TRUMAN STATE UNIVERSITY Pickler Memorial Library Truman State University


Elisha Cotton Winchell Letters
1849 (1850-1854) 1912

Ms Collection

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Elisha Cotton Winchell (1826-1913), son of Elias & Fanny (Ely) Winchell, was a young attorney who moved to California from Missouri to establish his law practice while thousands of others were attempting to make their fortunes in the gold fields during the “Gold Rush”.  After completing his legal training in Palmyra, MO in 1848, Elisha opened a law office in Paris, MO but closed it in April 1850 for the move west. He arrived in September, two days before California joined the Union as the 31st state, and settled in Sacramento. He eventually became a well-respected attorney and judge and one of the leading businessmen of Fresno.

The core of this collection is a set of 64 letters from Winchell to his parents and siblings in Missouri.  The first was written to his mother as he was making preparations to leave Missouri and the final one was to his sister shortly before his death, over 60 years later.  Over half of the letters were written during his first few years in Sacramento and describe the citizens, society and culture of the new city as well as the climate & scenery of the Sacramento Valley.

Winchell’s letters were found in an old house in Palmyra, MO (possibly the home of his sister, Fanny Winchell Anderson) in the late 1940s and given to Palmyra native Dr Pauline Knobbs, a member  of Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University) faculty.  She loaned them to graduate student Robert M Pfaff along with transcripts of gold rush letters from Pickler Memorial Library’s “Biswell Family Papers”, as source material for the Master’s Thesis he was researching at the time.  After a long and successful career as a history instructor specializing in the American west, Mr Pfaff returned the collection to the library in the fall of 2008.

Additional materials in the collection include three engravings depicting the region clipped from an 1850s magazine as well as drafts of Mr Pfaff’s thesis. Winchell's photos of Tulare County and San Francisco, also a part of the collection, remained with the library and were not loaned to Mr Pfaff.

Photo of Winchell from Paul E. Vandor's History of Fresno County California.  Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1919.

W3/0 Administrative
0:1 Administrative and Biographical Materials

Correspondence between Robert Pfaff and Truman State University re his gift Photocopies of Winchell family biographical information from various print and online sources

W3/1 Correspondence, Elisha Cotton Winchell to Family Members in Missouri

Correspondents include parents Elias & Fanny (Ely) Winchell, sister Fanny (Winchell) Anderson, and brothers Homer Howard, Elias & Joseph Winchell.  References are made to brother Rensselaer “Rens”, sister Sarah (Winchell) Dryden and other members of the family.

