TRUMAN STATE UNIVERSITY Pickler Memorial Library Truman State University

Musdp Collection B1 

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This collection consists of approximately 130 documents from the Biswell family of Randolph & Linn Counties, MO. The items were part of a gift to The EM Violette Museum by the Will of Susie Lee Clark (1887-1948) and include letters, financial documents, military papers from the early 1800s and newspapers containing family obituaries. The bequest also included her piano, parlor organ and other three-dimensional artifacts, as well as a collection of late 19th century sheet music (see Musdp Ms Collection C1).

Miss Clark, a native of Brookfield, MO, was the daughter of James W and Bettie Leah (Biswell) Clark and the granddaughter of Jonathan Huff Biswell (1830-1903), the young man who wrote most of the collection’s “Gold Rush” letters. She was a  teacher in the Brookfield public schools as well as a piano teacher who gave private lessons in her home. Miss Clark attended summer sessions at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College during the 1920s and was awarded the Bachelor of Science in Education and life teaching certificate in 1931.


B1/1   “GOLD RUSH” LETTERS  from brothers Jonathan H and Norvell B Biswell to their parents, John & Rebecca Biswell, and family in Huntsville, Randolph County, MO
[note: Jonathan signed both his and his brother Norvell’s names to most of the letters he wrote]
  1:1 Jonathan H Biswell, enroute to California, Apr-May 1850
    » Plattsburg, Clinton Co, MO, 16 Apr 1850, postmarked Plattsburg, 19 Apr: discusses produce prices, naming the new baby James, the trip so far: mentions Ahert, Tawyer & traveling companion William
» Tarkio, Holt Co, MO, 26 & 27 Apr 1850, mailed 29 Apr: describes scenery & crowded conditions in St Joseph, plans for next stages of travel; mentions Tawyer, Anny, Dr Howard & traveling companions Jeremiah B & Norvell B
» Fort Kearney, 19 & 20 May 1850: discusses group with whom they’re traveling, travel conditions, stampede & recapture of cattle, the Platte River & meeting Indians; mentions William (Billy), Norville, Uncles James Belshe & Norvill, little Tawyer
  1:2 Jonathan H Biswell from California gold fields, 1850
    » Hang Town, CA, 4 Aug 1850, mailed from Placerville, 9 Aug: discusses arrival in CA, prices of food & supplies, health of companions; mentions Norville B, Jeremiah, William, Hamilton, Withers & the folks in Sacramento, Uncle Amos & Joseph Biswell
Hang Town, CA, 8 Aug 1850: discusses travel experiences on the plains, preparations for mining; mentions Jeremiah B, William P, Norville, Mr Cleveland, Terry Little, John Dameron, Hamilton, Withers, Francis Hammet, Qualls Coats, Harris, Uncle Amos, Joseph B, Anna & Gideon
» North Fork of American River, 22 Sept 1850, to Uncle Robert Belshe: discusses the scenery, conditions in the gold fields, amount of gold they’re finding; mentions brother Norville B, Father, Aunt Betsy Hains, Grandfather & “your brother in California”
» Greens Woods Valley, CA, 9 Nov 1850: reports death of Cousin Harvey N Biswell from typhoid; describes scenery & gold fields; mentions deaths of Uncle Amos Wright (heard from Cousin Gideon Haines) & William Cleveland; mentions brother Norville, John Danvel, John Wright, William Terry, Cousin Jeremiah B Clarkson, William P, Uncle Gideon Wright, William A, James F, Grandfather Wright, Uncle Jonathan W, Uncle Norville B, James Belshe; PS addressed to sisters Mary F & DM Biswell
  1:3 Jonathan H Biswell from California gold fields,1851
    » Louisville, Green Wood Valley, CA, 26 Jan 1851: mentions marriage of Aunt Betsy Haines to Mr Sims, Uncle Thomas Biswell’s new church, brother Norville, Cousin Joseph, Franklin Arnett, Cousin Jeremiah B Clarkson & William P; note signed Joseph B Biswell added to end of Jonathan’s letter
» Greenwood Valley, CA, 23 Feb 1851: discusses claim on north fork of American River held by himself, brother Norville, Uncle Thomas Biswell, Joseph, Franklin Arnett; mentions Uncle Robert Belshe, William, Cousin JB, Wm P Clarkson, John D Cleveland
» North Fork, American River, 10 Aug 1851: mentions visits from Jerry & Billy Clarkson & Cousin David Haines, death of John Dameron, Uncle Dunlin’s return home; also, cousins Gideon Haines, G Wright, Uncle Thomas Biswell
