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Now let me scold you a little: the Westfall letters

Recently I posted the transcript of a letter from a little girl in Rossland in 1898 writing to her father to tell him what she received for Christmas. It was part of a small cache of envelopes, letters, and letterheads connected to the Old Gold Quartz and Placer Mining Co. that sold on eBay.

I’ve now transcribed the other material and learned a bit about their author. The three letters were all mailed by Clara Grace Westfall in Rossland to Joe Cunningham in 1898-99. The first was sent to Fort Wrangell, Alaska and others to Fairhaven, Wash.

Here’s what we know about Clara: she was born in Mill Plain, Wash. on Aug. 15, 1858, the second of eight children to James and Eudora Sturges Bybee. At age 15 she married John Wesley Westfall of West Virginia and gave birth to their first child, James, in California in 1873. Several more children followed: Edward in 1875, Dora in 1877, Virginia in 1879, Eliza in 1880, and Charles in 1881.

The family moved to Rossland around 1896, where John was involved with mining companies. He also had claims in the Lardeau, where the Westfall River was named after him (it was formerly the west fork of the Duncan River).

Joe Cunningham and Clara were obviously longtime acquaintances. Joe was a widower, and in the first letter it appears two of his four children, Willie and Grace, were staying with Clara. In the second letter she asks about them, so they must have been back in Fairhaven. In the last letter, the kids were in Rossland, having spent Christmas there. So Joe was the recipient of the above-mentioned Christmas letter from Grace. Clara refers to herself as Willie’s aunt, but near as I can tell they were not actually related.

Clara was 40 when she wrote these letters. I’ve left her idiosyncratic spelling intact.


Envelope: The Old Gold Quartz and Placer Mining Co.

Sent to: Mr. Joe Cunningham, Fort Wrangell, Alaska

Postmarked: Rossland, Illegible, 1898

Rossland, BC

June 21/98

Mr. Joe Cunningham

Dear Friend

I received you Register Letter but must say I was just a little bit riled for I thought you new me better then to send me all the money you had. Of course I needed some but I don’t rely [really] think I needed it as bad as you did. Now let me scold you a little an don’t never do the like again. After I got your letter that you would soon be out of money I wished with all my hart you would not get mine where I had asked you to send me money but it went just the same. It did not make eny diffrence.

Well Joe you sed I was not a good Lady [?] of Happiness. I of course can’t say what made you look happy but you rely [really] look Pleased. Perhaps those horned [?] looking things on those poles [?]. Well we are still staying above. Don’t you think us brave but it is very lonely. If it wasn’t for Grace Rackett we could hardly stand it. Willie is still selling paper. He erned $2.50 which he has goten him some thing. Now he is saven his money to get him a nice pair of shoes an he is telling me how he is a going to take care of them an how long he is going to keep them for nice. They will be a good deal [?] better than if we got them.

This is the greates [?] place for men to want some thing to eat. nearly every day I have some one to feed but I get them to chop all my wood as the wood pile is near so I get something out eney way.

Jennie is much better than in the winter but she is doctored [?] all the time. I hope she gets good an stout. Dora is feeling very good for her. We expect to move just as soon she is over with her sickness. I hope she gets along well but still I can’t help being uneasy.

Well Joe I was out to the grave yard the other day to plant some flowers on our Darling grave an I wish you were along. It seemed so lonely an sad for me. Little Willie went with me. What a dear good boy he is an he think what aunty says is all write. [1]

Well I will close for this time. Hope you rite soon an often. Jennie is going to the Opry tonight so I will send this letter by her so it will go that much sooner. Well good by.

With love from all an from a true friend,



1. The grave was that of her son Charles, who died on March 10, 1897. reproduces his obituary from the following day’s Rossland Evening Record under the headline “CHAS. WESTFALL DEAD/Expired From Heart Disease at His Home Yesterday”:

Charles N. Westfall, the 16-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Westfall, died at 10 o’clock yesterday morning at the home of his parents near the BC mills. The cause of his death was heart disease. Owing to the delayed train this morning the funeral which was set for 10 o'clock was postponed. It will probably take place tomorrow at 10 o'clock from White's new undertaking parlors on Lincoln street, one block back from Columbia avenue. All friends are invited to attend. Rev. W.C. Dodds, of the Presbyterian church, will officiate.

Charles was buried initially in what was known as the Berg or Sunnyside cemetery. In July 1912 he was re-interred in the Columbia cemetery along with several other burials. The grave is not marked.


Envelope: The Old Gold Quartz and Placer Mining Co.

Sent to: Mr. Joe Cunningham, Fairhaven, Wash,

Postmarked: Rossland, Dec. 5, 1898; Fairhaven, Dec. 9, 1898

Rossland, BC

Nov. 4

Mr. Joe Cunningham

Dear Friend

I take the Pleasure of writing you a few lines. We are having some terrible wether. It has bin snowing an just offel Disagreeable. I guess it will be this way till next May. Just think of being in this terrible country.

How is the children getting along at school? I should like to see them so much. I get very lonely some time for them but I don’t worry as I no they will be all write with you. How is Grace with her hooping cough?

