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Title: John K. Orr, Sacramento, USA, to His Parents, Co.Down
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileOrr, John M/153
Year1840 (prob. 1850)
SenderOrr, John Malcolm
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender Religionunknown
OriginSacramento, California, USA
DestinationPortaferry, Co. Down, USA
RecipientRev John Orr
Recipient Gendermale
SourceT3103/7: Presented by Mrs Margaret Orr Herriott, Portaferry, Co Down.
ArchiveThe Public Record Office, Northern Ireland
Doc. No.9501227
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by LT, 20:01:1995.
Word Count2209
NoteN.B. John Malcolm died in 1851 (Did various jobs and decided to go west where he expected to do some kind of business)
TranscriptSacrimento [Sacramento?] City, Cal.,1st Nov. 1840

My dear Father and Mother,
It is now so long since I have had an opportunity of
writing to you or of hearing from you, that I scarce know how
to commence my letter, this is the third that I have attempted
I commenced the others with a description of the rout [route?]
from the States here, but found that it would require a quire of
paper to hold it, it will suffice to say that I arrived in the
Northern part of the Sacrimento [Sacramento?] Valley on the 3rd ult.,[?]
after a long, tiresome and disagreeable journey, safe and well.
having had no sickness of any account,except one attack of desentry
[disentry?] which lasted about a week, I would not
go back the overland rout [route?] to the States for less than œ100
a year for life, there has been a great deal of sickness on the way,
the latter part of the emigration suffered severely from cholera on
the Platte afterwards from fevers and dissentery [disentry?], and on
the latter end of the rout [route?] hundreds died of scurvy, our
mess did not agree very well so Mittleberger the Canadian left us at
South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, Griggs my other partner was
attacked with scurvy, but has got better, on the latter end of the
rout [route?], one oxen stood the journey well, we only lost one out
of six, but picked up another that supplied his place, of the whole
journey of 2400 miles by our rout [route?]
it is as I have said impossible to give a description
in a single letter, but I can give you some idea of it by taking it
in parts, the first part is from the Missouri river to the Black or
Laramie Hills, we left the Missouri at old Fort Kearing travelled
over 100 miles of country resembling your neighbourhood in
appearance but rather little water, and then struck the Platte River
good grass and water, for 150 miles to New Fort Kearing the road is
very good and level, at this place the roads from the different
starting points came in here, and here we saw for the first time the
great tide of the emigration nothing to be seen but wagons pouring
in from all directions with there long teams of four and six. Yoke
of oxen, some 2500 wagons were ahead of us here on the 30th May,
from this to Fort Laramie some 300 miles the roads still continue
along the valley of the Platte, this river I may say is from one to
two miles wide in many places very rapid and muddy coloured and in
most seasons fordable, but this year there was too much snow and
rain. for that, the valley on the south side is from one to five
miles wide this is the way most of the emigration came the north
valley is from three to ten miles wide, plenty of excellent grass on
either side, it was there at night you could see camp fires as far
as the eye could reach,and during the day wagon following wagon for
miles without a break in the line, there was generally three or four
men with each wagon, had any stranger seen us and not known what we
were it would have put his wits to the test to tell what we were,
not more than one out of six ever had a razor on his face from the
time of starting and each man generally travelled with his rifle on
his shoulder pistols and knife in his belt, a red or blue flannel
shirt and an old pair of pantaloons was generally the prevailing
fashion of dress, some few sported a check shirt outside the
flannel, and about one fourth of this motley crowd was mounted on
horses or mules and I forgot to say every man with long boots
outside his pants, when the emigrants got to New Fort Kearing they
began to see that they had loaded their wagons too heavily so
commenced lightning up, from here to Laramie seldom a day passed
that we did not pass tons of Flour, Bacon, Hardbread, Beans
sometimes Sugar and Molasses Trunks Boxes of all kinds and in fact
everything that a man was likely to take with him, strewn by the
side of the road, on this part of the Platte we generally had a
thunder storm every evening, from Laramie we crossed the Black
hills, 80 miles over a very hilly road, water good, but very little
grass, it is here that the plant Artemesia Tridentate takes the
place of grass, for miles there is nothing else except on the narrow
valley of a river or a stream, this plant resembles lavender in
appearance smells strongly of Turpentine, and is only fit to burn,
oxen wont eat it from here we ascend up a gradual ascent to the
summit of the Southern Pass of Rocky Mountains, 230 miles, Artemesia
continues plenty, roads hilly, salacratus is abundant [and?] in
some places impregnants [impregnates?] the water so much that cattle
die after drinking it, we had to give our oxen occasional doces
[doses?] of fat Pork on this part of the rout [route?] to neutralize
the acid not a day passed us without seeing from twenty to forty and
sometimes more, lying dying in and near the road, from the Pass to
Big Sandy river some 50 miles the country does not improve much from
this to Green River, the head of the Colorado, 52 [1/2?] miles there
is not a drop of water, we went through without stopping in twenty
hours from this place to Hambolt river there is good feed along the
river but the whole extent of country from the Rocky Mountains to
the Sierra Nevada is a barren desert unfit for cultivation and which
will never be peopled except by the few indians who now reside there