Eldorado County, CA, 12 Sep 1851, to Sisters Mary F & Dilly M Biswell: describes scenery & their log cabin; heard Nancy Yates has married; mentions brother Norville, Abraham H “Abe” Rice, Cousin John Wright, Cousin Gideon Wright, Cousin Gideon Haines, William Belshe, Joseph Terry, Cousin Jerry Clarkson, John D Cleveland, William P Clarkson, Joseph B, Uncle Thomas Biswell, Mrs Cleveland, Lisy Hideman & her husband, Uncle Bluford Sims, Cousin Dunlin, Uncle Dunlin Wright, Grandfather, John Biddle, Uncle Thomas Wright, James, Uncle James Belshe & Aunt Dilly, Mr Dysant, Uncle John Clarkson, Sarah E Clarkson & Margaret  [note: this letter has broken along the creases; it has been encapsulated and stored flat with over-size items; photocopy in file]
» Placer County, CA, 26 Oct 1851: discusses amount of money he can send home & his 21st birthday next Wednesday; mentions brother Norville, John Wright & Gideon Wright
  1:4 Jonathan H Biswell from California gold fields, 1852
    » Auburn, CA, 4 Jan 1852: is working for $4 a day wages & board; it’s winter, no one is doing much; asks Father to collect $75 owed him by Dr Howard when he gets home; mentions brother Norville, William P Clarkson, Cousin Joseph B, Cousin Gideon Haines, William Belshe, John Wright, Gideon Wright, Evins Haines, Cousin JB Clarkson, Cousin Daniel Hanes, Joseph Allen, Mr Allen, death of Frances Gray, Mr Gray & family
» Auburn, CA 21 Mar 1852: doing well in the mines; mentions brother Norville, William Belshe, William Clarkson, JB Clarkson, John Wright, Gideon Wright, Gideon Haines, Brother Joseph Biswell
» Auburn, Placer County, CA, 13 Apr 1852:
describes water problems & beautiful scenery; Norville is sending a check for you to take care of for us & Dr John Howard’s $75 note to be collected; mentions William Belshe, Brother John, Uncle Thomas Biswell, Uncle Jonathan H, Cousin Dunlin Wright, Uncle James, Uncle Robert, James Wright’s marriage, Mary Patton, Mary G Gray, Nancy McKinney
» Auburn, CA, 9 May 1852: sent money & Dr JH Howard’s note with William D Malone who started home yesterday; mentions Norville; PS addressed to Mary & Dilly
» Spanish Flat, CA, 11 Oct 1852: things are “dead” at the moment, supply prices are high; sent a draft with Isaac Giles of Randolph; mentions Cousin Gideon Wright, Cousin John Wright, Cousin Gideon Haines, Brother Norville, Jerry & William P “Billy” Clarkson, William Belshe, Uncle James Belshe, Mr Malone; receipt for draft signed by Isaac Giles included
» Auburn, Placer County, CA 10 Nov 1852: John D Cleveland doing nothing but gambling; Sacramento City burned the night of the Presidents election & provisions are high on account of it; mentions Norville, Gideon Haines, Gideon Wright, John Wright, William Belshe, William P Clarkson, Jerry, the Misses Cleveland
  1:5 Norville B Biswell from California, 1850-1852, 1863
    » Greenwood Valley, CA, 30 Nov 1850: discusses cost of provisions & living conditions (beginning of rainy season, abundant game); mentions Brother Jonathan, Uncle Thomas Biswell; death of Cousin Harvey N Biswell, brother John B, cousin Benjamin, William A Biswell; PS addressed to Mary & Dilly [note: handwriting changes middle of 1st page; Norville dictating to Jonathan?]
» North Fork American River, 23 Nov 1851: to brothers; mentions Joseph Biswell, Jonathan, Gideon Wright, Dock[?], Widdle
» Placer County, CA, 6 Dec 1852: provisions high since Sacramento City burned down; mentions brother Jonathan, WP Clarkson, John Wright, Gideon Wright, G Haines, John Cleveland, uncle Jack & aunt Betsy Clarkson, Gideon, Mary, Dilley, Young, Widdle
Sac[ramento] City, CA, 29 Nov 1863; with envelope to Mrs Rebecah Biswell, Fort Henry, MO; postmarked Sacramento, Cal, Dec 1 1863: have been here a month & not able to work; went security for H Hawkins but he left for parts unknown so had to pay $450, sell my livestock and am now broke; please send money [note: seems to be asking that some of his own money be sent, not a loan from his mother]; mentions the Campbells, John Wright; his four girls, baby July, Mary Francis, Becky, Elen; Aunt Polly, ___ Turner; Dick & Jim Turner; Widdle
  2:1 Robert Woolforth, Jefferson County [KY], to Capt Jeremiah Biswell, 1804, 1810-11
    » To Biswell, Washington County near Spring Field, 6 Oct 1804: discusses sale of corn crop & sale of Biswell’s land to Woolforth; mentions MacDonnell, Young, Irons[?]
» To Biswell, Chick Creek Washington County, carried by Mr Cowen, 15 July 1810: please sell the rent from Young’s & my places & send what money you owe me by Mr Cowen; mentions Captains McKelrich, McDansul, McKittrick, Major McDonnell, Graves

