1873 Letter - Fairplay, Colorado - Preparations for Winter - "Gamblers, Roughs, & Adventurers Generally Take Their Departure First"

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1873 Letter - Fairplay, Colorado - Preparations for Winter - "Gamblers, Roughs, & Adventurers Generally Take Their Departure First"

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Item No. 8704500

A very interesting 1873 letter written by C. W. Derr in the mining town of Fairplay, Colorado, to his sister in Frederick, Maryland. Written at the beginning of winter, Derr described the exodus of miners and prospectors, as well as the “gamblers, roughs, & adventurers” to more hospitable locales. He discussed the area’s harsh weather in considerable detail, before closing the letter discussing a brother’s upcoming stint in the Navy, along with praise for the future of Cuba. The letter reads, in full:

Fairplay Colorado Dec 16th 1873

Dear Sister Mary
It has been sometime I believe since I last wrote you, and as I received a letter from Alice a few days ago I will effect a double purpose and make this letter to you an answer to here. I haven’t much to write about as there is very little of interest occurring at present in this out-of-the-way region, especially at this season of the year, our dull season, Winter properly begins here in the middle of November and lasts untill the 1st of May. That is to say it may not be fought winter untill that time, but in effect it is the same for untill that time most of the mining operations are still and the mines are not accessible on account of the snow in the mountains untill the 1st of May at the earliest. The miners and prospectors begin to leave about the 1st December, some bound for one point and some for another, and as a rule during the winter the population of the mountains is not half so large as in summer. At the first approach of winter you can begin to see evidences of desertion, the floating population consisting of gamblers, roughs, & adventurers generally take their departure first, and for weeks at a time during the close of the season wagon loads of them an be seen passing through the town on their way to more congenial scenes. Then come the miners, owners, and prospectors who as a rule take up their quarters for the winter in the valley and in some instances at their homes in the east. The class that remains is composed of those who are unfortunately unable to get away and of these who here made their everlasting biding place, I suppose I should identify myself with that class of unfortunates who are unable to get away, for if my stay here at present is not compulsory, I don’t know how else to term it. It is certainly not for the pleasure of the thing.

So far the weather here has been mild excepting a few nights the temperature of which was indicated by the thermometer to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10° below zero. We here had a few snow storms but at no time a very great quantity and its presence was not lasting. On the whole I suppose we here had pleasanter weather up to the present time then you have had at home, for we have no rain nor mud to bother us and according to my recollection, that is one of the evils of Maryland winter weather. We have a good deal of fine weather. A cloudy day is the exception even here in the mountains. But notwithstanding all this our climate is tricky and it is hard to tell what the morrow may bring forth. The weather may be as mild as summer to-day and the heavens as clear as crystal but on the morrow your eyes may open upon a landscape covered with snow many feet in depth and you may breathe air so cold that the thermometer will refuse to gauge it. We here had no such weather yet and may not have during the whole winter but it could surprise no one to see such weather and it would not be extraordinary. This park has been covered many times with six feet of snow, and indeed it is not far from here where Fremont was snowed in and came near perishing with his whole command. This was during his first exploration through these mountains.

I got a letter from Guy a few days ago dated on the eve of his contemplated departure for foreign lands—He may possibly have a taste of war, but whether the taste will be agreeable is a question. Viewed from a safe place I have no doubt that two vessels engaged in battle would be quite an interesting scene, but whether such would be the case if the viewer should happen to be on board of one of hem is another thing. But in all events his is not a dangerous position, and from the latest newspaper accounts I am of the opinion that there is no likelihood of a conflict, but even in the even of a war there are more chances in his favor than against him. I was sorry to hear of his being ordered off on what may be a long cruise. I answered his letter immediately on its reception and directed it to [Boston?], where he expects to remain a while. I told him to write us frequently to let us know of his whereabouts and his well being. I rather envy him his trip and would like to be with him especially if Cuba should be his destination. Cuba is certainly the coming country, and in the course of its becoming a part of the U.S. will for surpass any of the states of the Union in wealth and power.

You will get this letter sometime near Christmas and as I will not write again before that time I now wish you one and all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I would like to spend the Christmas under the tree once more as it has been several years since I have done so, but under the circumstances I will have to make the best of it and be contented untill another year rolls around.

I am sorry to know of Miss May worsens illness and hope it will not end seriously.

Give Love to all
Your aff Bro
C W Derr

I suppose Eugene got his papers alright. I returned them to him signed.

Tell Ned I would like to send him a Christmas present but I can’t afford it now, but I will send him a couple of young antelopes some day when I get rich or in other words when my ship comes in. I am going to collect a cabinet of mineral specimens during during the coming year and when they are properly put together it will be something nice to look at and will make a beautiful ornament for any room.

The four-page letter was written on a stationery sheet measuring 7 3/4” x 9 3/4”. It is in excellent condition with little toning. It has creases where it was originally folded. Includes the original stamped cover with Fairplay postmark and addressed to Miss May L. Derr in Frederick, Maryland.

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