[TWO AUTOGRAPH LETTERS, SIGNED, FROM WILLIAM WILSON TO HIS FAMILY IN SCOTLAND OUTLINING HIS UPCOMING OVERLAND TRIP AND HIS EVENTUAL SETTLING].
St. Louis & Iowa. April 3, 1843 & April 17, 1848. 6pp., each letter docketed on verso of second leaf. Quarto, on a folded folio sheet. Old fold lines. First letter reinforced at a few folds. Some minor loss to sections of folds on second leaf, not affecting text. Minor soiling. Second letter with slight loss at a few folds, affecting a few letters of text. Some light staining and soiling. Very good. A wonderful pair of autograph letters from Scottish emigre William Wilson written to his mother and brother back in Glasgow. In the first letter, dated April 23, 1843, Wilson relates his plans for the next year and a half, working as a carpenter for the American Fur Company traveling up the Missouri and into the Rocky Mountains. At the top of the first letter is a charming drawing of a man driving six oxen pulling a Conestoga wagon. Rich in small details, the sketch also depicts a gravestone by the side of the trail, a familiar sight to travelers on the Great Plains. After the opening family pleasantries, Wilson writes: "I have engaged as Carpenter for 15 months to a coarse but healthy life. I am going up the Rocky Mountains with the American Fur Company. I will only have $10 pr month but I am takeing up a lott of jewelry, beads and ribands to traid with the Indians on my own account, by which I expect to make a little. The company will start on the Omega steamer tomorrow, we will call on all the different towns and forts on the Missouri River, saill up as farr as it is navigable that is 5 miles up the Yellow-Stone River. About 2000 miles then on mules I expect above one thousand miles through the different Indian Nations, feed on nothing but bufflo meet 3 times a day. Traid is very dull in St. Louis, if it is not better when I come down I will either come home or go to South America." He notes that he has sent a parcel along for the family containing various gifts, including a pair of moccasins "or Indian shoes" for his uncle. During Wilson's trip up the Missouri on the Omega, his most renowned fellow passenger was naturalist John James Audubon. Indians fired on the boat, during which time a Scottish passenger who was asleep in his berth was awakened in terror when the bullet entered his cabin. Could that Scot have been William Wilson? As it turns out, instead of heading back to St. Louis or down to South America, Wilson chose to settle on the fertile plains of Iowa. The second letter in this pair is dated Sept. 17, 1848 and is addressed from Richland Township in Jackson County, Iowa. Wilson, now married and a wheat farmer, regrets that he has not been able to pull together the funds to bring his mother and brother over from Scotland. The wet weather of the past year has caused wheat rust, ruining the crops and greatly affecting Wilson's finances. "As for ourselves we have been thinking of trying to borrow some money from some of the speculators, as they are all speculators about here, when they have a few 100 dollars past them, but how can I, when I know not how to pay them. My wheat crop the only cash article of produce, in this country, has been a compliet failure this year...it looked promising till the heads were about half filled when it came on a very wet spell, followed by heavy dews at night, which caused it to be (what we call) struck with the rust, so that the head did not fill any more, and it was not worth cutting....We will have about 25 [bushels] of wheat for flour, as much corn meal, potatoes, and pork as we cane make use off. I expect we will have three milk cows early next spring, besides the 10 acres I have put in Fall wheat I have other 25 ready for Spring crop. If you can possibly raise the means try and come early next spring, as I cannot promice to send anything till after next harvest, and then only if the crops is favourable....I have 20 dollars owing me and I am 18 dollars in debt. I have a few jobs for wet days at fixing waggons, which will gett what little cloathing we need." Despite the debt and cost and hardships, Wilson remains hopeful that somehow his family will find the money to cross the Atlantic and join him in the Midwest: "I thought of building a new house this winter but I am afraid I will not have time as I would like to make and hawl about 2,000 rails for fencing before next spring, however I could soon put an addition to the log cabin which would make it both commodious and comfortable for you and I promise that we will do all that lies in our power to make mother and any one you wish to bring along with you as comfortable as we can." He closes with a post script that reads: "I hope this will be the last letter I will need to write to you, however write soon and let me know how things are going on and when I might expect you here." A wonderful pair of letters describing the hardships faced on the midwestern frontier and illustrated with a splendid firsthand drawing of life on the trail West. Letters from the Overland Trail in 1843 are of great rarity, and the illustration which accompanies it one of the few such.
(Item ID: WRCAM42048) $8,750.00