChico.

D.F. Crowder 1909. Photo courtesy Special Collection, Meriam Library, CSUChico.

D.F. Crowder came to Butte County in 1856 at the age of 12. He became a farmer in the area of Mud Creek. I suppose the event related here happened before he arrived. Women were exceedingly scarce in the mining camps and diggins.

From December 28, 1917 to January 28, 1918 the Chico Enterprise printed his recollections in a series entitled The Eventful Yesterdays: The Story of Early Chico. Some very interesting reading there — I’ll share some more soon.

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Casaba Melons

I found in the California State Library the original letters that accompanied the shipment of melon seeds to John Bidwell. There are two letters, one form letter addressed to John Kennedy (Annie’s brother) and a hand-written one to General Bidwell.

Letter from Department of Agriculture, John Bidwell Papers, California State Library.

Letter from Department of Agriculture, John Bidwell Papers, California State Library.

The text reads as follows:

Sir:   I have the honor to inform you that I have this day sent to your address three varieties of Melon seeds from Asia Minor, received from the Governor General of Smyrna. They are sent for experiment. Please report results.

(Also please find two prs from the Ionian Islands.)

When received please acknowledge.

Respectfully yours, etc.

Horace Capron,  Commissioner

Letter to John Bidwell from S. Dean. John Bidwell Papers, California State Library.

Letter to John Bidwell from S. Dean. John Bidwell Papers, California State Library.

The text:

Genl Bidwell

Dear Sir

Herewith I send you 8 prs. melon seed all rare – The Ionian Melon cost the Department $120 a lb. gold. So it should be very choice.

I take the liberty of sending these seeds as I think it due to California that our farmers have some choice seeds, and I thus avail myself of my position to supply them.

Though so late in the season that irrigation may be necessary yet “better late than never.”

Respectfully yours,

  1. Dean

Please report results to Commissioner.

The seeds came in May 1869 and Bidwell immediately planted them, with great success.I don’t know what the abbreviation “prs.” means, and maybe I have it wrong.

I have grown Casaba melons in the past, but I didn’t plant any this year, because of the drought. They take a lot of water. Bidwell had his melon field situated at the end of a flume. Here is a picture of a melon I grew. They are delicious — the best!


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How NOT to Treat Historical Materials, or, The Librarian’s Despair

1849-1850 Farm Account for Rancho Chico courtesy Special Collections Meriam Library CSUChico

1849-1850 Farm Account for Rancho Chico courtesy Special Collections Meriam Library CSUChico

DSCN4544 DSCN4545 DSCN4546Here are four pages labeled Farm Account from Rancho Chico for 1849 and 1850. The paper is very brittle and fragile, and I am grateful to George Thompson for allowing me to handle the originals.

The second image here is the reverse side of the first page. Since the pages had been folded in thirds, they were cracking along the fold lines, so someone mended them with Scotch tape. They were probably mended with the tape before they ever came to Special Collections at Meriam Library.

This is so sad! Look how the tape has discolored the page. It probably can’t be taken off now.

The account book starts with Nov. 16, 1849. Paid to Mr. Grry [Grey] $1.53. I am not sure whether that is one dollar and fifty-three cents, or one hundred and fifty-three dollars. Whoever was writing this always seems to put in a dot if the amount is three digits.


Paid to Mr. Potter for Beef 7. Paid for geting wood 2.

Further down the page:

one mule 40.   two horses sold $3.85. Bilding of shed 1.25.

This handwriting is a bit tricky to read. The other side is easier. I don’t think either one is John Bidwell’s hand. He had other men working for him and helping keep the books.

The third page lists Number of Cattle and Horses Sold by R. Newell for the Ranch, and is dated Feb. 12th, 1850. A lot of Bidwell’s business at this time was the buying and selling of cows, oxen, horses, and mules. With a total of $2350 on the sales, it was evidently a good business.

