The following are a series of letters written to Thad in Endingen, Germany, by his brothers Anton, Franz Xavier, and Wilhelm between 1852 and 1863. By today’s standards, contact between the siblings and cousins of that generation seems tenuous and infrequent. But in contact they remained. The letters they exchanged are full of personal details. Wilhelm in California knew of his brother Anton’s success with a brewery in Pittsburgh, of his brother Thad’s failing cooperage in Endingen, of his cousin Alexander’s difficulties with the Colonia Tovar in Venezuela. He writes about his exploits, his family, and that of his brother Franz and mining cousins Louis and Adolphus.
|Date||Author (from), with translator’s #|
|6 May, 1852||Anton Benitz (Pittsburgh, Penn.) # 3|
|27 June, 1853||Wilhelm Benitz (Sonoma, Calif.) # 8|
|5 April, 1854||Wilhelm Benitz (San Francisco, Calif.) # 7|
|8 March, 1855||Wilhelm Benitz (San Francisco, Calif.) # 2|
|22 Sept., 1856||Wilhelm Benitz (Fort Ross, Calif.) # 3b|
|4 Sept., 1858||Wilhelm Benitz (San Francisco, Calif.) #6|
|15 Jan., 1863||Franz Xavier Benitz (Fort Ross, Calif.) # 1|
|18 Jan., 1863||Wilhelm Benitz (Fort Ross, Calif.) # 5|
|7 Oct., 1863||Wilhelm Benitz (Fort Ross, Calif.) #4|
We don't know what units of measure were used in the original letters written in old German. It seems unlikely that Thaddaeus Benitz, the recipient of the letters in Germany, would have been familiar with the Mexican and US measures used here in the translated letters. In addition, the land areas for each ranch vary with each letter - the question is: were these differences in the original letters or the result of translation? For more information, see our page on Measures.
These are the same letters referred to in the first chapters of Alfred Benitz’s biography. According to their translator, Jorge Luis Grimmé, the original letters numbered fifteen and were written in old German. Jorge was a grandson of Alfred’s sister, Josephine, and also worked for him during the 1930’s as his accountant. In a letter from Martinez (Bs.As., Arg.) dated, March 8th, 1973, Jorge writes:
I am in possession of a quantity of letters (15) which I myself translated from old German into English. The German originals were in possession of Mr. Alfred Benitz (died 1937), and since his wife, Mrs. Olga Horner Benitz also died sometime ago, and I have lost touch with the rest of the family, I presume that the originals of the mentioned letters have been destroyed. The letters in question were written between the years 1852 and 1892. They were dated in Pittsburgh, Sonoma, San Francisco, Fort Ross, Yorensvil (?), Dallas, and Louisville. They were signed respectively by William Benitz (my great grand-father, most of them), Nancy Mahrers (born Benitz), Maria Ana Benitz, Magdalena Seelnacht and J.A. Miller.
We assume Jorge translated the letters after Alfred’s death in 1937, and before Alfred’s biography was published in 1952. Alfred and his siblings were taught German as children (see letters) at Fort Ross and likely had no need of translation. However, with the exception of the Josephine Benitz - John Schreiber family, following generations of Argentine Benitz were not conversant in German.
Of the original fifteen letters, we have copies of nine translations, apparently only those written by Wilhelm or having to do with him. We are missing those by Nany (not Nancy) Mahrer (Thad’s sister), Maria Anna Benitz (probably Anton’s wife), Magdalena Seilnacht (Thad’s wife), and John A. Miller (son-in-law of Anton Benitz). The version of the letters included here (we have preserved the spelling, grammar, & punctuation) came to us by way of Josephine "Nena" Paul (née Benitz), grand-daughter of Wilhelm Benitz. Other copies exist with slightly different punctuation. We are hopeful the originals in old German still exist and we are in search of them.
It is very likely the letters were provided to Alfred by Theodore Lederle when Alfred visited Endingen, 19-21 August, 1904 (see also the footnote on letter #1). Theodore was the son of Alfred’s first cousin, Anna Benitz, daughter of Thaddaeus. From Alfred’s diaries we have the following account of his visit to Endingen, Germany:
... I stopped the night at Coblenz, and the next day took the steamer to Bingen. very picturesque with all the old castles, also passed the Lorelei. At Bingen I stopped a few hours and drank some fine cheap Rudesheimer. In the afternoon I took the train to Offenburgh passing thro’ Baden Baden, and then took a side R.R and got to Endingen, where fathers and mothers folks came from.