» To Biswell, Washington County, carried by Arthur C Woolforth, 2 Jan 1811: my son is bringing this request to go over my land with him, I’m giving him 300-400 acres;  mentions Graves, Capt John McKetrick
  2:2 Martin and Mary Partin, Chariton Mills, Putnam County, MO, to John Biswell, Huntsville, Randolph County, MO, 1850-51
    » 12 Jan 1850: asks about Richard & Jeremiah going to TX; has a new daughter named Mary Artimissa; mentions Dr John Monroe, brother Jonathan [Biswell], William Biswell, Samyra, Elizabeth Clarkston, Mary Artimissa
» 24 July 1851: John Partin has returned from CA; discusses John’s boys in CA
  2:3 J[ess?] B Biswell, 1850-51, 1863
[note: very poor handwriting & spelling; contents are next to impossible to read; “best guess” transcripts have been added to file; also, these letters may have been written by two different JB Biswells]
    » Lamar County, Cousin, 20[?] Mar 1850: mentions Dickey’s family; have just returned from Jefferson; planning to go to El Paso
» Lamar County, TX, to Friends, 31 May 1850: am living at ___ Douglas’ house; will have to sue McKey for the work done for him; lists “addressees” Uncle Norvel Biswell, Uncle Joch Biswell, Uncle Jonathan H Biswell, Wm ___, John Clarkston, JB Clarkston, William Clarkston
» Fredericksburg, Gillespie County, TX, to John Biswell, Huntsville, Randolph County, MO, 11 Nov 1851: am living at Mr Dasseight’s; heard Uncle Dick’s wife died & he married again
» To Brother 13 May 1863: discusses field & garden planting, fishing on the Sharidan [Chariton?]; mentions Wina and Dillia, aunt Betsy, Tawyer, Becca, Mary, Mother [Note: no location on this last letter; may be from somewhere near the Chariton River in MO]
  2:4 Richard Biswell, Belmont, Crawford County, AR, to John Biswell, Huntsville, Randolph County, MO, 1852, 1854
    » 4 Jan 1852: just moved to AR after 2 yrs in TX; MH Parker still there, his wife died & he remarried; discusses area around Van Buren, new property & livestock; wrote to Captain Godin about possibilities of getting some land for service in Black Hawk War; mentions Hancock Jackson, Norvel Beale, death of Cousin Harvey, Cousin Jeremiah
» 13 Aug 1854 (two letters on one sheet of paper mailed to John): from Richard to brother John; discusses prices received for crops; offer of $1000 for his land at the big bend in the river between Fayetteville to Van Buren; from James A Biswell to Cousins Jonathan & Norville; mentions their return from CA, Jonathan’s marriage, his own single status; mentions Minter H Parker
  2:5 Jonathan H Biswell, Bloomington, MO, to Various Family members, 1863, 1868-69
    » To Brother, 19 Apr [no yr]: get my horse from John Dickman [Bickman] and send it to me; mentions Ben [note: bottom of paper has been used by a child for penmanship practice: “Washington Citty is the capital of the United States linkon is our president”]
