Lancaster, Kentucky 14 Sept.1826
My Dear Father Brother & Friends
Two years have rolled away (with shame I confess it) since I 1ast wrote to you, tho' when I come to inform you of the cause of this long silence you will not perhaps consider me so culpable, sti11 I blame myself with a great degree of negligence and will now and henceforth endeavor to maintain a little more punctuality.
During 15 months of the last two years I have been absent from Ky and from the United States on a mercantile trip to the Mexican Dominions and only got home about 2 months ago of my adventures during this interesting excursion, I will give you some account before I finish this letter.
My last letter to you, I believe was a short one from Philadelphia about 2 years ago. A few days after I wrote that letter I went to Baltimore on my return to Ky and after considerable research I found out my Uncle David, you may judge of his surprise at seeing me there. I found him busily engaged at this old trade of weaving, he appears stout and hearty for his age but his looks denote that he is fast descending into the vale of years. He appeared tolerably well contented and seemed to insinuate that there was little probability of his ever again revisiting the "land of cakes." I do not think he has saved any money indeed the low wages which he gets and the expense of boarding (for he has never married) precludes the possibility of his saving much. He owns the house and a small place of land on which brother David lives in the State of Ohio. I suppose it is worth $200, and he is very anxious to sell it. On my return through the State of Ohio I found David busily engaged getting in his Indian corn he expects to sell it for $50 or $60. I stopped with him a day or two since that time I have not heard a word from him. The cause of his not writing I presume was my absence from Ky.
I have wrote to him since I got home and expect a letter every day. I am still in the same line of business in which I was engaged when I last wrote you. My partner still continues with me and we have done a tolerable good business during the last two years, tho I am not getting rich fast still I am living well and save something every year. I am now worth something near $3,000 dollars and considering that I came to America without money and without friends to help me forward in the world I think I have no cause to complain having supported myself genteelly and saved that amount. If I had staid in Scotland I hardly think I would have been quite to so well off.
My partner is at this time on to Philadelphia and New York laying in goods. Next summer I will go on myself and will again have an opportunity of seeing David. We generally lay in a stock of goods once a year and purchase 6 or $7000 at a time. In Ky. we are obliged to sell a great deal on credit. In the spring we purchase tobacco and whiskey from the farmers which we send down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans where we sell it for money. There is considerable risk attending this trade arising from the dangers of the rivers and the fluctuations in the price of the produce in the New Orleans market, we have however generally made some money at that trade.
About 18 months ago, my love of adventure induced me to undertake a trip to the Spanish provinces of Mexico. It was looked upon by the people of this country as a very hazardous and difficult enterprise but my romantic probability of making a 1ittle profit overcame a every obstacle and I prepared for the journey. For two or three years back an annual caravan of traders (after the manner of Arabian caravans) had started from Missouri, a frontier settlement of the United States to Santa Fe in the province of New Mexico and to this caravan I intended to attach myself. I purchased a small wagon and two horses, I loaded it with goods to the amount of $1500 out of my store and went on to Missouri - 600 miles and joined the caravan company when all collected amounted to 80 men with 35 wagons and 120 horses and mules. We were all well armed and equipped to defend ourselves against any hostile Indians that might attack us.
We took our final departure from the last settlement in the United States on the 20 of May 1825 and boldly launched out into the solitary wilderness. The distance we had to travel before we could reach the Spanish settlements was 900 miles through a perfect wilderness, inhabited only by wild beasts and roving tribes of Indians. There was no road or trail to mark our path but like the mariners at sea went entirely by the unerring compass. We steered a W.S.W. course for 20 days when we struck the Arkansas River up which we travelled 250 miles - it then became necessary for us to cross that river, but how was it to be done, it was too deep to ford. We had no boat and no timber to make one. The river is here about half a mile wide with a bold rapid current, necessity is the mother, of invention - we killed 6 buffaloes and took their skins - sewed them together and stretched them over the body of a wagon and with this frail bark we crossed all our goods with perfect safety in two days.
We then swam over our horses and resumed a W.S.W. course for New Mexico - On the Arkansas we found immense numbers of buffaloes and wild horses. I do not exaggerate when I state that I have seen in sight at one time at least 10,000 buffalos. We killed great numbers of them and in fact they formed our chief means of support during the journey - their flesh is better than any beef I ever ate. In addition to the buffalos we killed deer, elk and antelopes in abundance. The whole country is open prairie almost entirely devoid of timber - dry buffalo dung served as an excellent substitute for fuel to cook our vituals with.