If you ever have any old papers — letters, books, or other documents — and they are cracked and splitting, please please please do not mend them with ordinary scotch tape. Take them to the library and ask about the best way to conserve them. Or just put the pieces in a folder and store them in a safe place. Doing nothing to old papers is better than trying to mend them with the wrong materials.

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The Rubbish of Spiders No Mortal Supposes

I was vacuuming up cobwebs around the windows this morning, and it recalled to mind this phrase:

The rubbish of spiders no mortal supposes

which is a line from The Housewife’s Lament, also known as the The Housekeeper’s Tragedy. or The Poor Old Woman. The entire poem goes like this:oldllady-sweep_mth

One day I was walking, I heard a complaining
And saw an old woman the picture of gloom
She gazed at the mud on her doorstep (’twas raining)
And this was her song as she wielded her broom

Oh! Life is a trial and love is a trouble
And beauty will fade and riches will flee
Pleasures they dwindle and prices they double
And nothing is as I would wish it to be.

There’s too much of worriment goes to a bonnet
There’s too much of ironing goes to a shirt
There’s nothing that pays for the time you waste on it
There’s nothing that last us but trouble and dirt.

In March it is mud, it is slush in December
The midsummer breezes are loaded with dust
In fall the leaves litter, in muddy September
The wall paper rots and the candlesticks rust.

There are worms on the cherries and slugs on the roses
And ants in the sugar and mice in the pies
The rubbish of spiders no mortal supposes
And ravaging roaches and damaging flies.

It’s sweeping at six and it’s dusting at seven
It’s victuals at eight and it’s dishes at nine.
It’s potting and panning form ten to eleven
We scarce break our fast ere we plan how to dine.

With grease and with grime from corner to center
Forever at war and forever alert.
No rest for a day lest the enemy enter
I spend my whole life in struggle with dirt.

Last night in my dreams I was stationed forever
On a far distant isle in the midst of the sea.
My one chance of life was a ceaseless endeavor
To sweep off the waves as they swept over me.

Alas! ‘Twas no dream; again I behold it
I see I am helpless my fate to avert
She lay down her broom, her apron she folded
She lay down and died and was buried in dirt.

Although none of us are making bonnets anymore, and few of us iron shirts (I can remember having to iron my father’s dress shirts though), still some of these troubles remain with us.

The midsummer breezes are loaded with dust — they are if you live across the road from an orchard, like I do. In fall the leaves litter — they still do. There are worms on the cherries if the jays don’t get them first. I don’t have mice in the pies, but we had to set traps for the mice in that were eating our tomatoes.

And if you have a large family or many guests, then the sweeping, victuals, dishes, potting and panning go on and on, so that We scarce break our fast ere we plan how to dine.

So if you ever feel burdened with housework, if you feel that:

Pleasures they dwindle and prices they double
And nothing is as I would wish it to be.

remember that you have something in common with our 19th century sisters.

The poem first appeared in print (unattributed) in a magazine in 1871, and in 1872 was published in Out-of-Door Rhymes by Eliza Sproat Turner. It has been set to music, with the second verse as the chorus. One version by Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen can be heard here.

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The Wimmer Nugget

In this post, I wrote that the first gold nugget found by James Marshall is now in the Smithsonian Institution. Certainly they have one of the first pieces of gold found at Coloma. But another piece of gold has an equally good claim, and that is the Wimmer Nugget, now at the Bancroft Library.

The Wimmer Nugget, on display at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

The Wimmer Nugget, on display at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

I saw the Wimmer Nugget in its display case recently when I went to the Bancroft to do some research. It is about the size of the end of my thumb.

Everyone knows the name of James Marshall, discoverer of gold at Coloma. But how many know the names of Peter and Jennie Wimmer? Yet they have just as good a good claim to be gold discoverers, and Jennie was the only person in the camp who actually had experience in gold mining.

Elizabeth Jane “Jennie” Cloud Wimmer was born In Virginia in 1822. In 1838, when she was 16 yeas old, her family moved to north Georgia where Jennie helped her mother run a boarding house for miners. In her free time Jennie went out with her gold pan to do a little prospecting for herself. She developed a good eye for the signs of gold-bearing ore.

