John Lafferty writes home in 1903

John Lafferty writes home in 1903


This letter written by John Lafferty, Rockhill, Portnablagh who died in California around 1932. He wrote this to his sister Margaret O’Donnell, Dunfanaghy on the 12th August 1903.

My dearest sister,

I take the pleasure of addressing you for a few lines to let you know that I’m still alive. Hoping to find you are enjoying the good blessing though I assure you I feel ashamed to acknowledge that my injustice in not writing home in so long an absence. Its not that for wanting of thinking of you that has caused my neglect in doing so, as I have at different times wrote letters and lost them for fear I would hear bad news that would make me feel bad. I have at last decided to prepare for the worst. So don’t keep any bad news from me as I know my dear mother, father and aunt cannot be alive yet. I dream of them very often, I am sure they must have thought me very ungrateful, I put off writing to them from day to day thinking to send them a present at last it good so that I was ashamed to write.

Dear sister, I suppose William and Molly will never forgive me but I want you to assure them that they are on my mind as the day I left Ireland. I often drop down when I’m alone in the mountains thinking of home and how I have treated all of you. Dear Sister, I suppose by this time you have your family brought up, I often think of Johnny and Mary as they were the only ones born when I left so let me know if you sent Mary to a convent or what kind of education you are giving Johnny. Many times I have thought of sending them a present.

At present my circumstances will not allow but in the near future I will think of them. Dear Sister when I last heard from home I was in Coeur d’Alene county in Idaho. I have several letters from Fergus, I moved from there to Centralia, Washington. I kept in correspondence with him through that winter up til April 1891 or 2. I can’t just remember the year. I left Centralia in that month and went to Butte City, Montano. Writing to him of my going to Butte and telling to answer to Centralia, I also told him that Montano was a good county and if he would wish to come out there I would send for him.

After getting into Butte I wrote several letters to the postmaster in Centralia to send on my mail. I also wrote to him to Fonawan York State, and have never heard from him since. If he has been more grateful than I have in writing home, give me his address and I will write to him. I suppose there are a great many changes since I left there. I often think of Johnny Mullins, Catherine and James O’Donnell, Mary and Denis Hegney – let me know all about them when you write. Also John Duffy and all the people in the country around there, let me know how Edward Lafferty and mistress and give my best to them. And all the people in Rockhill and Faugher.

Dear sister, as I have stated about going to Butte I will let you know my pursuits in life since it will help to take some of the blame off me for not writing home. Not stopping long enough in the one place, often let me from writing. I worked 3 years in the mines of that place, and saved a good deal of money as my wages amounted to over twenty pounds per month in 1894. I went to Virginia City Montano thinking to start a business for myself as the railroad was building to there. There wasnt any mining so I went work in the Placer Mines (a placer mine is a bank of gravel carrying gold nuggets. It is washed out through a sluce course. There were slots nailed across the bottom to catch the gold).

One day when washing down a bank of gravel I had a lock or curl of Jim’s hair that you had sent me as a token. I cherished it, carried it for 33 Creeslough THE VIEW 2022 This letter written by John Lafferty, Rockhill, Portnablagh who died in California around 1932. He wrote this to his sister Margaret O’Donnell, Dunfanaghy on the 12th August 1903. John Lafferty writes home Dawsons Creek. A miner at work on a Placer Mine. four years. It fell from my pocket – I jumped after it and I had not gone 10 seconds, when the bank caved in – I lost the curl but it saved my life. So ever since when I see stream I think of Jim and my first experience of washing gold. Shortly after I concluded that a man working for wages would never get rich so I started out prospecting which keeps me poor ever since. In the summer of ’95 a gold mining excitement stated in Cripple Creek Colorado. A party of us crossed country, a distance of 700 miles by horse back. When we got there the excitement was amassed people had come from all over the country. The camp was booming. The gold in this camp was in a quantity of rock formation which is more valuable than Placer Mines.

Miners were put on the Stock Boards and gambling ruled supreme, hired girls and miners and people of all classes and beggers bet their last dollar win or lose fortunes in one turn of the Stock. So you can tell what a mining excitement in this country. (A stock board for instance is a mine valued by its owner for the one million dollars he incorporates the mass issues one million stocks at a dollar a share per value. There shares are put on the market for sale to obtain money to develop the mine – buyers off a price far below par value, not knowing – the mine may turn out and wanting money to operate the mine, he sells off less than five hundred thousand shares, holding the control himself as the mine is developed stock values were four times their past value providing they have a good rich rock. If not stocks are useless, often he sees he has a rich mine, he leaves assessments on the stock held by the public. To prevent paying dividends stocks fall in value to nearly nothing, he then buys them all in, he get his mine built wins a lot of rich work through, the mill doubles or waters his stocks to two millions. Then they are paying a dividend so he again puts them on the market, sells them at a high price and in a short time makes a fortune, its a crooked game, or in my estimation its a legal way to rob the people. Poor prospectors got rich and many of them sold out claims that were no good too their brokers for stock purposes. Luck however frowned on me. I took down with TyphoidFever and lay 12 weeks in a hospital when I got out. I was a walking skelton, people were dying off with pneumonia so the Doctor advised me to go to a warm climate for the winter. I went to El Paso in Texas. There I spend my last dollar that I earned in Butte mines. One day I was walking around the street counting my last dollar when I met an old time friend of mine. It is an old saying that “A friend in need, is a friend indeed”, I was equal to the occasion.