1:1 From Paris, MO & Various Stops on the Tail to California, 1849-1850
  Mother, Greenfield, MO, from Paris, MO, June 16,1849 describes Palmyra’s “clean up” in anticipation of cholera epidemic references to sister Fanny Anderson & Judge Mahan
Mother, Greenfield, from Paris, Oct 14,1849 philosophical commentary on brother Joseph training for a new profession
◙ Sister Fanny, Palmyra, from Paris, Apr 10 1850 leaving in the morning references to brother Joe & Mrs Syden
◙ Brother H H Winchell, Houston, MO, from near DeWitt, Carroll County, Apr 17, 1850 conditions of the trip; weather, roads, horses
◙ Mother, West Springfield, MO, from camp near St Joseph, Buchanan Co, MO, May 3 & 7, 1850 experiences on the trail & in camp description of St Joseph references to John Click & [Mr] Culbertson
[note: the Winchells did not move; Greenfield’s name was changed to West Springfield]
Mother, West Springfield, from Pawnee Nation, June 1-2, 1850 normal daily routine on the trail; the scenery
◙ Mother, from Pacific Springs [WY], June 27, 1850 just crossed the backbone of the continent [Continental Divide] references to Col James Estell’s mail train; Mr Bryant
◙ Mother, West Springfield, from Rancho del Passo near Sacramento City, Sept 6, 1850 horrible conditions of last days on trail first impressions of Sacramento & the mines references to Mr Hoyt & Henry of Palmyra, travelling companions Bryant & Gore, brothers “Rens”, Homer & Joseph
◙ Addenda: Outline map of the US with Winchell's route hand drawn by Pfaff
1:2 From Sacramento City, CA, 1850-1851
  ◙ Father, West Springfield, Sept 13, 1850 mining & Sacramento references to John Glover (Samuel’s brother) ; Dr John L Taylor; Dr Heitz of Paris; AC Campbell (brother of John J); Sunderland of Hannibal; Judge Ralston of Quincy; Radcliff of Shelbyville; Kenny Anderson; Ed Murphy; William Anderson; James Poor; Aubrey Anderson; Samuel Culbertson; Volney Mann; Robert Tilley; John Clinch; Tom Anderson; Edward Coe & brother; Frisby & James McCullough; friend Bryant [traveling companion whom he has yet to call by given name] brother Homer’s coming marriage
◙ Sister, Fanny M Anderson, c/o Thomas L Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Oct 15, 1850 description of city references to Howerton of Knox County; law partner John M Glover; Dr Ellis of St Louis (husband of Miss Rosa Goodrich); Dr John S Taylor of St Louis; Prof James Blake of St Louis (formerly of England); Mr Hoyt & Henry; Mr Dexter; Mr Norris; ‘Uncle Billy’ Muldrow; Kemp Anderson of Knox; Charley Radcliff of Shelbyville; Major Willis’ sons; Edward Murphy; the Tatlow boys; Stanton Buckner; Thomas Dudley;  PM Jarvis; Mr Fon & son ‘Squatters vs Speculators’ murder trial; defendant Robinson of Massachusetts; lawyers Tweed & Aldrich of Florida
◙ Father, West Springfield, Oct 21, 1850 requests letter from Mount Pleasant Church to transfer his membership to Sacramento; California needs religion to overcome its degrading influences
◙ Mother, West Springfield, Nov 3 & 5, 1850 Sutter’s Fort; John Sutter’s pre-gold rush home references to Thomas Gore, George Louthan of Palmyra, Howerton of near Edina, John Glover; Dr John L Taylor; Col Muldrow
◙ Brother Elias, Nov 14, 1850 investing in a mercantile business in California; the best way to travel out; State’s prospects for the future; climate and prevalent illnesses references to partner John M Glover
◙ Father, Dec 17-18 [1850] Sacramento weather, politics & Thanksgiving celebrations references to Rev [Joseph A] Benton; Hugh Jeffries, blacksmith from Philadelphia; Col William Muldrow; John McKee; John A Sutter; Senator Col [John] Fremont; Col Zabriskie from Jacksonville Thomas I Hurley[?] of Indiana
◙ Father, West Springfield, Dec 23 & 25 [1850] [a good part of this letter is repeat of previous one] Sacramento life, weather, politics & Thanksgiving references to Rev Benton of Boston; John Fremont; Col William Muldrow; Dr Dimmitt of LaGrange; John Glover; John McKee; Col Muldrow
◙ Sister, Fanny M Anderson, c/o Thomas L Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Feb 13,1851 trip to San Francisco; scenery along the Sacramento River, the Bay and the city references to Professor Blake of St Louis; Mr Dexter; Samuel Glover; John Glover Cook Campbell’ s wedding plans
◙ Father, West Springfield, Feb 28 [1851] need Homer’s address
◙ Father & Mother, West Springfield, Mar 14 [1851] References to John Glover; new law partner George N McConah City of Nevada City burned down; Stanton Buckner of Palmyra; Mr Williams of Paris; A.B. Hawkins of Palmyra sister Fanny & new niece Sarah Michelle Anderson
◙ Sister, Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Apr 13, 1851 Sacrament’s religious life and venues of vice & immorality references to Rev Benton; law partner McConaha
◙ Father, West Springfield, May 8, 1851 three-fourths of San Francisco, including the business district, burned down; other areas of state feeling the financial effects reference to law practice & Mr McConaha
◙ Sister, Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, May 16, 19 & 25, 1851 swindle perpetrated on Margaret Nelson, daughter of former Marion College president Mrs Newbower’s marriage; her daughter Sophy references to Mr Lashly; Mr Hoyt; Mr Dexter; Henry [Hoyt]; Mr Caldwell & daughter
◙ Parents, West Springfield, May 23, 1851 reference to Thomas Gore
◙ Mother, West Springfield, July 14, 1851 vigilante law in San Francisco & Sacramento references to John Chick & father-in-law Mr McCarty; Mr Simonis; Mr Hoyt
◙ Parents, West Springfield, 29 July 29, 1851 reference to John Chick; Mr Hoyt; Mr Dexter
◙ Parents, West Springfield, Aug 26, 1851 cholera outbreak at Hannibal references to Mr Shannon of Palmyra; Dr Blake of St Louis; Dr Ellis, Dr Goodrich’s son-in-law; Governor John McDougal; Major William McDaniel Tehama Theatre & Winchell’s office burnedvigilante law & hangings in San Francisco & Sacramento
◙ Parents, West Springfield, 29 Nov 29, 1851 mail steamer Falcon overdue at Panama & is thought to have met with disaster references to Mr Fleurry’s neighbors, the Glasscock boys genealogy of Catharine (Winchell) Hinsman (1794-1839) of Middletown, CT
1:3 From Sacramento, 1852-1854