» To Mother, 5 Sept 1863: no news but sends copy of letter from “the Absent” [brother residing in undisclosed location out of state to avoid conscription] which mentions Davie; mentions Susan
» To Brother, 29 Oct 1863:
considering going to the gold mines in the Spring; don’t worry about home, everything is fine; mentions Little John, Mother & family, Young, Widdle
» To Brother, 12 Nov 1863: still considering the gold mines; the State militia may be disbanding, mentions Young, Widdle, George Gentry
» To Brother, 14 Dec 1863: militia has disbanded; be careful coming home
» To Mother, 14 Jan 1868: discusses good mink pelt business; mentions Susan, John, Bettie, the Baby (as yet unnamed boy), Young, Tony, David, Norville, John Jones, Widdle, Bill Belshe [note: rectangle cut from lower right corner removes end of 7 lines on the front & beginning of 7 lines on the back; there may be a missing 2nd sheet]
» To Mother, 27 Mar 1869:
have sold home & store, am leaving Bloomington and will be looking for new place, probably Macon City; mentions Young; Wm Walesfield[?], our little Boy
  2:6 DW Biswell, Macon, MO, 1870, & Browning, MO, 1874
    » To Sis, 15 Nov 1870: arrived home safely, enjoyed the visit; courtship with Miss Mollie is at an end; mentions Widdle, Young & Dillie
» To Brother Tawyer, 8 Aug 1874: have been looking for you to visit; Emma’s brother from Mexico, MO will be visiting
  2:7 Various Family Correspondants, 1829-30, 1850-57, 1860
    » Thomas Biswell, Fayette, MO, to Jeremiah Biswell, Randolph County, MO, 10 Aug 1829: have just come here & have got my distributing done; mentions brother Richard, accounts of Mr Johnson & Mr Beshear, Betsy
» Richard and Debora Luttrell, Casey County, KY, to John Lutrell, Fayette, Howard County, MO, 6 Nov 1830: your sister Margaret married William Poleson[?] on 31 March & your brother Richard married Nancy Rupel[?] on 20 July
» William P Farmer, Valley Town, Cherokee County, NC, to John Biswell, 
» Huntsville, Randolph County, MO, 30 Jan 1850: discusses prices for crops & local mine wages; mentions Jonathan & NB [Norvelle B] in the CA mines, completion of Enoch’s carpentry apprenticeship 
» Dillia to Sarah, 30 July 1857[?]: upset that she has hasn’t been to visit; mentions Mary, Day [or Davy]
» James & S E (Partin) Witcher, Lagrange, Lewis Couny, MO, to Uncle, 27 Oct 1860 [no news: just a how-are-you-we-are-fine letter] 
» E F Elliott, Randolph County, MO, to Mis Bisswel, Randolph County, MO: mentions Betty & Mary, Nancy Jane Terry [note: this letter is not dated but probably written 1850-52 as it mentions your brothers who are away from you, a possible reference to Jonathan & Norville in CA]
  3:1 Jeremiah Biswell’s Kentucky Militia Records, 1801-08
    » Commission as Lieutenant, 50th Regiment of the Militia, 28 May 1801: endorsement of swearing-in at Washington County, 5 Apr 1802; on reverse
» Commission as Captain, 50th Regiment of the Militia, 12 June 1804: endorsement of oath taken 25 Aug 1804 on reverse
» Inspection Return, Capt Jeremiah Biswell’s Company, 30 March 1808