She moved to Missouri with her first husband, and after his death, she and Peter Wimmer married and in 1845 joined a wagon train headed for California. Peter was hired by John Sutter and became James Marshall’s assistant in the building of the sawmill at Coloma. Jennie was hired to cook for the men.

There is some debate whether it was Marshall by himself, or Marshall and Wimmer together, or some other combination that first spotted gold in the tailrace of the mill. But there seems to be no doubt that Jennie Wimmer was the first to test it. Although others were doubtful, thinking that it was only iron pyrites that had been found, she recognized the first nugget as true gold. In an interview published in the San Francisco Bulletin in 1874 she stated: “I said, ‘this is gold, and I will throw it into my lye kettle, and if it is gold, it will be gold when it comes out.'”

Jennie was making soap that day, with lye she had made from wood ashes. She threw the nugget in the kettle with the mixture of lye and grease, and after she took off the soap, the nugget of gold was found in the bottom of the kettle the next morning, just as bright and yellow as when it had gone in.

The fortunes of the Wimmer family fluctuated through the years as those of so many pioneer families. They lived in various locations in California and Jennie Wimmer died in San Diego County around 1885. If you want to read more about her, there is information at a variety of Gold Rush internet sites, such as the Oakland Museum and the Gold Rush Gallery.

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Jennie Megquier — Sewing in San Francisco

Jennie Megquier’s letters from Gold Rush San Francisco record a few interesting notes about clothing. In November 1849 she wrote:

I have starched twenty shirts this evening. I tell you this to give you an idea of the amount of work I have to do. Uncle has given me a whole piece of calico, one of de laine, one balererine. I shall make it all into broad aprons as I cannot get time to make a dress and when they get dirty throw them away that is the order of the day in this rich country.

Calico is a plain weave cotton fabric, and delaine was a lightweight wool fabric with a print. What balererine is I have no idea. It isn’t in any online fabric dictionary, like this one or this. Delaine is the sort of fabric that Jennie would have ordinarily used to make a nice dress, not aprons.

Uncle had some washing done for which they charged six dollars a dozen, they looked so bad, he gave them two dollars to keep them.

Which sounds like a joke, but that’s what Jennie wrote.

A fashion plate from Godey's Lady's Book 1853.

A fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Book 1853.

Later she had more time to sew, and in 1853 wrote:

I was in at Mrs. Calkins today, all well, she and Mrs. Davis are making dresses all the while, I presume they have twenty five in a year, a silk dress lasts but two months at the best. I know not why but everything goes to destruction in a very short time here. . . . I have been making me a brown silk, and next week I am going to make a black one, today I have been making a pink thibet sack trimmed with velvet ribbon but I am sure I do not know when I will wear it.

Thibet was another fine woolen cloth used for making dresses. By a “sack” she probably meant a free-hanging dress with a loose waist.

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Chickens at Rancho Chico

In going through the John Bidwell Papers at the California State Library I came across this note from Edward Shackelford Darlington, a young man who briefly worked for John Bidwell in 1851. He is writing from Sam Neal’s Ranch, just south of Rancho Chico, to remind Bidwell to give the chickens water — just the sort of instruction that nowadays would be communicated by cell phone or email.

Letter courtesy California State Library, John Bidwell Papers.

Letter courtesy California State Library, John Bidwell Papers.

Darlington, who was only 19 or 20, can’t resist spoofing the etiquette of 19th century letters. It looks like something Mark Twain would write.

Here is the text, but the bare text cannot do justice to Darlington’s courtesy and flourishes.

Neal’s Oct. 24th [1851]


I neglected to tell you to have water placed in the chicken coop – also in the small pans around the house. This is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the health of the feathered tribe. – By complying with the requests herein named you will much oblige

Yours very respectfully

with great regard

Your obt servant

in great haste etc.

E. Shackelford Darlington

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