The Rutishauser Letters contains a set of personal letters written by a dying throat-cancer patient in the Downieville Hospital and his family living in Queen City from November 1903 to February 1904. The letters contain a lot of gossip about the happenings in northern Sierra County and Downieville. They also mention many residents by name. Overall, they tell a tragic tale.
The letters were extracted from the book The August Rutishauser Letters 1903-1904 Second Edition written by Richard L. Hanson (copyright 2006 and self-published). The author considers the letters to be in the public domain and grants permission for readers to copy and republish any or all of the letters, in whole or in part, provided credit is given to the source. The book includes the original images of the letters. If you would like a copies of any of those images, e-mail the author and he will be happy to e-mail back a JPEG file.
The book is dedicated to the author's cousin, Robert Rutishauser, grandson of the parents August and Maggie in the letters. His family preserved the letters in a shoe box and graciously provided them to the author for transcription and publication. The author is the great-grandson of the same people.
Email the author: Richard Hanson
The Rutishauser - Horn Family
On November 15, 1888, in Scales, Sierra County, California, Swiss immigrant August Rutishauser married Sierra County resident Margaret “Maggie” Horn. August was born on December 9, 1859, in Ameriswil, Canton of Thurgau, Switzerland. The parents of August were Johannes Rutishauser and Susanna Wohlgemuth, both residents of Ameriswil. Maggie was born on September 6, 1869, in St. Louis, Sierra County, California. Maggie’s parents were William Horn and Amelia “Bridget” Keenan, both residents of St. Louis, Sierra County. William was born in Prussia and Bridget in Ireland.
August Rutishauser worked at a brewery and did some gold mining. A 1896 newspaper article lists a mining claim owned by August Rutishauser being sold at auction because of nonpayment of taxes. He had other relatives in the area, notably his uncle John Rutishauser living in Scales.
August and Maggie resided in Scales for a time where their two eldest daughters, Amelia and Ruth, were born. About 1894 the family moved to Forbestown where a son, Willie, was born. Two or three years later they moved to Queen City where the remaining three children were born - Mabel, Stanley and August.
Families moving from one town to another in pursuit of either jobs or to work new mining claims was not uncommon during that time. Maggie made a life-time friend, Annie Dubuque, with whom she frequently socialized.
A 23 Nov. 1903 article in the Mountain Messenger describing August’s situation follows. “Nine years ago August Rutishauser of Port Wine noticed a little lump over his right collar bone, to which he gave little heed. About three years ago it commenced to grow rapidly and summer before last he came over to consult Dr. Iglick, who removed a large fibrous tumor from the side of his neck, but left several others that could not be removed at the time, as the patient had already been three hours under the anesthetic, and had lost much blood. Last September he went to San Francisco and had more tumors removed. But the wound from his last operation has not healed, and the growth now involves all the tissues of the right side of his neck, head and chest, disabling the patient from work, and he was obliged to apply for admission to the County Hospital last Sunday, where Dr. Iglick pronounces his case incurable. Mr. Rutishauser has a wife and five small children at Port Wine, who are worthy but destitute, and Tony Lavezzola took up a collection for them here this week, and donations from other sources will be gratefully received by him, and forwarded to them.
From November 24, 1903, until his death on February 16, 1904, August resided in the county hospital located in Downieville. Except for a couple of visits to the hospital, Maggie and the children remained in their home in Queen City, a small mining town on a ridge above La Porte. To get to the hospital, August had to travel in a sleigh on a snow-covered mule trail. The trip over the mountain to Downieville in the middle of winter in 1903 was not an easy journey. Consequently, letter writing was the preferred means of communication.
Mail was delivered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. During winter when there was snow on the ground, the mailman drove a sleigh. Mail between Queen City and Downieville did not proceed directly but through the city of Marysville located in the foothills to the west. Thus mail delivery took almost a week.
Telephones connecting Queen City and Downieville existed in 1903 but were apparently unreliable during the winter since the letters mention the lines being down.