◙ Brother, Homer Winchell, West Springfield, Jan 12 & 14, 1852 Homer’s life and plans former law partner McConaha now a state legislator
◙ Parents, West Springfield, Jan 26, 28 & 30, 1852 State Legislature; possible permanent move of Capital to Sacramento references to US Senator John B Weller formerly of OH; Thomas Butler King; Stanton Buckner from Palmyra; P B Reading; Rev O C Wheeler  religious life & liquor problems in Sacramento liquor problem in California; Sons of Temperance beginning to organize
◙ [partial letter; unknown recipient] Jan 20, 1852 shooting & fight between judge & lawyer at the court house trip to San Francisco by steamer [page ends abruptly in the middle of a sentence]
◙ Mother, July 18 & 25, 1852 references to recent arrivals from Palmyra, Mr Taylor brother of Dr John L; Major Blakey; Mr Taylor’s father-in-law; Mr Cook

◙ Parents, West Springfield, Oct 13, 1852, written on Winchell & Moore letterhead references to old partner John Glover; new partner Mr Moore & new elegant offices Mrs Dexter’s death
◙ Mother, Oct 5 & 15, 1852
[note: although dated October, this letter had to have been written in November as the fire he describes occurred Nov 2, 1852] description of fire which totally destroyed city on election day references to Frink family; James Mahan was elected Justice of the Peace for Sacramento City & Township
◙ Brother H [Homer], Nov 9, 1852 [actually December] fire a month ago description of rooming house
◙ [partial letter; unknown recipient; ca Dec 1852] city is recreating itself new levee being tested by heavy rains & melting snow dissolved partnership w/ Moore
◙ Parents, Dec 19-20, 22, 24, 1852 preparations for & description of flood which engulfed city plans for rebuilding & protection from future flooding include hauling in earth to raise city about the high water mark duties as Associate Justice of Court of Sessions; Judge Willis
◙ Brother H [Homer], Dec 25, 1852 Christmas dinner menu  
◙ [partial letter; unknown recipient; ca late Feb 1853] references to Frink family; Mrs Frink’s sister Laura Alsip; former partner Mr Moore; Mr Boier of New Jersey
[note: Laura Alsip is his future wife]
◙ [partial letter; unknown recipient; June __ & 27, 1853] Sacramento heat wave references to brothers Joseph & Elias
◙ Undated description of the city which apparently accompanied & explained a missing “view” or drawing; ca 1852-53 (while he was still living with Frink family)
◙ Mother, May 7 & 15, 1854 references to brother Joseph; Griswolds from Wethersfield, CT (wants to research kinship with that line); Uncle Kiah [Hezekiah] Griswold; sister Fanny Laura recuperating from childbirth & loss of baby description of “Mammoth Tree Valley” [now Calaveras Big Tree State Park] in the Sierras; quotes portions of William Cullen Bryant’s “A Forest Hymn” appointment as City Assessor Sacramento expected to be as permanent capital; State University to be established at San Jose
◙ Mother, July 31, 1854 living in new apartment near the waterfront another city fire references to Laura’s mother; Ed Murphy
◙ Mother, Aug 30, 1854  job as Assessor references to Griswolds; a Winchell about 40 miles away
[incomplete; ends in middle of a sentence]
◙ Brother Joseph, Dec 4, 1856 their father’s death