We got Jimey’s Pictures an think them just fine. [1] It would make you laugh to see his Father a looking at Jim’s Pictures every time he come in he take an look at them an will say I didn’t think they look like him an all the time he is so Please.

Well I will not as it is very late an I want to get this in the mail or it won’t go of till Monday unless I do so. With regard an love to the children I will close from a sincere friend,

C.G. Westfall

1. Possibly Clara’s eldest son.


Envelope: The Old Gold Quartz and Placer Mining Co.

Sent to: Mr. Joe Cunningham, Fairhaven PO, Whatcom Co., Wash,

Postmarked: Rossland, Jan. 10, 1899; Fairhaven, illegible

Stationery: The Old Gold Quartz and Placer Mining Co. Ltd.

Mr. Joe Cunningham

Dear Friend

I received your letter an was glad to get your letter an was glad you got so meney nice presents. This is a Dredfull Stormy night. The wind is Blowing hard for here an it is snowing hard all so but that did not stop Mitch an Willie an Jennie from going to the Skating Rink.

We received a a letter from Charly Bybe an he wanted to no how you were an sed he would like to see you. He wants to come up again here to see us. [1]

Well I sed I would try an tell you what got this Christmas.

From Dora a nice Hand Painted Fenil [?] Dish. [2]

From Baby Milton Picture of himself which I prize very much.

From Jennie a nice Crumb Pan an Brushes an a lovly Cellry Dish an Hanker Chife.

From Grace a nice Beaded Boat an Hanker Chife.

From Jake a nice card received of our dear old flag an the English Flag united.

From Mrs. McGuire a nice Table Doiley [?] an a nice hand made box for Hanker Chief, a nice Cabinet Photo of Mrs. McGuire an Mr. McC an our little Faverite Boy. His name is Donal.

From Mr. Manross a nice Pocket Knife. How he came to get it was because I was a greavin about the knife you gave me. I lent it to Jennie an she lost it so I was feeling very bad about it an he got one for me but it is not the knife you made ma ll the same.

From Mrs. Green a nice Center Pice for a table with a nice [illegible].

From Mrs. Lonster a very nice hand made Doily.

From Mr. Smith a love box with a bottle of lovely Perfume.

With a few nice Hanker Chief from Milly an Grace that is all I can think of.

Don’t you think I did not do well this Christmas?

Well I have not got my letter from Jim yet. I still am looking for one. I never give up looking for a letter from any of you. I am very glad granmma is better an hope she will be all right soon an glad Mrs. Peterson is better. Well I don’t go out very often so don’t see very many. There has bin at least a half a dozen killed in the mines in the last to weeks. It is just terribel to think of some meney a geting killed. Some with Lambes an some with out. [3]

Grace rote an told you the most she got. She got too Dollie – one was a painted Doll. I think she like the painted one the best. A stoking [?] with nearly every thing you could think a lovly silk Hanker Chief from Jake, a nice box of candy from Mrs. McGuire, an lots of candy nut an oranges an Willie got too nice silk ties a cap. O yes a nice books for Grace an Willie.

Well I must close as it is getting late and I get up at Four O’clock so with love to all I will say good night from a sincere friend

C.G. Westfall


1. Charles Bybee was Clara’s brother.

2. Probably Clara’s sister.

3. I haven’t checked the newspapers to see what fatalities she is referring to. But only one death was registered around this time, that of M.J. Merry who died on Dec. 6, 1897, age 27. An Oregon native named Albert Westfall, 28, was killed in the War Eagle mine in 1900, but the newspaper accounts said he left no family.


By 1901, the Westfall family had moved to Trout Lake City, where the census recorded John, 52, Clara, 44, their daughter Virginia, 21, Willie Cunningham, 14, and Florence Grace Cunningham, 11. The Westfalls’ son and other daughters were then living in Washington and Oregon. The following year Virginia married Jacob Schmitt in Nelson.

Below: A stock certificate made out in J.W. Westfall’s name in 1899.

The Westfalls spent their winters in California. In 1905, they took a trip of several months to Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Bellingham, Spokane and other cities, although John was very sick most of the time with Hodgkin disease. They returned to the West Kootenay, but his condition continued to decline. He died at Kootenay Lake General Hospital in Nelson on Jan. 29, 1906 at age 56. He was buried in Bellingham.

The 1910 census found Clara living in Waitsburg, Wash. with her daughter Virginia’s family and working as a private nurse. Also living with them was Joe Cunningham, listed as a boarder and stationary engineer. Sometime over the next decade, Joe and Clara got married. In 1920, they were living in Mountain View, Idaho, near Sandpoint where Joe worked as a section hand/labourer. In 1930, they were in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Joe died in Idaho on Oct. 11, 1942, age 90. He was re-interred at Sandpoint in 2009. His grave marker notes he “Lived in Sandpoint 1910-26.” Clara died in Bellingham on Jan. 20, 1946, age 86, and was buried there in the same cemetery as her first husband, under the name Clara Westfall Cunningham. Two of her daughters are also in that cemetery.

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Margaret MacDonald
Margaret MacDonald
09. März 2018

Very interesting! Shows how tough the living conditions were in those days.

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