[note: this document is in several pieces and is extremely fragile; it has been encapsulated and stored flat with over-size items; information from the document can be provided upon request but it cannot be photocopied]
[note: transcription of names of parties to the financial transactions in this section are not guaranteed to be accurate; they are, at times, merely “best guess”]
  4:1 Promissory Note (in French), M Michel Daniel to Nicolas Hervieux, 22 Dec 1833
  4:2 Jeremiah Biswell, 1795-1819
    » Receipts (12) for Taxes, Washington County KY, 1796-1819
» Handwritten notes & receipts (11) for transactions, 20 June 1795 – 15 May 1810 [some not dated]: other parties involved: Jas Reynolds, __ Penberry, Charles Reynolds, John Troutman, Joseph Welsh, John King, Wm McDonald, Josiah Short, Estate of Michael Harman, B__ Spalding, E Mather, MHS Weakliff, G Hope, Richard Hope, Henry Hart, Robert Devin, George Thomas
  4:3 Jeremiah Biswell, 1827-1846
    » Receipts (6) for State & County Taxes, Chariton County, MO, 1828-44
» Handwritten notes & receipts (21) for transactions Apr 1827 – 26 Jan 1846 : other parties & witnesses involved: Lewis Green, John Taylor, Pratte L Guignon, NW Crawford. Bull & Conway, Fielding Cockrill, GW Givens, HB Vivion, Walter G Chiles, John Lyteral, AM Dameron, John C Dameron, Gideon Wright, Garth & Ginnings, Richard Biswell, Flore & McConnick, Armstrong Beattie
  4:4 Richard Biswell, 1824-1829
    » Handwritten notes & receipts (6) for transactions 24 Jul 1827 – 1 Oct 1829: other parties & witnesses involved: John Jefferson, T Mosely Jr, John Wining, Pratte L Guignon
  4:5 John Biswell, 1795-1858
    » Receipt for State & County Taxes, 1829
» Handwritten notes, accounts & receipts (8) for transactions 2 Sept 1795, – 14 Dec 1858: other parties & witnesses involved: Charles Burkes, David Harkman, Thomas Kilgore, John Ward, H Austin, Walter G Chiles, C Wilson as Executor of Estate of Gideon Wright, Wm Tinsley
  4:6 William Biswell, 1816-1826
    » Receipt for County Taxes, Washington County, KY, 1816
Handwritten notes & receipts (4) for transactions 24 July 1816, – 13 Dec 1826: other parties & witnesses involved: Mr Morgan, Frederick G Gilman, John Reid, Anderson Woods, Higgeson Harris, Benjamin [Biswell?], John Boler, Martin Bottom, Jas Halbert
  4:7 Norvell Biswell, 1833-1834
    » Receipt for County Taxes, 1833
» Handwritten note, 7 Aug 1834: parties involved: Harvin Hargis, ___el Chambers [hole in paper obscures given name], Seth Botts, Thomas Partin
  5:1 Photo of Susie Lee Clark, Brookfield, MO, ca 1900
    » 7½ x 10” black & white full length portrait, mounted on cardboard: “Susie Lee Clark / Brookfield, Mo” on back in unknown hand [A note on the accession card states that this picture was taken at the time Miss Clark graduated from the Conservatory of Music at St Louis in 1900. She was only 13 years old in 1900, however, and the picture is of an adult; a young woman, probably late teens or early 20s.]
  5:2 Miscellaneous Envelopes & Letter Fragments
    » Envelope from C Bowers, Agents for Common Sense Family Sewing Machine, Philadelphia, PA, to DW Biswell, Huntsville, MO; postmarked Phila Pa, Aug 5, [no yr]
» Home-made envelope (folded paper) to Mr Jonathan H Biswell, Huntsville, Randolph County, MO; no return address; hand marked June 5, 10 [cents] rcvd

» Three partial letters; unidentifiable scraps
  5:3 James W Clark’s Souvenirs
    » Bound ledger; lists souvenirs from 12 states, Philippine Islands, Jamaica, France collected by donor’s father, 1911-12
» Two tourist brochures and a color postcard, Santa Catalina Island, CA  

[note: Mr Clark visited Santa Catalina 27 Jan 1912; see pg 5 of ledger]
  6:1 Newspaper Articles, Biswell Family (Obituaries & Store Advertisements)
[note: the complete newspapers are stored flat with oversize items; photocopies have been made of the Biswell family articles noted here]
    » The Randolph Citizen, Huntsville, Randolph County, MO, 7 Jan 1859: obituary for John Biswell, pg 3
» The Messenger of Peace, Macon, MO 15 Apr 1881: obituary for Young J Biswell, pg 2
» The Browning Voice, Browning, MO, 18 Oct 1883: eight Biswell articles & store advertisements, pg 3; specifically, obituaries for JH & Susannah Biswell’s two young sons, Dave & Young J
» The Leader-Record, Browning, MO, 18 Dec 1903: Obituary for JH Biswell, pg 1; IOOF Resolution of Respect for JH Biswell & advertisement for FL Biswell's store, pg 6

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