An old fashioned place. Stopped at an inn & next day went up to the town hall where I enquired for any Benitz people. First found Mr & Mrs Hildebrand who seemed to be second cousins of father, & then with him went to the house of Barbara Benitz Jerg an old lady who is the daughter of Thady Benitz fathers brother. She has a son called Franz, also a daughter (ugly).
Theodore Lederlie is the son of Anna Benitz Lederlie (dead) who was the [daughter] of Thady Benitz. Theodore is a fine chap & is married & has two children & has lots of letters written by father about “54. [The bold is for web.]
Stopped 2 nights in Endingen & went up [to] the old Church on the hill (St Catherines) with Hildebrand and it is a fine country with forests on the hills and vinyards to the valleys which seem very rich and well cultivated. people all living in the villages & going out in the day with their ‘cow’ or ‘ox team.
Left Endingen on the 21 Aug and went back to Offenburg and then through the black forest (Hollingen?) on to Friburg and then to Basle where I stopped the night.
Pittsburgh, May 6th. 1852
Dearest Brother and Sister in Law,
I duly received your letter of last year’s, thereby seeing that you are all well. I had a lot of things to tell you but it has always been rather impossible to realise it, as I have too much to do.
This last year I have built a new brickhouse and had two cellars opened up, which now are filled with barrels of Lager-beer, as good as in Munich. I am doing quite well, and my family is healthy; there are 2 boys and 2 girls, and one couple died.
I have to give you some important news, meaning that I have found our brother William Benitz, whom we missed for the last 12 years; he is in California. His letter is dated the 14th. of March 1852 at San Francisco and says:
“Dear Brother and Sister, I am very surprised at your silence, having written you twice without any reply. I'm living here in California since the year 1842. Thank God, I am doing very well. I am married, got a son of 2 years and 3 babies died. My wife is from Endingen, daughter of little Michael Kolmer and Josephine Wagner. I am living 70 miles north of San Francisco near the sea on an old russian property. I have a partner, a German. We have together about 6 squares of land [sitios de ganado mayor], and about 1000 head of cattle, 200 mares and horses. We also plant a lot and have done well. Our work is all done by indians, of which we have about 100 families. The place where I am living for 9 years already is called Fort Ross, it had been an old wooden Russian fortress, and lies near the sea. Now we have transformed this place into a farm. I have a lot to tell you, but I want to know first if my letters reach you. Our mother is probably no more alive. How are you all? I suppose you will have big families by now. Michael Kolmer is living two miles from here. He is very well. Louis Benitz has also been here for a long time, but went back to the gold mines. He is married to a Mexican girl and has a daughter 4 years old. I came here a few days ago with a schooner full of potatoes to sell. We sell this year 400.000 lbs. at 5 c. a pound. Write me as soon as possible. I would like a special letter from each of you, also I'd love to hear something about Endingen. In the meantime I greet you all affectionately,
Signed: William Benitz
My address is the following: W.B., Fort Ross, Mendocino County, Upper California.
As for the rest, Xaver and Nany are, as far as I know, healthy and doing well. Our brother in law and the sister also want to go to William.
In the meantime I greet you all many times,
Signed: Anthony Benitz
Sonoma, June 27th. 1853
Your letter of the 17th. Sept. arrived here yesterday and gave me great pleasure. I hope these few lines will reach you in good health. My family and myself cannot complain.
I have learned from your letter that many of our relations died and that our country has been badly afflicted for which I am very sorry.
Dear brother, I cant write you a long letter now, as I only came to Sonoma on business and cannot stop. I received your letter from a Hamburg business-firm Giel Berthean & Co. San Francisco. It had been to Cape Horn, that is why it took such a long time to get here. I am sending you enclosed herewith a power of attorney so as to enable you to take possession of the small legacy. I hope your hon. authorities wont make it difficult for you. Kolmer does not know anything about it, because he is at home on his farm, but as soon as he comes down to Sonoma, he will also have a letter of attorney made out,which I shall send you together with my next letter.
I will also send you a check for 1250 Gulden through Rothschild, but I can not send it before I go to the bank at San Fco. which will be in a few month’s time, but you can rely upon the fact that you will get the money this year; it will be of some help to you. Your letter made me and my wife nearly cry, I've never thought your situation was as bad as that.
My family is here at Sonoma with me. We now also have a daughter who is 8 months old. Kolmer’s daughter Carolina, my sister in law is also staying with me, she is 15 years old. Besides Kolmer has a son John whose age is 17 years. They are all well. Your letter to Louis Benitz has been posted immediately. I learned from a man named Umbre, from the Black Forest, that Louis is in a town near the mines, where he is got a bakery and inn and is doing well. The place is called Sonora, Tuolumne County, I could not help reading his letter too, as it was open and interested me very much. Louis has never written to me, neither have I received anything from brothers Anton and Xaver. From our sister and brother in law Mahrer, I have only had 2 letters with the same date.
