"Viva la California!" - Gold Rush Letters Online

Tue hours: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm

Digital content from the papers of M. L. (Marc La Riviere) Stangroom is now available online as part of Western Libraries’ Digital Collections. Born in England in 1832, Stangroom travelled to America as a young man, where he engaged in railroad surveying work and mining speculation in California and the Sierra Nevadas. In 1888, at the request of railroad magnate Pierre Cornwall, Stangroom moved to Bellingham, Washington to assist in building the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia railway.

The new online collection includes digital copies and transcripts of correspondence from Stangroom to family members about his travels and experiences from 1855 through 1873. These handwritten letters provide extensive and fascinating detail of his early life and career, and vivid descriptions of western landscapes including California redwood forests and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Stangroom documents gold prospecting efforts, life in the mining town of Michigan Bluff (Placer County, California), and interactions between white settlers and the Native American population. A June 1858 letter describes how Californians are driven “stark raving mad” by the lure of gold in British Columbia, with hundreds of men leaving daily for the Fraser River. Stangroom’s letters also reveal aspects of his personal and family life, including his courtship and marriage.

Section of letter with illustration.

Illustrated portion of a December 2, 1855 letter by M.L. Stangroom.

The online collection includes full-text, searchable transcripts of all letters, a 16 page reminiscence by Stangroom about his life (also transcribed), and a fifteen-page report about the construction of the Bellingham Bay & British Columbia Railroad. Completed in 1891, the BB&BC Railroad provided a rail connection from Bellingham to Sumas and the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway.

The original and larger collection of Stangroom papers is archived and available at WWU’s Center for Pacific Northwest (CPNWS). A complete guide to the collection is available online.

Additional CPNWS holdings on the Bellingham Bay & British Columbia Railroad include corporate records of the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company. Related images are available in the Bruce Cheever Railroad Photograph Collection and through the online CPNWS Photo Database.

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