The family was very poor during 1903 and the years preceding it. No doubt August’s gradually worsening illness contributed to this. Maggie did laundry work to make additional money (Remember that back then they used wash boards and the term “Blue Monday” was coined by women for whom Monday was the traditional laundry day.).
August was 44 years old at the time he entered the county hospital. Maggie was 31. Amelia Augusta Rutishauser was 13 years old and the eldest of the children. One of her responsibilities was to start the fires in the morning. The other children consisted of Ruth (aged 10), William ‘Willie” (aged 8), Mabel (aged 6), Stanley (aged 4) and infant August (6 months old). August is also referred to as the “baby” in many of the letters.
What the Letters Contain
The set of letters in this book were written by August, Maggie and the children during the period November 1903 through February 1904 when August was in the Sierra County Hospital. The last letters address August’s death there on February 16, 1904.
The Community of Sierra County
With the exception of the small city of Downieville, the towns in Sierra County during this time when gold mining was in decline were small and close knit, especially among permanent residents. By today’s standards, the distances between towns were small. For example, Amelia Horn and her mother walked two miles from St. Louis to Queen City to bring milk to Maggie and the children.
While August spent his last months in the county hospital, the Rutishauser family was destitute. There was no formal, government-run welfare system back then. Maggie and the children instead relied upon help from relatives, friends and neighbors. This help included raising money, donating clothes and providing direct help such as mending snowshoes for the children.
Many of the names mentioned in the letters from Maggie and the children were those of neighbors who lived nearby. The Queen City map from the book Roar of the Monitors by Jann E. Garvis, mentions the following families in the letters as residents there: Brunet, Dubuque, France and Modglin. Resident in nearby Port Wine were Gibson and Lewis. This is a very incomplete list and people did move around.
That was especially true after the towns burned down. During one such incident, a forest fire swept through Queen City and destroyed most of the buildings. The residents used the nearby Queen City mine as a refuge for themselves and their possessions.
Downieville County Hospital
According to James J. Sinnott’s book Downieville – Gold Town on the Yuba, the county hospital was located at Zumwalt Flat (northern end of Downieville). Built as a hospital in 1880, its use as such continued until the late 1950s at which time it was sold off as separate parcels. Several homes and a small apartment complex now occupy the old hospital location.
After August’s Death
William Horn, Maggie’s father, moved in with her family until his death in 1907. He had been previously living at a local boarding house. After her father’s death, Maggie moved her family from Port Wine to nearby Downieville (U.S. Census found the family there in April 1910). Maggie and her children stayed in the home of her good friend Mrs. Dubuque. Both were widows. Maggie later bought a house next door to Mrs. Dubuque.
Times were very difficult. Maggie and the older children obtained what employment they could. The family also received helped from relatives, friends and community organizations.
Maggie never remarried. She left Downieville in 1925 to live with some of their children. She made occasional visits to Downieville to see old friends. She lived to age 91.
Amelia Augusta Rutishauser married George Geiger Jr., a gold miner. Amelia previously attended a business college in Reno and worked as a mining office clerk. They moved down into the Central Valley and raised a large farm family of 11 children. She died at an age of 67 from heart disease.
Ruth E. Rutishauser never married and lived with her mother until the latter’s death. While in Downieville, she worked as a legal secretary at the Downieville courthouse. She lived to age 71.
William “Willie” Rutishauser died of double pneumonia at age of 12 in Downieville.
Mabel M. Rutishauser married Frank B. Werry and had three children. She lived to age 81.
Stanley Earl Rutishauser married Lillian M. Parker, an aspiring musician, but had no children. Stanley worked as a movie house projectionist. He died at age 81.
August Elmer Rutishauser married Margaret Jane Lyon and had two children. August worked in the banking industry eventually becoming a branch manager. He lived to age 71.
Any text that was added for clarity is placed in square brackets [ ]. Some of the writing was difficult or impossible to read, and for that situation the transcription consists of a best guess. Words or letters that are not identified appear as a blank line "_____". When creating the transcription, corrections were not made to the spelling, grammar or punctuation. The reader will quickly note that the sentence-ending periods were frequently omitted.