I hear that you also have a mind to come to California, but I advise you not to undertake such a journey with your family, as danger and sickness is something usual at Panama. I would like to go back to Germany myself.
My partner and I have 2 camps, one of 20.000 acres and one of 11.000; the latter we have sold for $26.500.- but the one we still have is much more valuable. I have lived there for 10 years already. I have another property of 25.000 acres up the Sacramento river, which belongs to me alone and which was given to me by the Spanish Government. I have named this piece of land "New Breisgau" this having also been inserted in the map. Till next spring it will be decided whether I remain here or not; in the first case I will keep Fort Ross and New Breisgau; besides I have invested $36.000.- which give me $500.- a month.
Dear brother, you see that I would be able to buy a property in Germany. Although it is such a long time since I left you, it always calls me back to my native country; there is only one Germany and nobody knows this better than the ones who are far away. Some people make their fortune, but thousands go astray in these inhospitable countries. I have made my fortune, but nobody will envy me, if I would tell them what I went through in all parts of America, on water and land and how many unfortunate fellow country-men I have already met on my former trips. I am no more the slender youth I was 20 years ago, now I am corpulent and healthy.
Alexander, the son of Schmiederer, the innkeeper of the "Three Kings", is staying with me as surveyor over the camp we sold, and has 900 head of cattle under his supervision.
I hope you will write to me as soon as you get this letter as I love to hear from Endingen and also would like to know how I could invest my money there and whether there are any nice estates for sale.
Tomorrow I am going back to Fort Ross with my family. It is about 18 hours' journey from here (Sonoma). As soon as I get there, I will send you a long letter, including news about my former trips.
In the meantime my wife and myself send you best greetings
Signed: William Benitz
To Mr. Thade Benitz
Endingen in Breisgau
Great-Duchy of Baden.
San Francisco, April 5th. 1854.
I'm sending you herewith a check for $500.- dollars or 1.250 Gulden on a firm at Stuttgart. I wanted to send it sooner by private people who although changed their minds and did not travel. I hope you will get it in time to be of help to you.
We are all well here. Times got worse out here too. I have not yet sold my potatoe-crop of last year’s; this country is now stocked with products of all kind, (think of it, I have about 20.000 hundred-weights in my building and perhaps have to let it all rot).
I received no more news from you since your first letter. Anton has not written yet, neither did Xaver. Only from brother in law Mahrer I got 2 letters, from which I infer that he does not agree with Anton.
Let me know soon if you received the check and tell me how your family is. I can not possibly write much from here, but in a few days I will send you another letter.
In the meantime I greet you and your people and remain
signed: William Benitz.
P.S: My address is the following:
Fort Ross, March 8th. 1855
Your letter dated Dec. 26th. reached me on the 1st. of March. I hope these lines will find you all well and happy.
I have heard with pleasure that you received the $500.- I could not imagine that you were so hard up, I have often wished you had all the potatoes I had to throw away. You will be surprised to hear that I could not sell a single cart-load full out of one thousand. People here have now all kind of crops in abundance.
You did not answer me whether you have received my authorization concerning the legacy? This letter is the second one I received from you, although you say to have written several times. The letter from your children caused my family and myself very great pleasure. We are, thank God, all healthy and happy. On the 22nd. of May another little son was born to us, his name is William Otto. I have written to you in July, not knowing yet if my letter reached you.
Times are getting worse out here. Two weeks ago, the banks stopped their payments. I also have, with my partner Meyer, $14.400.- in them, not knowing whether we will get it back or not. I am losing money besides, because you can feel the scarcity in all business. I an also losing my camp on the Sacramento, New Breisgau of 22.000 acres. The American government has acquired (?) this land, but there will be an appeal.
A short time ago I received the first letter from our brother Anton, saying that he had been ill for a long time, and wants $2.000.- from me, which under the present circumstances is impossible. I heard he is very well off. Xaver does not write at all. I received several letters from our brother in law and the sister, but my last letters have received no answer for more than a year now. Kolmer was here yesterday and told me that he had no news from you yet. My mother in law wants to have a power of attorney made out as soon as an authorised person comes to these surroundings, because she is old and cannot travel about any more. I will see myself that the power is made out soon, so that her poor sister gets the money. The Kolmers are doing quite well, they all send kind regards to you, requesting you to give them some news about his brothers and sisters.
I was very pleased to hear that my comrades and friends still think of me. I did not hear from them for all these years, except that Otto Sartory came to America after the revolution.