Tho far removed from the residence of civilised man we lived very well, the pure air of those regions with the exercise we took whetted our appetites and I never was so strong and hearty in my life as I was on that trip. At night we spread our blankets on the green grass and with nothing over our heads but the canopy of heaven we enjoyed the sweetest repose. We however always took the precaution to have a guard out all night to warn us of danger, from the Indians but they never attacked us. Those we saw were friendly and did not molest us.
About the 4th of July we came in sight of the lofty peaks of the Rocky Mountains, their towering summits capped with snow. As we approached them the climate became sensibly colder and although it was then the warmest month in the whole year we had several days that were disagreeably cold.
We travelled parallel with the mountains for several days until we found a gap through which we crossed our wagons with out much difficulty and entered the Mexican provinces. We arrived at Santa Fe, the capitol of New Mexico, on the 1st of August - here a scene entirely new presented itself - the houses, manners and customs etc., were all different from those of the United States - the only language spoken was the Spanish of which I did not understand a single word. However I applied myself with such assiduity that in a week or two I acquired a sufficient knowledge of the language to trade with the inhabitants.
I found goods much plentier and prices lower than I anticipated in consequence of which I could not sell out in time to return to the United States before the winter would set in when it would be impossible to get back before spring - as I found I would be compelled to winter among the Spaniards I determined to see as much of the country as possible and resolved to spend the winter in the south western provinces. I sold my wagon in Santa Fe - packed my goods on mules and travelled down the Rio Del - 300 miles then crossed several ridges of the Rocky Mountains into the province of Sonora and went within two days travel of the Gulf of California on the Pacific Ocean. Here I sold out my goods for 100 mules and some horses. In Sonora I staid a11 winter in about 29 N. Latitude, the weather was warn and pleasant all the time - while here I had the opportunity of visiting several gold and silver mines which abound in this country but the Spaniards are too lazy to work them to much advantage and in general the poorest people live in the neighborhood of these mines.
On the 1st of March I prepared to start home and joined myself to a company of 15 Americans - We had altogether about 600 head of mules and horses. On the 1st of April we arrived at Santa Fe and left the Spanish Dominions on the 10th. We got on very well until we were very nearly half way home when one night our drove took a fright from buffalo and ran off, next morning we could collect only about half of our drove and although we hunted diligently for 3 days we could never find the balance. We then pursued our journey and arrived at Missouri on the 8th of June. On counting my stock I found that I had 50 mules and 10 horses left which will sell for about $2000 - if I had got all that I started with the trip would have been very profitably - as it is I will make a little.
I would give you a description of the Mexican Provinces which I visited but I find that this sheet will not admit of it. Suffice it to say that the people are extremely ignorant and superstitious, all Roman Catholics no where is the fatal effect of priest craft more visible - the priests exercise an unlimited control over the people and are generally all rich - the most of the people are rogues and will steal everything they can lay their hands on, I must however in justice to them acknowledge that I never saw people more kind and hospitable than they are - they uniformly treated me with kindness, politeness and respect.
It is a singular feature in this country that it seldom or ever rains - the air is always pure and the sky unclouded - the people are obliged to irrigate their lands to make them produce. Immense mountains traverse the country running in parallel ridges from North to South with beautiful valleys between them. The temperature is delightful and the healthiest climate in the world.
On my arrival at home, I found that my partner had managed my affairs very well during my absence. I also found your letter dated 28 Feb 1825 and am extremely grateful to hear of the welfare of my friends. I was much pleased to see a few lines from Nancy and I hope every letter you send she will contribute a part to it. To hear from my friends from Scotland is one of the greatest comforts I can enjoy. Although that country can never again claim me as a citizen still I feel an interest in everything that concerns it which time can never obliterate and I sti11 anticipate the happy day tho probably far distant when I will pay a farewell visit to the land of my birth and bid a final adieu to the "Home of my Childhood."
I have become so much attached to the habits and manners of the Americans that no circumstances could induce me to change my residence. This country is gradually but steadily advancing to greatness and power and whatever European nations may say or do - it is as certain as fate that the sceptre of empire is changing from east to west.
I have not been able to find my other rib but it is highly probable that ere long I will unite myself to some one of the black eyed damsels of the Western woods - I am
I hope you will write me immediately a long letter - Give my best respects to Bill, Nancy and to all my friends and acquaintances