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Title: John Orr, California, to Jane Orr, Portaferry.
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileOrr, John M/25
SenderOrr, John Malcolm
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationminer (gold digging?)
Sender Religionunknown
OriginSacramento, California, USA
DestinationPortaferry, Co. Down, USA
RecipientOrr, Jane
Recipient Genderfemale
SourceCopyright Retained By John McCleery, 80 Circular Road, Belfast, BT4 2GD
ArchiveThe Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh.
Doc. No.9701190
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by LT, 15:01:97.
Word Count1600
NoteN.B. John Malcolm died in 1851 (Did various jobs and decided to go west where he expected to do some kind of business)
TranscriptSacramento City, Cal [California?], 7th Aug 1850

My dear Jane Ellen

I expected before this to have
had a letter from you giving me an account of your
travels in Scotland and how you liked the land & cakes,
but have not as yet had that pleasure, the second and
last letter that I got from home was from father
on the 29th June which said you were in Scotland.
perhaps you may have directed to Stockton, if so
I shall soon have the letter as I will write to the
Postmaster to day. I feel a little anxious to hear from home
as the letters I get are so few, dont let the expense to me
be a hinderance [hindrance?] to you writing, for it is
nothing in California.
I hope my letters have arrived more regularly than yours
and I know you all feel anxious about me in this golden
country. There has been some serious riots here last week,
between those who claim the land here, and squatters on the
land who believe the land, belongs to the United States
government on wednesday there were four men killed, one
speculator and three squatters and the Mayor of the City it
is feared mortally wounded, and a squatter dangerously - on
Thursday the Sheriff was killed & three squatters, besides
some on both sides wounded. since then they have been quiet
and I hope will remain so dont feel at all alarmed about me
as I have no desire to mingle in any of the fights but will
endeavour to keep out of ball range if any thing of the sort
is likely to occur again which I hope will not be the case
I dont think that I have yet given you a description of
California nor could I in fact do so without having seen it
at all seasons nor can I now describe any but the Sacramento
valley. The City of San Francisco is by all accounts the
most disagreeable place to live in that can be; I never have
been there, but in winter the streets are impassable from
mud and in Summer from dust, and it is cold enough for an
overcoat all the year, and the bay is so large that it is
not a safe harbour, several vessels are ashore & sunk.
With the name of valley is associated the idea of a fine
extent of beautiful land, covered with fine trees, grass &c
when in a state of nature, now nothing of the sort is
vissable [visible?] here, the valley of the Sacramento is
large enough but is for the most part a barren waste, in
the immediate vicinity of the river a tract of ground of
from 1/4 of a mile to a mile wide is very low and is mostly
overflowed at high water this is covered with good grass and
the banks with a rather scanty growth of Oak, Sycamore and
Willow early in spring the country has a beautiful
appearance the grass on the bottom land is green and from
that up to the rocks on the mountains is covered with a
[variagated?] carpet of the gayest coloured flowers, while
the small ravines in the hills are covered with Clover and
wild oats - the chapperal [chaparral?] of the Sierra is thin
in flower and the last rains of the season make every thing
look fresh. but a few short weeks and all is changed, the
rains are over the surface of earth is parched with heat of
the sun, the flowers are withered, and nothing meets the eye
for miles but an unbroken surface of red, dusty, barren soil
covered with the withered stalks of the scanty herbage that
so short a time before was so beautiful, the dust on the
roads is now a terrible annoyance, the sun is hot and
scorching when not mitagated [mitigated?] by the breeze
which comes from the bay. the immence [immense?] numbers of
horses mules & cattle now fed on these bottoms, together
with the hay cut, which wont grow again till rain, comes,
makes even them look parched and dry, this continues till
December when the rain sets in in earnest, and in a few days
makes the ground that was as hard as burned brick, so soft
that walking on it is a very fatiguing and muddy opperation
[operation?] of the beautiful blue cloudless sky you have