I will try to make a little description of my travels, struggles and adventures, although it will be imperfect as I am no great writer and have never been, owing my little knowledge to your teacher, Mr. Grom. A real description would not fit into six volumes. I have already done many things in America, not nothing which an honest man would reject. My business is my best entertainment, as I have made up my mind against going to war. I will spend another year on agriculture and if it does not pay, I will put all my energies on breeding cattle. I have got now 500 head of cattle, 350 horses and mares and 200 pigs. I want to buy a few good bulls and stallions, as well as 1000 sheep, for which the price is between $8.- and $12.- a piece. I have bought my partner’s half of the camp and owe him $22.500.- to be paid on the lst. of May.
My potatoe-crop of last year’s was not very big. I have about 4000 bags of 125 pounds each, which now only sell at 2 c. a lb. Of my apple-crop I sold 20.000 lbs. at 25 c. This spring I shall be able to sell $2.500.- worth of steers also some barley etc.
I have continuously five or six workers from outside, mostly Americans; a hunter, a surveyor, a chief herdsman, a carpenter, a blacksmith and a nurse. They cost $35 to $60.- a month. The indians do most of the field-work, as ploughing, harrowing, planting and harvesting, they chop wood, drive the carts. Outside the Fort, there is a village of 150 indians, who are obliged, by the authorities, to work for me at $8.- a month, so I can always have as many as I need. I keep more or less 6 herdsmen on horseback, 2 help in the kitchen. The herdsmen (vaqueros) have to milk the cows, tame young horses etc.
Next spring I will plough up new land with 5 big ploughs. There are three indians going with a big plough and 2 with a small one. I have sown 150 acres of winter-crops.
Ten miles south of here is the Russian River, the limit of my land. I have a few hundred head of cattle there with some herdsmen. I also put a boat there to take travellers across the river. The camp on the other side belongs to Capt. S. Smith who owns 8 sq. leagues. His house stands 24 miles away from mine; he also has the nearest post office to my place, where I am sending every week for my letters and papers. The latter cost me $50.- a year.
By your letter I understand that you have already received the $500.- without any deductions for expenses. I hope they have not discounted anything at Stuttgart, as I paid here $65.- commission.
Louis Benitz again went to Mexico last spring, he had about $8-10.000.- with him. He does not like to live with the Americans as there are very bad people amongst them and their sense of freedom is not really existing. They are trying now to oppress the foreigners. The born americans have now formed secret societies to fight the rights of the strangers, who shall no longer receive any service and even shall be denied the right to vote. The new comers shall only be citizens after 20 years of residence and shall all be looked at the same as the free negro. The born Spaniards shall also be considered foreigners. Why dont the people from Germany emigrate to countries where germans are better looked at. If I could sell today or tomorrow, I would immediately go to another country, possibly back to Germany. I would rather go to Russia then to the "soiled States" (Verunreinigte Staaten). One can hear everywhere from ill treatments of the Catholics and the burning of their churches, that is freedom.
March 12th. I had to interrupt my letter on account of a boat coming to take cargo and bringing the news that the potatoes are being sold at 1 c.a lb. that is very little. I am sending 1000 bags of potatoes with their boat; also the roping, copper, anchor, chains etc. of a vessel which wrecked here and which I bought and took to pieces, to be delivered to my commissioners Messrs. Neefus and Tichenor, who sell it for me at the best possible price and if I need goods, they send them out to me at once.
Last autumn, six neapolitans opened a fishery here, their daily crop being from 5 to 1200 lbs. of fish. I get 20 pounds a day from them. I also profit by their weekly communication with San Francisco.
I have just read in the papers that another American ran away with $100.000.- That sort of thing is not unusual here, last year at least 20 functionaries escaped with official money. The city of San Francisco has at least been robbed of a million during the past few years.
The roads in the country are also very unsafe on account of robbers. In these parts here, not much has happened yet, but we are all well armed. In one of my rooms there is a collection of a dozen of the best rifles and several revolvers (Colts) with six shots and everybody is trained in shooting.
When I rode to Soma last summer somebody shot at me on the road; the bullet slightly touched my nose and the right eye. I do not know if it was intentional. I was riding full gallop when the shot was fired.
In December, my neighbour Chr. Knoff died. He lived 3 miles from here on a camp near the shore. His widow (her maiden-name was Mast) came from Forchheim, her father lives at Quiney (Illinois).
Our entertainment at night is reading. I have got a small library of about 150 books. Besides I have an organ which plays 30 music pieces. We also talk much about the Russian war. People in general sympathise with the Russians loving to see the English arrogance humbled.
