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Title: John M Orr, St. Joseph, U.S.A., to Rev. & Mrs. John Orr, [Portaferry?]
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileOrr, John M/17
SenderOrr, John Malcolm
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender Religionunknown
OriginMissouri, USA
DestinationPortaferry, Co. Down, USA
RecipientRev John Orr and Mrs Orr
Recipient Gendermale-female
SourceCopyright Retained by John McCleery, 80 Circular Rd, Belfast BT4 2GD.
ArchiveThe Ulster American Folk Park.
Doc. No.9701194
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by LT, 15:01:97.
Word Count1149
NoteN.B. John Malcolm died in 1851 (Did various jobs and decided to go west where he expected to do some kind of business)
TranscriptIn Camp near St. Joseph...4th May 1849

My Dear Father & Mother,

In the last letter I wrote home I mentioned
that I intended emigrating to California and now on the
very borders of the civilised part of America I take this
opportunity, the last I fear I shall have for some months of
either writing to or hearing from you we started from
Chicago on Wednesday the 11th of April with a wagon and three
yoke of oxen the first hundred miles we travelled was
terrible the heavy rain that had fallen previous to our
departure had so saturated the low prairie ground on
our route that in some places it was with the greatest
difficulty we got along sometimes, the mud was
axle deep in holes we had to pass over at other times crossing
small rivers when the bridges had been swept off by the spring
freshet we had to stop a day and a half & got to Peru in just
a week from the time we left, shipped on board a steamboat
for St. Louis & got there on Friday [evg?] the 20th ult where we
remained till the Wednesday following when we again
shipped for St. Louis. I must not let pass without a
short description, it is on the western bank of the Missippi
[Mississippi?] eighteen miles below the north of the Missouri
it contains some fifty thousand inhabitants and resembles Belfast
more than any town I have seen in America, houses all
built of brick & stone narrow streets and paved, the
the levee or landing is constantly crowded with steamboats
they run their bows ashore and are packed in so closely
that you could walk half a mile across them, it has not
however got the buildings that Belfast has, it is the old
part like Ann Street & Church Lane that it resembles, it does
a very large business and is a pretty healthy place.
The Missippi [Mississippi?] at St. Louis is almost a mile
wide the water is muddy as you can imagine take a tumbler full
and when it settles you will have ¬ inch pure yellow mud this is
occasioned by the Missouri as the Missippi [Mississippi?] before that
river empties into it is a nice clean stream, we started on the S.B.
Paris from this place some 550 from the mouth of the
Missouri this river is the swiftest and most difficult river to
navigate in the United States, it is in some parts from half mile
to three quarters in width and a sandbar across the channel
changing with every freshet so that the best pilots will run
aground we were aground several times but managed to get
over during freshets the river is constantly washing
away the bank on one side & forming on the other, the
large Cotton wood trees with which the banks are
covered tumbling in on one side and inumerable
snags and & [Sawyers?] which make the river very dangerous
more boats are sunk here than on any other river in the States
from that cause, we passed one wrecked about three weeks ago
on the other side as soon as the bank is out of water it
is covered with a new growth of timber which I am told
will be only ten or twelve years attaining a size
of 15 to 18 inches in diameter so rapid is vegetation
we were seven days coming up sometimes not
running more than ten miles during the night. One
night we were aground most all night and in the
morning there were six boats trying to find a channel
four up and two down the river we got through first
one boat had to go and discharge part of the cargo to
lighten her before she could get over the bar there
have been several cases of what is said to be cholera
on some of the boats one boat from New Orleans with
troops on board had seventeen deaths, we had none
although we had over two hundred passengers on board
there will be as near as I can ascertain from the
best authority some ten or twelve thousand persons going
across the plains this season some twelve hundred wagons have
crossed the river at this point and some three or four
hundred yet remain in the neighbourhood, look in what
direction you may you see the encampments of the [Cal---?]
surrounded with the wagons and teams of oxen or [mules?]
some of them keeping up a constant firing as they are
practising for the [trip?], razors are nearly out of use among
us and mustachioes all the fashion, we have bought a fourth
yoke of oxen today which completes our team, we shall
cross the river tomorrow and make a final start on Monday
as soon as we cross the river we are in the Indian territory
I am writing during my watch from 12 till 3 o'clock and it
is almost up, we keep guard every night now to prevent
oxen straying, as it might be difficult getting them again
we are all well and in the best spirits, eager for a start
and as the grass has got high enough for the cattle we
will lose no time, so I must bid you good bye for
some months, write to the care of E.& R.K. Swift, San
Francisco & to be left till called for at the Post office
5th May, I made arrangements with Thomas Warwick
to take charge of my remaining interest
at Chicago, he will send you the proceeds of it as
soon as he can turn it into cash his present intention
is to come to California next season.
I don't know whether I told you the names of My
companions in my last letter, they are E.G.P. Mittleberg
Edwin Griggs & Myself we go as Orr & Co. we will
start today so fare well for a long time in my
next you will have an account of the country
my love to all at home, Jane Ellen, Margaret, Eliza
& William Henry. I shall write the moment I get to
California but as we intend stopping sometime
at the [mines?] before we go to San Francisco a letter may
not be able to reach you as there will be no postal
conveniences from the [mines?] so be not dissapointed
[disappointed?] if you do not hear as soon as you expect.
Give my best respects to all my friends, if California
stories be true it won't be long till I see them.
I am dear Parents
Your affectionate Son
John M Orr

I wrote to Uncle Robert before
I left Chicago & I sent
you a paper from St. Louis
Tell William Henry I will send him a gold breastpin
all the way from California to wear instead of the brass
one he got in the necklace.