1:4 From “Mountain Side”, Millerton, 1874, & Fresno, 1896
  ◙ Sister Fanny [Anderson], Apr 2, 1874 [note: this letter was actually written later in the month than April 2; the balloon incident occurred April 4, 1874] references to Fanny’s children Fanny, Lilbourne, Jennie, Rosie, Minnie, Joseph & Bertie; sister Sarah; Miss Blakey; James J Lindley references to Palmyra homes: Mr & Mrs Tatlow; Mr Holtzclaw; Mr Hyde; Mr Dryden; Mr Valiant; Mr Easton; Dixons; Southerns; Blakeys;  Fanny’s former house county seat to be moved from Millerton to Fresno; Fort Miller; history & death of Millerton “Le Secours” hot air balloon crash near San Francisco
◙ Sister Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, May 13-Aug 24, 1896 seven (7) short notes transmitting payments from sale of lumber on promissory note (mortgage) held by Fanny
◙ Sister Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Aug 24, 1896 note payment death of Homer’s son Charles sympathy for unnamed “distress” suffered by William Anderson’s daughter
1:5 From Oakland, 1897-1899, & San Francisco, 1902-1912
  ◙ Sister Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Mar 30, 1897 business letter re Fanny’s timber property & business interests in Fresno; references to Mr Okenden; Madry’s Planing Mill; Mr Church; son Lilbourne & family
◙ Sister Mrs FM Anderson, Palmyra, MO, May 22, 1897 business letter re Fanny’s rental property; Madry’s lost note payment rental cottage fire
◙ Sister Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, July 21, 1897 business letter re remaining lumber references to sons Lilbourne & Ledyard “Leddy” Christian Endeavorers Convention in San Francisco
◙ Sister Mrs FM Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Oct 21, 1897 Lilbourne & Leddy handling business per your instructions references  to wife Laura, daughter Anna; son Lilbourne; geologist John Muir
◙ Sister Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Apr 19, 1898 reminisces about childhood family trip to New York & Michigan; mentions Uncle Volney, Uncle Reuben, Aunt Chloe, Clymena Millard & Mr Millard, Cousin James, sister Sarah, brothers Homer & Rensselaer war resolution passed by Congress; Leddy in National Guard
◙ Sister Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, May 12, 1898 war news; Leddy promoted to Major on Brigadier General Muller’s staff
◙ Sister Fanny M Anderson, Palmyra, MO, Feb 3, 1899 Fanny’s business interests in Fresno Laura’s health; death of Laura’s brother
◙ Sister Fanny, Apr 24, 1902 apologies for “spilling the beans” re surprise for next Tuesday [note: although he never says what the surprise was, it was likely a birthday party or gift for her 80th birthday  on Apr 29, 1902]
◙ Sister [Fanny], Jan 26, 1909 Laura’s last illness, death & funeral Laura’s family buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland: Laura Coralie (Alsip) Winchell; Mary D (McKim) Alsip Thompson (Laura’s mother); Ledyard & Mary A (Alsip) Frink; William Frink; AB & Loraine Alsip & their two young daughters Anna’s newspaper work & life style references to son & daughter-in-law Lilbourne & Ernestine (Lil & Ernie); Mrs Lauer’s brother
◙ Brother Homer, Dec 16, 1911 Homer & Susan’s 61st anniversary celebration references to Dr Scroogs; Homer’s son Howard Elisha’s children, grandchildren & great grandchildren [note: he twice refers to Susan as “Kate”]
◙ Sister Fannie, Oct 23, 1912 brother Homer’s death reference to Homer’s son Howard & daughter Mrs Lane; brothers Rensselear & Joseph son Lilbourne and family in Fresno; son Ledyard; granddaughters Adele, Marie & Laurel, grandson (unnamed) working for San Francisco Gas & Electric; daughter-in-law Minnie; daughter Anna; sister Sarah
W3/2 Engravings, 1851-52, and Photographs, 1892, 1901, 1906
2:1 Woodcut engravings, with descriptive text, of California sites from 3 issues of Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, 1851-52