I am sending you these few lines for the moment; gradually you will get a little description of my history. I would prefer though, to tell it to you personally.
Tell my comrades to write soon, telling me something about Endingen’s history. I would also like very much to receive a small view of the town. I will send you a few pictures from here when I write again.
In the meantime I greet you all affectionately,
Signed: William Benitz.
Fort Ross Sept. 22nd. 1856
Your letter of April the 6th. only just received, I am glad that you are all well. Perhaps you have now received my lines of last spring.
I see that you are very worried not knowing if I am progressing in this country? Everything is now in better order, our land litigation have been cleared and we are looking forward to a better future. Of course I have had great losses, which although didn't puzzle me. I lost $12.000.- in cash and 14.500 acres of land at New Breisgau, where they left me 7.500 ac. Fort Ross and all its belongings is all to myself and free of debts. I have got there 17.600 acres, 900 head of cattle, 200 horses and 900 sheep. In agriculture I dont work as much as I used to; I had 70 acres of wheat, 70 of oats, 30 of barley, 60 of potatoes and 20 acres of peas, beans and other vegetables. I am thinking to enlarge my stock, buying 2-500 young cows this winter. I can keep 2.500 head here at Fort Ross and will possess as many as that, if my health remains steady. Six weeks ago I sold 200 mares and fillies. It is much more difficult to breed horses than cattle.
Dear brother, as you see, I am not quite so hard up as you may have thought. Of course I could not economise anything during these last three years, but to the contrary had big losses. Still I could lend out $25.000.- and there is no danger either in other respects. I am doing better than most of the farmers, many of which made debts in the bad times and went bankrupt, while I have built up a lot in spite of the crisis. I have had to replace many of the old Russian houses by new ones and this task will keep me busy during next year too. Besides I will have to renew my mill, which has worked for the last 12 years. My next plan is to build 5 or 6 dairy-farms on my camp, with 1-200 cows each, which will take several years. Next winter I shall also build a 12 mile-long road across my camp. It will cost a lot of work because there is no road at all from here. It was not necessary up to now, because big boats come and cast anchor as near as 100 fathoms from my place, where they can take cargo.
Dear brother, tomorrow I am going to San Fco. on business and will have a new power of attorney made out so as to send it to you at once but I dont know yet if there is a Badish Consul there or not. Perhaps I can also send you my portrait and next spring a picture of my family.
I am very glad to hear that the money reached you in due time and was a great benefit to you, perhaps I can send you some more next spring. In case you want to send me your son, let him be taught properly. He could learn butchery out here and even get paid meanwhile, but it is no good. How old is your Xaver? Your Barbara is probably 14 by now and would be very wellcome to me; she could learn the language easily. I will pay her $30.- a month and provide for her future. Your son would be made an administrator on one of my farms and later on he might get one to himself. If your son is old enough, it could be done & his sister would be under his protection.
On the 2nd. July this year, I was made a present of another little son. We now have 4 children, the eldest one Frank Joseph became 6 years on the 22nd. May, Josephine is 4 years, William Otto 2 years old. My wife is healthy and strong being 26 now. We are at present married for 10 years, our three first children died. My wife works continuously & is a very good housewife.
Kolmer was very often taken ill this summer, which is the reason why he could not send the power of attorney. He is better now & sends many greetings to his brother as well as to you and your family. You write that Sebastian Kolmer received a letter from me, which must be a mistake as I have never written to him.
On the enclosed plan of California you will find my camp marked with a red line. My address will soon be; Fort Ross, Sonoma County, California. Messrs. Neefus & Tichenor used to be my agents in San Fco. but they dropped this kind of business. I always stamp my letters with 30 cts. what do yours cost? I dont got many letters from brother Anton and the sister, perhaps I find some on the Express. They are now making changes in the postrules, which will improve the safety of the letter transport.
Dear brother, you told me that our cousin Magdalena Liegebel wants to write, which would greatly please me. I hope she has recovered from her illness. Give her and cousin Xaver Benitz kindest regards from my part.
Our political difficulties have all been settled. This country had mostly been ruled and deceived by bad people, robbery and murder occurred every day, until the better citizens rose and caught the worst men, sending them out of the country or hanging them; and now we are in peace again. In the mining districts, although, it was always unsafe on account of robber-gangs, but in the agriculturing counties it was always fairly safe with a few exceptions.
