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Historically Interesting Original Letter by George Watkins, Montana’s Pioneer Gold Miner and Farmer, Writing to his Sister in Hainesville (now Parkland), IL, Talking about the Brand-New Gold Diggings on Snake River and a “Very Steady” Former “Negro” Slave Striking it Rich; also with Notes about the Overall Scarcity of Money and his Early Farming Activities. Virginia City, Montana: 4 March 1869.



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Quarto bifolium (ca. x cm. or x in). 3 pages of text. Brown ink on yellowish brown lined wove paper. With the original envelope (ca x cm. or x in), addressed to “Miss Mathe Watkins,” and with an ink postal stamp and postal mark. Fold marks, envelope slightly soiled, but otherwise a very good letter, written in a legible hand.

Historically interesting autograph manuscript letter from the pioneer days of Virginia City (f. in 1863), Montana, talking about the discovery of new gold mines on Snake River.

Virginia City was founded in June 1863, when the gold discovery near Alder Creek sparked the rapid establishment of a mining district. By the 1880s, the depletion of easily-extracted placer gold led to a significant decline in population as disillusioned prospectors moved away.

The author, George S. Watkins (ca. 1837-1931), originally from Jessamine County, Kentucky, was Virginia City’s pioneer gold miner and the celebrated "cattle king of Madison County." Watkins arrived in Virginia City on June 2, 1864, and after several years, moved to Madison Valley, where he dedicated himself to farming and stock raising. Watkins purchased thousands of acres, including much of the Madison basin, and established a summer cow camp complete with two large cabins and extensive corrals. In 1898, he began downsizing his holdings when the Madison Dam flooded his ranch near Ennis and eventually sold all his property.

In the letter to his sister, George shares the latest news from Virginia City, including the recent discovery of new gold mines in the nearby areas. He emphasizes the excitement over the fresh gold diggings on Snake River (likely Shoshone Falls) and complains that the snow is too deep for the local boys to go there (Gold was discovered below Shoshone Falls on Snake River in 1869 but quickly diminished, leading many mining claims to be sold or abandoned). George also expresses high hopes for his own success in Montana and mentions F. Miller’s former slave, “a very well-behaved negro,” who returned home after making a fortune in the West. The rest of the letter includes notes about the author’s livestock trade and the general scarcity of money. Overall, historically interesting autograph manuscript letter from the pioneer days of Virginia City, Montana.

The text of the letter: “I was very glad indeed to receive a letter form you a short time since I would like to see you all very much and see how every thing looks in Mo now I believe every thing would look strange and different from what it did when I left. I imagine sometimes that I am at home and also I have dreamed that I was at home and then wake find it was but a dream. You always in every letter ask me to come home and when I am coming home Well I will be apt to come home sometime but I don’t know now exactly when I will come home. I heard the other day that a negro who formerly belonged to F. Miller had gone home I think he made considerable money out here he is a very steady and well behaved negro.

We have had the most splendid weather during this entire winter that ever fell to the lot of mortals to see in any country the sunny land of Stila not expected, the cattle all look well and fat, this winter has been a perfect summer for stock there has been only a few days that the thermometer has stood at 5 degree below zero.

Times are rather dull in there parts now money is scarce and stock is high. I bought a lot of stock and am going out to the valley today to receive it. I think I have got 400 dollars the best of the trade. There is considerable excitement here about new mines in various parts of the country. The last excitement is good diggings struck on snake river about 140 miles from VA City. The snow on the range is too deep to go there now. I hope the mines on snake river are good it will be every thing for the boys in this country.

I am keeping Givery and feed stalls in Virginia City now. I have now over two hundred tons of hay I will have steams drawing hay into VA on a few days.

Ask John if he can play checkers. Tell him I play a good game now that is my only amusement in town almost. I was sorry to hear of cousin Mary Jane – continued illness. It must be dreadful to be sick all the time. You You must give my love to all and I remain as ever your affectionate brother.” 

Item #MB65
Price: $950.00