◙ “South Mines, Jamestown, California”, Sept 13, 1851, p 316
◙ “View of the Town of Marysville, California”, March 13, 1852, pp 173 & 176
◙ “A Series of Interesting Sketches and Scenes in California”, nd [ca 1852], p 276
Bridge Across the American River at Leslie’s Ferry Miner on a Prospecting Tour View of Sacramento Cemetery [note: text continued on p 277 not included in collection]

2:2 Tulare County Photographs, 1892

◙ Seven men inside partially hollowed-out stump of giant Sequoia, Tulare, County, CA; top of stump 50 feet above ground; rest of tree was cut down & exhibited at Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1892; photo by C C Curtis, Esperanza, CA

2:3 San Francisco Photographs, 1901, 1906

◙ City Sites, July 1901 Pillars at entrance to City Hall Granite monument in front of City Hall (2) Members of Pochahontas Lodge, German National Schuetzenfest, on parade 
◙ Aftermath of the April 18, 1906 Earthquake & Fire, May 31-June 4, 1906 Supreme Court Building Church of the Holy Cross Argyle Hotel (where Winchell’s daughter was asleep when the quake hit) (2) Intersection of Golden Gate Ave & Larkin St City Hall (3) Monuments in Calvary Cemetery (10) Mercantile Library (2) Granite railing in Golden Gate Park Golden Gate Park Restaurant (4) Golden Gate Park Museum School graduation exercise at Golden Gate Park Bandstand in June California National Guard Band concert in camp at corner Cole & Haight Sts, May 31 Ledyard Winchell’s apartment house, 747 Baker St Ledyard in front of his home  E C Winchell(?) in front of Ledyard’s home “Sidewalk kitchens” in front of Ledyard’s home (3) Jefferson Square refugee camp (2) Golden Gate Park refugee camp (8) Sign advertising California Baking Co bread “Sidewalk kitchens”, various locations (3)

W3/3 Robert Marvin Pfaff's Master’s Thesis: Original Experiences of Missourians in the Gold Rush during the Years of 1849 and 1850
3:1 First Draft, Typescript with Handwritten Editing Notes
  ◙ Chapters 1-6, Introduction-Summary & Conclusion
3:2 Second Draft, Typescript with Handwritten Editing Notes
  ◙ Chapters 1-6   Acknowledgements, Bibliography, Illustrations

Researchers using this collection might also be interested in these related resources:

Biswell Family Papers, 1795-1912.  Special Collections, Pickler Memorial Library, Truman State University. (B1-Musdp).   

Pfaff, Robert Marvin.  Original Experiences of Missourians in the Gold Rush during the Years of 1849 and 1850.   Master’s Thesis No 10. Kirksville: Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, 1950. 

Winchell, Alexander.  Genealogy of the Family of Winchell in America.  Ann Arbor: Dr Chase’s Steam Printing House, 1869.  Google Books on Line 

Winchell, Elisha C.  Journal, 1848-1852.  Elisha C Winchell Papers. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. (BANC MSS 74/175c).

For information concerning this collection contact:

Manuscripts Table of Contents  |  Special Collections 


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