A short time ago I got a letter from Adolphe Benitz from the mines, who is requesting information about his brother Louis. The latter, though, went back to Mexico a long time ago. The small picture of Freiburgh gave me great pleasure, althemore as I found the name Polie on it, same as I read my old friend’s Carl Loffler’s name underneath the picture of Endingen. How are these gentlemen? I have heard very little from my old friends; is the Herder-House still existing? I did not yet give up all hope to see you once more, but now it will be very difficult to get away from here. First of all I must settle my business-affairs, then it is very troublesome to get reliable people. May be, I can sometime sell my property and come to you for good. Now what could I do there? This question I have often asked myself.
Let me know how the flood of the Rhine was, and why your Senators and Mayors came off the investigation. You must be very hard up at home, as I always read in the papers and there is no chance of improvement, as you have no space. If everyone had 50 acres of land, it would be quite different.
I will send you a few more lines from San Fco. together with the power of attorney. In the. meantime I greet you all sincerely,
Signed: William Benitz.
San Fco. Sept. 10th. Dear brother, you will find enclosed the warrant I promised you, as well as a small portrait of myself. I am sorry I can't write any more for the moment. I have a small vehicle here which brought me some apples from Ross. I have sold my whole apple-crop of 20.000 lbs. for 12 cts. a pound. Now I have to buy a lot of things for my household, and do some business, the reason why I have no more time.
San Francisco, Sept. 4th. 1858
Dear Brother and Sister in law,
I duly received your letter of the 28th. March also yours of Dec.(56) which I answered at once.
With the greatest of pleasure I read the lines from cousin Alexander. I have been ill for 3 months and came here to San Francisco a fortnight ago to get completely restores again. I am living at Dr. Zeile’s, who is an old friend of mine, in the same house where William the druggist has a job and I often talk with him about Endingen.
I have to inform you that my father in law Mr. Kolmer died on the 12th. of February from a stroke. He is been drinking at leisure for several years a habit which destroyed his health and his finances. I am sending you herewith a power of attorney concerning my mother in law’s small inheritance. As the latter is already in your hands you should keep it. You might tell me how much it is, so that I can pay it back. Kolmer has never been well off, even the camp he possessed was a gift from me.
I hope to go back next week, as I am fairly well again. At Fort Ross everything is going on as quietly as ever. My family is well, Frank my eldest son (8½ years old) has got his own horse and saddle and a small rifle. I am keeping a teacher whom I pay $50.- a month. My two eldest children can read, write and count already.
Agriculture is not as profitable as it used to be and I want to drop it gradually; the products only pay a small price; potatoes 1 c. a lb. barley 1 c. oats 1¼ c. wheat 2½ c. and the wages are still too high (30 to $40.- a month.) Life stock is still the best business, I have now 1200 head of cattle 1.500 sheep, 150 horses. I am now especially dedicated to the cultivation of fruit-trees. I have an orchard of 450 apple-trees and 150 of other kind of fruit. I will have a piece of land fenced, where I will plant 1800 apple-trees next winter. These trees already give fruit in the second year. Later on I will enlarge my old orchard so as to have 60 acres planted with 6000 trees. Between these two orchards, there remain 15 acres of camp, on which I want to build my house in future, because my present buildings are near to the sea and exposed to the cold NW winds. This new place would be completely protected from these vinds, having also the best water and the nicest outlook.
The new gold-mines of Caledonia have done us a lot of harm; no less than 30.000 men went there from here, which caused a great scarcity of money. Many of them are already coming back poor, saying that the rivers are flooded.
Adolphus Benitz came to see me last July. He came from Columbia and the mines. At the same time his brother Louis arrived from Mazatlan (Mexico) they both went together up to the river Fraser, New Caledonia. They asked me to send their regards to all their relations. Perhaps they will make their fortune, as they say gold is very thick there. When the river is low, they make from $20.- to $100.- a day.
I will write to cousin Alexander at Caracas. I would be glad to have him here at Fort Ross. Now he will probably have left again for his new home. If you want me to bring your son out here, it will be better to let him first learn a profession; there is no proper opportunity to do so here. Diligent girls would also get along very well out here and get just as high wages as men; besides they usually make a good marriage.
The wages will have risen over there too (ever 12 Kreuzer)? I pay my cook $40.- (100 Gulden) a month. If I had the idea to remain here, I would have advised you long ago to come, but I can not sell so soon. I want now $100.000.- for Fort Ross as it is; my camp has been measured, it consists of 17.500 acres, and my new ranch at New Breisgau will soon be decided upon; there are another 6.750 acres. In my opinion these places will be worth double price in three years. Also my life-stock will do doubled by that time.