He was a native of Germany and superintendent in a big job in Old Mexico. He took me along with him, giving me a job as a night watchman. It was a god send, as I was very weak, good care and the nice climate soon brought me around alright. I soon got to be Time Keeper at a small salary, but I did not come for that. The natives of that country one of Spanish ancestory slightly mixed with Indian blood. They are very dark skinned although the young girls are very handsome. As I was the only single white man they ever saw and being well dressed – something they are not used to there – I was afraid to go out at night as the young girls might kidnap me, I am thinking now that I let the only chance pass that I’ll ever had to get married! Should the opportunity prevail again I would promise to become a good citizen of Mexico as some of them are very rich and don’t know how to spent it. Before leaving the county I went to a new camp called La Canenea. It was owned by an Irish American called Colenal William C. Greene. I got a job there as head timberman in the mines. My salary amounted to as much as forty pounds a month in English money so I soon got money enough to go to Klondike – I suppose you have saw all about it in the papers.

I started in March ’98 on the trip for that place one that was much longer and harder than going back to Ireland. It was 1200 miles to San Francisco by railroad. SF is a city over four hundred thousand population up to date in every particular. I was there once before in ’88 but its changed much and I didnt know it. The home of the rich Irish that ever crossed the Atlantic and theres lots of them. The old, the best part of this great city. Fr. Peter Christopher Yorke one of the best speakers lives there. He is a great friend of the Union Labour and the poor. He is so well respected by all classes that his weight carries the election of San Francisco.

He was born in Ireland and travelled all over the West, he lectures in Irish societies from San Francisco. I took a boat to Seattle in the State of Washington, from my boat to Skagway a distance of 1800 miles from SF. Here is where the troubles begin – everything needed in the line of food and a years provisions had to be taken from this point, there was not conveyance only a pack on your back for a distance of 25 mile over a snow clad mountain 3,000 feet high. You can figure how long it would take to get a ton over this perilous journey. To the head of navigation, one morning there came a snow slide from the top of the mountain killing over 125 people. I had just passed there on my last trip the night before. On reaching Lake Lindeman I had to cross a chain of lakes 190 miles, to a 50 mile river, 25 miles down the river we came to what I thought the worlds end and the most beautiful scenery I ever saw. The river had cut its way through solid rock half a mile the walls of this narrow channel stood 300 feet high and the smooth and straightened masonery the water rushed from both sides of the sea 5 high in the centre, in the entrance is a rock called Miles Canyon.

I believe Paddy Miles was the first man to go through. He came to Squaw Rapids (a name given to Indian warrior) them into white horse rapids. This terrible body of water goes through a narrow channel 30 feet wide and falls 10 feet straight down. It causes great seas we went through like a ball from a rifle. Paddled safe to Whele House Town a mile below. There is six pilots taking boats there are four Irish men, two Canadians one of them told me they average eighteen pounds per day the gunner before four pound per hour boat from April to November. So you tell how many people went to this excitement before river steamers coming up river from St. Michaels. After that we went on to the head of the Yukon river four hundred miles from Klondyke. Here we were further north to see the sun, day and night – no darkness. It did not take long to go to Dawson – there was five of us in the boat – we took four bags of blacksmith coal for another party. He sold it at eighty pounds per ton. Dawson is a town at the mouth of the Klondkye mountain. The centre of many creeks leaden with gold. I got in a year too late to get any ground so I went to work at two pound per day but at this I could not save money as everything was so dear and it soon ate up my earnings. Potatoes cost 7 pounds per cwt, eggs 4 shilling a piece, a pair of shoes cost 2 pounds, whiskey cost 2 and 6…. everything else accordingly so you can see it was not cheap.

After I started out again next spring on a prospecting trip to Alaska 500miles from Dawson it was a trip of many hardships without success to long to relate. Dear Sister … from the work a much poor man only to go to work in Northern California . I prospected that state through the mountains for the last year and landed here three months ago. I only worked 20 days when we went out on strike for an increase in wages and a reduction of hours. We are now out ten weeks and may not go to work before the New Year. If we win I will settle down here. The majority of the miners are Irish men. We are well organised and can live 20 years in case it is necessary as my headquarters ………… us, we have…. … over the country so no matter where anyone goes we have lots of friends. It is a good thing to belong to incase of sickness. We get $10 per week (two pounds).

Dear Sister, I must now come to a close hoping to hear good news from you in short time. If father and mother are alive tell them not to fret about me as I’m enjoying the best of health. I can’t find words to explain my desire at present, remembering me to Ed and Jamie Friel and Molly Ferry and all friends in Dunfanaghy. No more at present I remain your affectionate brother, with best wishes to mother, father, William, Molly, James, yourself and family.

John Lafferty, Searchlight, Lincoln County, Nevado, USA.