Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Charles Collins Diary and Account Book, 1846-1867

Finding aid created by
Richard C. Bates; Philip Heslip, September 2009

Summary Information
Title: Charles Collins diary and account book
Creator: Collins, Charles
Inclusive dates: 1846-1867
Extent: 1 volume
The Charles Collins diary consists of accounts, both credit and debit, between Collins, a carpenter, and his customers and suppliers in frontier California during and after the gold rush. The volume also contains twelve pages of a fragmented diary describing travel from Iowa to California, and life as a prospector, farmer, and carpenter.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1983. M-2039.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Charles Collins Diary and Account Book, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The volume starts as an account book, which is in roughly chronological order. The diary begins on the first page inside the back cover.


Charles Collins was a carpenter who traveled from Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in 1850, through Nebraska, and settled in California by 1852. After an unsuccessful attempt at prospecting for gold, Collins and his two companions, John Richardson and another man named John, settled in San Luis Obispo, California. There they rented land from a local priest and farmed along with two men named John. In San Luis Obispo, Collins made and repaired wheels and buggies, doubletrees, and appliances such as cheese presses, and worked as a cooper until at least 1873.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles Collins diary and account table is a leather-bound notebook that was purchased in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1844. The bulk of the book is made up of accounts, both credit and debit, between Collins, a carpenter, and his customers and suppliers. The last twelve pages, written back-to-front, constitute a diary covering the dates June 11, [1852]-July 4, 1853. Several pages have been ripped from the volume and the diary resumes in July 1867.

The first eight pages of the account book contain accounts from 1846 to 1849, when Collins was a carpenter in the East. After a number of cut-out pages, the accounts pick up again in 1855, when Collins was in California after an unsuccessful attempt to profit from the gold rush. Starting in Fort "Desmoin" (Des Moines, Iowa) on June 11, [1852], he makes entries in the diary through July 23, as his group headed west in wagons. After leaving Des Moines, they traveled 12 to 18 miles a day, arriving at Council Bluffs on the Missouri River on June 24, where they joined 11 other wagons. Twenty wagons in all crossed the Elkhorn River on June 29th and headed for the Platte. They celebrated the 4th of July by raising a flag and firing 13 guns. Since they were in Indian country, they circled the wagons and posted guards at night. Approaching Grand Island, they found two graves of individuals who died of cholera. They sighted Buffalo on July 22, and the next day they lost their cattle, which halted their travels for nearly three weeks.

The next diary entry starts on November 13, 1852, when Collins and his companions agreed to rent 15 acres of land from the local priest in exchange for giving him 1/5 of any productions. He reported almost daily rain. They killed deer every few days, encountered many drunken Indians, and tried, unsuccessfully, to prospect for gold. On January 10, John Richardson killed two bears and wounded two others.

On February 5, 1853, Collins stated that their search for gold had been unsuccessful. That day, John Richardson took off secretly with the white horse, complete with saddle and bridle, a blanket, a dog, a gun, and shot. Collins made a coffin for an old lady who died; he and the remaining “John” planted wheat and barley, and on February 24, the priest gave them the vineyard in exchange for half of all fruit it produced. They grew potatoes, cucumbers, melons, and buckwheat and supplemented this work by repairing various appliances for the priest and other people in the area, such as wheels and buggies, doubletrees, and cheese presses. A doctor named Page lived with them for two or three days, taking notes on the Mission for publication. The last diary entry is dated July 4, 1853.

Subject Terms

    • California--Description and travel.
    • California--Gold discoveries.
    • Carpentry.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--California.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--Iowa.
    • Iowa--Description and travel.
    • San Luis Obispo (Calif.)
    • Wagon trains.
    Genre Terms:
    • Account books.
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Charles Collins diary and account book,  1846-1867 [series]