I have heard from Anthony Pittsburgh that he has been very ill, but that is all I know about him. A few days ago I met a man from Endingen here in this town, Frank Xaver Wissert; he is working as tailor at San Fco. Zimmermann, who went to see you from Freiburg, is supposed to be back here already, although I have not seen him yet. I am glad that the citizens from Endingen living in the States go and see their birthplace again. Many of them are probably doing well.
You do not need to stamp your letters as I get them all the same and will gladly pay the postage. I hope the enclosed power of attorney will be sufficient to give you possession of the above named legacy.
William, the druggist, is also going to write; it seems he is homesick (or rather is longing for someone in Endingen.)
I finish greeting you and your people, asking you to give my regards to all my relations and acquaintances, especially to cousin John L. and Lena at Freiburgh, and remain
your faithful brother
signed: William Benitz.
P.S. Break the seal of this letter and you will find a coin of gold underneath.-
Fort Ross, January 15th. 1863.
From your last letter we learned with pleasure that you and your family are still all well. Thank God, we are also healthy and happy here in California.
You will have wondered that I am staying with William, I have been here for a few years already and think to let my family come and settle here. I like the climate very much, it does not get very hot in summer nor cold in winter, which is very agreable. My family is not big, I only have one son at home, his name is William and his age is 17. I have two daughters, but they are married, and I am already a grandfather for more than four years. I think I beat you all in this way, although I am the youngest member. My family is still in Cleveland (Ohio), I expect them this next spring.
We have also learned the sad news of our cousin’s death and that you are asking me for a power of attorney on account of our late cousin’s (H. Benitz) legacy. I know he made his will, leaving one thousand Gulden to each of us, after his wife’s death.
Now, dear Brother, I will authorize you to send me my share, I see that Nany of Pitsburgh is not satisfied with you as by your letter but I think you are unable to commit an injustice, and will give every one his share, especially to the ones who are absent. You may send my part to Bandman, Nelson & Co. at San Francisco, which is a very good firm, knowing us well.
About the war, we do not get any news except the ones we read in the papers and we are here as far away as you are, not being bothered by it.
We have a citizen from Endingen here whose name is Frank George Ziegler. He came a year ago and is working for William.
I learn that your daughter is getting married soon, and I wish her all the luck and blessings for this occasion.
I am in a hurry as I am going to ride down to Santa Rosa with William.
In the meantime I greet you all and remain
This letter came from San Francisco from FRANZ XAVER BENITZ to THADAEUS BENITZ, father of my mother.
Fort Ross, Jan. 18th. 1863
I duly received your letter of the 6th. Nov. and was glad to hear from you and your people. We are all well and healthy.
In four years I have only received one letter from you, although I have written to you every year. Your letters probably have gone astray on the overland trip, as the mail-transport was very unsafe. My family has increased again by a couple of boys, Alfred 3½ years and John 17 months.
There have been many changes in California; the prices went down and there to superproduction in everything. This country is blessed not only there are gold and silver mines etc. but cereals of every kind, wine and tobacco; meat only costs between 1 and 4 c. a lb. The wages have also been cut from $40.- a month to $20 and $25.
We have nothing to fear from the war here, except a big war tax and a rise in factory work, which means make things very expensive.
I was glad to hear that you over there think of making a lot of improvements, having already beautified your country.
Xaver sends you a power of attorney for his share in the legacy. I hope you will be able to arrange this matter as he wishes you to. You can keep my part of the legacy, I do not want it.
I will have a German newspaper sent to you from San Fco. which every boat will bring you, that means three times a month. The paper will be of great interest to you, as it is written for foreign countries. Frank Ziegler is working here for more then a year; he has also written to Endingen a few weeks ago.
My chief business is still breeding cattle and horses. Last winter we had a lot of cold and wet weather. The flat parts of the countryside have all been overflowed and hundreds of houses were washed away, cattle, horses etc. got drowned and many people went bankrupt. I have also lost 200 head of cattle and 30 horses through hunger and cold.
Three years ago I had a lawsuit which cost me $8.000. It was on account of my camp; somebody covetted it, but I won the lawsuit, less the $8000.-
In other respects, all is going well here. I have no debts and got some cash. Brother Xaver is staying already two years with me. His wife does not want to come as she is too used to town life, perhaps his sons in law will come.
The silver mines which were discovered two years ago, have aroused great interest here and many steamengines are being sent there. When it is all working, there will be an export of 100.000.000 in silver every year.
Louis and Adolphus Benitz are also at the mines of Washoo, but I dont get much news from them. Perhaps I will go there myself next spring to buy shares in a few mines.
I have also sent some letters to H.A. Benitz to Caracas, but had no answer. What is old cousin Benitz doing, and Lena, and the rest of the relations? Give them many kind regards from me. Presently I will send you a few photos of my property. I have improved my place my making new buildings.
