These two letters were written by John Everett (“Eric”) Washburn (1830-1886) of Big Thompson, Larimer county, Colorado. He was the son of John and Anna (Curtis) Washburn of Herkimer county, New York. In 1851, Washburn moved to Chicago where he married Albina Louisa Holcomb (1837-1921) in 1853. They settled in Freeport, Illinois, for a time where their daughter, Winona (“Winnie”) was born in 1855, but prior to the Civil War, Washburn and his family moved to Colorado where he took up farming in the the Big Thompson Valley.
Washburn wrote the letters to his wife from Nebraska Territory in 1866 while on a business trip during which he hoped to meet up with his mother in Nebraska City—arriving from Chicago—and return to Colorado with her.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Mrs. J. E. Washburn, Big Thompson, Colorado
Postmarked Fort Kearney, NEB
Twenty Miles Above Fort Kearney
Saturday Eve, June 16 
Here we are all right and getting along finely with good roads and fine weather. I got your letter with Winnie’s enclosed yesterday morning at Cottonwood just as we were starting. I mailed one to you from there and one to Mother. I was delighted to read your nonsense as you call it and would be glad to read some of it every day. That was the second letter from you since I left though I presume you wrote me at Junction and Julesburgh but they were not there. I wrote you from Denver, Living Springs, Junction, American Ranch, Julesburgh, Alkali, and Cottonwood.
I traded off “old Nig” the other day near Fremont Springs for a pair of little Spanish mules about as big as a minute. “Nig” got so lame that it was cruel to drive him. He would go along pretty well all day but would lay right down as soon as I took the harness off and would not eat, it pained him so. I drove the little mules on the lead a day or two but am leading them by the side of Jack and Buck now and drive Sam on the lead. I shall trade them off for a mate to Jack the first chance.
We started from Cottonwood with 26 men and 11 wagons and by noon we had left all behind but the three wagons and 9 men that had traveled together all the time. We will separate tomorrow ten miles below Kearney—one wagon with six men going to St. Joe. If we had no bad luck, we ought to be at Nebraska City a week from tonight. I hope to get a letter from you and Winnie tomorrow.
Winnie’s letter was very nicely written and gave me much pleasure and I hope to have more of them before I get back. Oh, I did not find the note from Dave in your letter. You either did not enclose it or I dropped it out. I may get the sickle teeth for him and may not although I am under no obligations to do so.
They are all going to bed so I will quit for tonight and try and write some more before I send it. I did not get my land certificate from Chamberlain and wish you would write for it.
Fort Kearney, Sunday noon—a letter from Mother but none from you. You don’t send them in time. Mother had got the drops all right. — Eric
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Mrs. J. E. Washburn, Big Thompson, Colorado
Postmarked Nebraska City, NEB
Nebraska City [NT]
June 24th 1866
I arrived here yesterday noon safe and sound bring nineteen and a half days from home and have had—taking everything into consideration—a fine trip. Twice on the road there have heavy rains fallen during the night but there has not been a drop on us during the day time on the whole road. The weather has been quite cool too most of the time, but it is very hot here today. The greatest trouble I have now is is that I don’t hear from you.
I went to the Post Office as soon as I got here and got three letters—one from Jim Smith, one from a firm in St. Joseph about the reapers, and one from Mother from Chicago. Her letter was dated the 17th. Says she will start the 25th which will be tomorrow. In a letter from her which I got at Kearney, she said she would start on the 23rd but she has got the idea that I will be delayed and so put it off. I wish she was here now for I am awful homesick. I got along very well till I got here and found no letter from you and it gave me blues.
I met yesterday afternoon here in town Heck Reel, Putnam & Squires and some others from Cache La Poudre. George Stotts is also in town but his wife has gone East. There is a circus in town and Dan & I went last evening but it was a poor concern. As soon as I got into town, I went to a barber shop and had a scrub up, took a bath, got shaved, got my hair cut, head cleaned, and my shoes blacked, and put on clean clothes. Dan has got his ticket for Boston and will probably leave tonight or tomorrow morning when I shall have no company but the Norwegian and my mules till about Thursday or Friday when I shall expect Mother. I shall probably get started back about Saturday the 30th or Monday the 1st of July and will reach Kearney about the 7th or 8th July and if you do not get this in time to write me there and give the letter a week to reach Kearney, direct to Cottonwood Springs. I certainly ought to hear from you before I leave this place. If I do not, I shall take the telegraph and come straight home.
I have not enquired much about the price of provisions yet but shall commence business tomorrow. Jim Smith writes me that if I can not find the kind of machines he wants here, to send the money back and he will get them of Cam Hunt in Denver. There are plenty of machines here of different kinds but have seen none of the kind he wants. I will find out tomorrow and write him.
This town is built in the bluffs and is full of deep ravines and steep hills. The hills are covered with groves of oak, hickory, black walnut, elm and other timber and the houses are nestled in the shade of the beautiful trees and climbing vines which makes me feel homesick. We are stopping at a corral now but I think I shall move my wagon into some grove and camp. There is a little house in the corral where I am not writing and Dan and the Norwegian are laying round loose reading and talking. This Norwegian friend of mine who has traveled with us from up near the Junction is a quiet, pleasant, well informed young man and makes me think of “Mina” the Dutch girl that used to work for us in Freeport. He don’t know whether he will load up and go back to Colorado or sell his team and go East.
I have no appetite today—I am so homesick, but hope when I get to work tomorrow will feel better. I will have to hunt a wash woman about the first thing in the morning, get some repairs done on the wagon, get the mules shod, trade off the little mules or sell them and buy a big one, and other things too numerous to mention so that I will probably be busy for a few days. Love to Winnie and lots for you.
I remain yours only, — Eric
My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.