heard of as the special canopy of this land, rivaling Italy
in its beauty & serenity it is all nonsence [nonsense?], the
sky is for the most part without clouds and certainly most
monotonous, then the colour instead of the clear blue of an
Italian sky. I judge by reading of it is a kind of washed
out grey, pretty much as it looks at Portaferry when there
is a thin mist and the atmosphere so hazy that the tall
ranges of the Sierra nevada & Coast Hills are either
invisable [invisible?] or look as fog banks at sea during
the day; Sunrise however is generally a beautiful sight,
the snow clad hights [heights?] reflecting the first rays of
the beautiful luminary and looking like a sheet of silver in
the distance; day succeeds night rapidly and darkness, light
there is no twilight, with the suns departing rays the stars
begin to glimmer and night is on. California is as rich in
insects and reptiles, as in precious metals, of the former
every possible variety from the little gnat, that you can
scarcely see, but which is a perfect plague during the end
of June & beginning of July to the large hornet musketoes
are as bad as in the Mississippi, and ants in
the mines are a torment, then of the reptiles we have rattle
snakes and snakes of many other kinds, scorpions, centipedes
with lizards & toads in endless variety, then we have the
Grizzly Bear, Panther, Cougar &c, deer, Elk & Antelope, and
of the feathered race, particularily [particularly?]
waterfowl, there is any quantity
then the Inhabitants are as diversified as all the others
together there are some from almost every country here on
search for the yellow metal, Queen Vics [Victoria's?]
dominions have sent forth a large number and from all parts,
Australia has contributed largely, India, Canada, and I
believe all the British dominions have sent some, France,
Spain Germany, & all the European dominions, China, Sandwich
Islands & South American nations are largely represented,
almost every language on earth is spoken here, and all the
religions on the globe have professors here - Women are the
only scarce people that is here, in a city of some 10,000
Inhabitants, you will not see more than twelve or twenty
women in a day there are only about 300 in whole city. I had
a letter from T Warnock some time since which stated that he
was coming here overland and Mr Griggs had a letter from his
wife saying he had started he has not arrived yet, but I
hope will soon. I dont like the Country much, and the life
we lead a great deal less, having to be our own cooks, to do
our own washing &c I have got quite reconciled to lying on
the ground with a Buffalo skin under me indeed anything
softer is uncomfortable, this is also a great country for
making money for the last 10 weeks I have made $20 per day -
œ4.00 if a person could do that & stick to it at home he
would soon get rich but expences [expenses?] are very high
here but not in proportion to what they are at home - œ100
a year is thought first rate at home, I have made it in a
month here, but of the numbers who are coming this season,
who know nothing of the country, or what to do
discouraged because their great expectations of the mines
will not be realized, many will be worse off than at home
and others having the means to go home, will start off
immediately disgusted with the country - but necessity will
soon drive those who have to stay behind to earn their bread
at something as they neither can nor will be supported for
nothing here - I have now written you a long letter on California & it is
time to inquire about my friends. I hope that Father,
Mother, you and rest of the family are continuing to enjoy
good health, give my love to Grandmother, Uncle Robert & all
my uncles, aunts, & cousins & remember me to Mrs Welch, Mr &
Mrs McCleery & family and all my other Portaferry friends,
dont forget Mr Warnock & James, and the ladies - I should
like to see you all very much If that is scarcely possible
for some time yet. I have now been three years left home, I
often think of you all as I left you and the changes that
will be when I see you again, should God spare us all to
meet, as I trust he will, ere long -
as far as regards myself, California agrees with me very
well and I enjoy good health, although I should not care
how soon I left it if I only had enough of the gold -

I am dear Sister
Your Affect. [Affectionate?] Brother
John M Orr
I dont think I am getting any better at penmanship

26th Aug [August?] 1850
Arch [Archibald?] & Thomas Warnock have
got in to [Hangtown?], 40 Miles from
here, I am going up tomorrow, all well,

Miss Orr
Co Down