I keep a teacher for my boys, who learn German, Spanish English etc.
I an sorry that I can not send your daughter a wedding present. I have sent your elder daughter a couple of gold rings, not knowing if they got there. I am giving you my share of the legacy and as father, you might have a couple of rings made for your daughter. I wish the young couple all the luck and blessings.
The money for Xaver should be sent to C.B. Bandmann at Hamburgh.
In the meantime I remain with my best regards for you all,
your faithful brother
Signed: William Benitz
Fort Ross, Oct. 7th. 1863
Dear brother Thade,
Your letter of the 10th. March caused me great delight and I notice to my pleasure that you are still all well. We are also healthy and happy and doing well in spite of our great civil war which left us unbothered up to now. California is on the Union-side the country is prepared for emergencies 1000 men are under arms, the Southlanders who live here have to be quiet. At San Fco. they are working hard at fortifications. There will soon be monitors and iron clad ships; there are already guns of the biggest size (400 lbs.) These armaments though are only meant for outside enemies and the victories of our government since the 1st. July make us hope for an early peace. After that, the French shall be driven out of Mexico, for which purpose California will also bring up 25.000 men. On the 28th. April we got a little son, whose name is Hermann; brother Xaver is still staying with me. Next spring one of his sons in law will come here too and settle down. Xaver’s wife does not like to come to California, she prefers staying in Cleveland with her daughters, she may change her mind though.
Louis Benitz and Ziegler went to Sonora in Mexico. Louis is headman of a silver-mine there, which belongs to a German Company at San Fco. Ziegler sent me a little box full of Washoo minerals he brought from there. I have heard little from Adolphus L.: they say he stayed at Washoo. I am expecting a letter from Zeigler soon. I hope you get the German papers from San Fco. for which I paid one year ahead for you to receive them postfree. When you get them, you will know most of the California news. For instance, they have discovered a number of silver and copper mines, besides the hundreds of gold mines which have been worked since 1848. During the last 20 months there have been found no less than 2000 silver and copper mines. Amongst the farmers the excitment was enormous and many of then left their homes to make their fortune quicker in the mines. I remained at home, as there were too many going. In our Sonoma County there used to be only a few mercury pits, which did not pay, but this spring they found copper here, which gave cause to further investigations, leading to the discovery of 100 mines mostly copper, but also silver, some with gold. In the adjoining counties of Marin, Napa and Mendocino, they also found several and the research is going on. Copper has been found as near as 4 miles from my house, I have a share in 6 different mines. These mines cost a lot before one can extract good ore. Several years might go by for all these mines to work properly, as there will be scarcity of capital and workmen. You will see, though, that California is a blessed country, The harvest was good as usually & people dont know here what a crop-failure is. All the sheds are packed with cereals, we can't sell enough. Even if several shiploads full go to Australia, England, China and other countries, there is still abundance here and the price are very low in spite of big wages. But still, most of the farmers are well off. You can got the fresh wine for keeping at 40 to 60 c. pr, gallon.
I have reduced my cattle-stock this year as my camp was overcrowded. I have sold 400 head to butchers at San Fco. 300 I exchanged for horses, 100 cows and calves I sold for the low price of $4.- a piece at Al. Schmiederer; besides I killed 4 head a week, which usually gave 500 pounds at 4 c. a lb. That way I got room for the rest of my stock.
If our mines turn out good, I will be able to sell all my products at better prices on the place. People in general here believe in a golden future.
The weather shows already symptoms of the coming winter, although it is still fine, but it won't last long. Many farmers have not finished thrashing yet, because there is great scarcity of workmen. Many of our people prefer to go discovering into the mountains than working for 2½ or $3. a day.
The thrashing is all being done with machines in the open, a good one does 1400 bushels a day, cleaning the product at the same time. I have got everything under roof, except the potatoes and the fruit. I have got a small machine myself, which thrashes 2000 bushels in a fortnight’s work.
The papers here speak very well of the Badish Government, it seems that your Grand-duke sees that the spirit of the age pushes forward, not backwards. Soon you will get some lines from my children. 4 of them already write german and english. Enclosed you will find the Rose (compass-card?) of California, which shows something of San Francisco, as I have no photos yet,
Mrs. Kolmer is still active and sends you her best regards. Xaver will write about the big legacy, he is going for a visit to San Francisco tomorrow.
Finishing, I greet you all afectionately and remain
Your faithful brother
Signed: William Benitz.
P.S. Please do not send my letters any more to South America, but to Mr. William Benitz, Fort Ross, Sonoma County, California, U.S.
© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)