and find a living by hunting the Antelope and eating roots, the
largest valley in this region is that of the Great Salt and Utah
lakes here the Mormons or latter day saints, a queer kind of saints
they are, have settled, there are some doubts whether they will be
able to remain this whole region is from 5000 feet to 7000 feet
above the level of the sea. from the time we left the Platte till
[until?] we got to California a distance of nearly 1800 miles we had
not a shower of rain that would wet a [----ne?], the atmosphere is
very dry the days are hot and the nights cold without dew, yet there
was snow all the time in sight sometimes within a few feet of the
road would be some ravines full, not yet melted, it keeps long here,
freezing so hard at night that the sun scarcely melts the crust of
ice during the day, we had a good deal of fresh meat along the road,
Antelope Black tailed [deer?] Grouse of different kinds, ducks to.,
I had not the good fortune to kill a Buffalo, I only saw two or
three live ones on the road, this last part of the road mentioned is
about six hundred miles long, by the usual rout [route?], the road
is along the Humbolt river its whole length 300 miles this is the
principal river of the Great Interior Basin of America, whose waters
sink instead of running into the sea,as they cannot get through the
Sierra Nevada range of Mountains except in two places, the River
Colarado at the Gulf of California and the Columbia river in oregan
[Oregan?], the head waters of both, which rise in the Wind River
chain of the Rocky mountains, the Humbolt is generally said to have
good grass its whole lenght but this year was an exception, grass
was good for 80 miles, the next 120 it was tolerable in places and
from that on there was none, we left the river 50 miles from the
sink and took the southern origon [Oregan?] road said to be better,
here we had a desert of 50 miles to cross before we could find any
grass. and water only once on the way hundreds of oxen died here,
the heat, the dust and the fatigue of travelling together with an
empty stomach was too much for numbers that were already worn out by
travelling 50 miles on the Humbolt, and nothing to eat but willows
and rushes, this has to be made in one stretch, we started about 5
o'clock in the afternoon travelled all night next day about noon we
got to the water, there was a very scanty supply in some half dozen
wells, it took about two hours to get enough for the cattle to drink
next morning about 4 o'c. [4 o'clock?] we got to hot spring valley,
water bad and for a long distance we had nothing but boiling water,
in the springs, it was hot enough to cook Beef Pork, make Tea or do
anything with, if a washwoman could only get one of these springs in
the States she would make a fortune in no time, some of the largest
are 16 feet in diameter and about as deep quite a curiosity from
this to the summit of the Sierra is about 350 miles a good deal of
hot water all the way, little alteration on the face of the County
Hills covered with Artemesia, I do hate the very name of it and hope
I will never see much more of it, and some scanty grass by the bank
of the streams, from the summit to the Sacremento Valley is over 300
miles more and the road would surprise you, I could not have
supposed it possible for a wagon to have travelled on such a road,
some places it is about straight up and down, we lock all four
wheels at such places, keep only one yoke of oxen on to steer it
down,then there is at least 200 miles covered with rocks from the
size of a mans head to six feet through, this is the place that
broke the wagons and use up the oxen, thousands were left on this
rout [route?] unable to come any further.
Sacramento City is the first town of California I have seen, three
months ago there was not 50 persons here now it has at least 3000
inhabitants, the houses or rather tents are mostly canvas in shape
of a house some are covered with Tin Zinc,sheet iron &c., lumber is
worth $500 per 1000 feet, there are a few houses of adobies or sun
dried brick, a heavy business is done here the Sacramento is full of
vessels, a propeller [propellor?] has arrived a few days ago and is
now playing between this and San Francisca [San Fransisco?]
provisions are high flour $15 to $17 per 100lbs. Potatoes 40 cents a
pound dried fruit 60 cents, onions $100 a pound,[sic] Boarding $25 a
week, wages for common working men $8 to $10 per day - sugar is
worth from 18 cents to 30 cents. I am for the mines immediately we
have laid our winter provisions and hope to get as much gold dust as
will pay our coming herem [here?] writs to Sacramento City, I have
not heard from you since I left the States, I expect your letter are
not lying somewhere here for me.
Of California I cannot say much this is the worst part of it and
the worst season to see it in just the end of the dry season when
everything is parched and the grass eaten up by the large herds of
wild cattle that are here.
Wishing that this may find you all in as good health as it leaves
me I must conclude sending my love to you all, Jane, Ellen, Margaret
and Eliza I want to have a long letter or letters from you giving
all the news of the last eight months, William Henry I expect has
grown a big fellow by this, I must have a gold breast pin for him,
as I heard he is fond of jewellery when I see him, and I hope it
will not be long before I do.
My best respects to all my friends I hope James Warnock has got
better of his rheumatism, give my respects to the family Mrs Walsh
would not I think be pleased if I did not enquire for her, her
stockings wear well. remember me to Mrs M'Kibben and Mrs & Miss
Donnan, Mr M'Cleery's family, I must not forget to enquire for, I
hope they ar [are?] all well. I often wonder what changes will be in
Portaferry if I ever live to see it, you will not find much change
in me only a little darker
coloured and thinner, I only weigh 147lbs. I used to be 156lbs.
Ballybun and Bootan folks and Uncle Malcoms family will no doubt be
glad to hear I am well and almost any person here can do well who
wishes and who goes to work in earnest here.
I am dear Parents,
Your son,
John M. Orr.