[D8828ABP], Letter from Frank McGowan to Thomas Alva Edison, May 15th, 1888


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[D8828ABP], Letter from Frank McGowan to Thomas Alva Edison, May 15th, 1888

Editor's Notes

"I arrived here [Cali, Colombia] on April 29th. and telegraphed Grace to authorize credit with Simmonds here, adding the word "Eureka", by which you were to know I had run the big Gramina to earth. I waited a week for an answer and not receiving one, took a spin down the river Cauca for a distance of 200 miles, to see how things looked there, but was recalled by Grace's telegram authorizing Simmonds to give credit for $750. I intended to have taken the road for Bogata, but will now devote my time to sending you lots of big Gramina, so that you can judge of the quality. Although my work now is more concentrated than when I was on my way along the Andes and coast, it is by no means an easy task to visit all the places where I have to go in order to examine all the big stuff I fall in with. For instance, after I send your stuff from away up the river Cauca and adjacent slopes, my next trip will be some 150 miles distant over the worst roads, or pathways, that it is possible to imagine, and from there I have to go, some 250 miles towards the Central Cordillera, along, I might say, impassible roads. I will have to do this in order to give you that satisfaction which you will claim. ### QUITO TO CALI. ### I had the misfortune to strike Ecuador during the feast season, and I had much trouble getting help along my route. I wrote you from Quito, that I would go from there to Pasto, thence to Popyan, and thence to Bogota. In Ibarra, Ecuador, I changed my mind as I had only table land to travel where the cold atmosphere was against the growth of fibrous material, and especially Gramina. I wanted to strike in towards the Esmeralda mountains at Otavale, but could not get a peon to go with me. They must enjoy their feast days, and besides the continued deluges of rain, had rendered traveling in that region impossible, so they said, and they told me of four men who had perished in attempting to cross one of the rivers there. Of course, I never take a bluff of this kind, but I must have peons to carry my duds while I make investigations. I therefore, took the road for the coast at Ibarra and had a nine days tramp through as bad a forest as I ever tackled before. I met three men in that forest who were literally starving to death, and who begged me for God's sake to give them something to eat. You may rest assured it was pretty hard upon me to have to refuse food to a starving man, but I had a long way to go myself, and had also two peons to provide for who could eat the stuffing out of an old sofa. Had I given any of these men any of my fodder, I would have ended my own days, for my peons did not know the way, and for three days I had to do some tall land steering with my pocket compass, and for two of three days I had only a little barley meal mixed with water, for food. Oh! What a journey that was. One of my peons cut his foot a little, and I had to stop for a whole day. A large jigger had buried himself in one of my feet and on my yanking him out with my knife, the constant walking in mud raised a fester, and every time I struck my foot against a snag, the blood would spout out and almost double me up with pain. Yet I kept right along, while my peon wanted me to wait a week in the woods for him to get better. Difference between white man and nigger standing pain. I came out of the woods at a place called Catchabi, which is noted for its fine gold mine, the whole of which could be bought for 8 or $9,000. From there I took a canoe for Concepcion and ascended River Santiago, and also River Verde. The Gramina was pretty good on the Santiago, and also River Verde. The Gramina was pretty good on the Santiago, but the shell lacked the necessary thickness and of course the necessary fibre. I came across some small sized Gramina that had a pretty good sized shell, but so scattered were they, that it would have taken me a month to get half a dozen. I wished very much to get the Gramina on the coast rivers, because I could make big rafts of it and float it right down to the steamer bound for Panama. But I recant my heresy as to salt air being good for the growth of big Gramina. I took in all the rivers from Esmeraldas to Barbacoas, but found nothing. I had a great notion of going from Barbocoas to Pasto but was assured that it would only be a waste of time and money. ### I had some hard times in these canoes. The niggers in a little town where I would stop at, used to pass the word along that there was a white man there who must go away, and they agreed among themselves that I must pay liberally for their services. It was their feast time and they had come in from the woods to whoop things up. After I would agree to pay them an extortionate price, they would then insist that I should feed them as they were leaving their own pleasures to take me away. You ought to see these coons eat. A celluloid newspaper (as you told me once) was nothing to them. In the canoe I had to do the hardest part of the work myself. The niggers would not do work, and I had to paddle all day long, and times, all night in order to get where I wanted. When the night was too dark to make headway, we had to sleep in the canoe. I say sleep, but that is a mistake. Sand flies from dark to early dawn flew into my eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth; the torture I underwent from these insects was something terrible. After a night of such suffering the niggers would absolutely refuse to go any further and then I had to cajole them into going along with me, by giving them more money. My expenses often run up to $15. a day when I had a strong current to fight against, and had to take three, and sometimes four niggers in the canoe. You can, of course see what an advantage it would have been had I come across the right Gramina there, and been able to cut it and float it down in big rafts of 50 tons, or more, to a steamer. Many times the niggers would make an excuse to go on shore to some house, and leave me sitting in the canoe, and then down they'd coe, blind drunk and give me all kinds of insolence and then flatly refuse to go on with me. Then I'd have to hire two more and so things went on. Oh! I love an nigger I want another war to break out, having for its object the putting of the poor and much abused colored man on a social equality with a white man, in order that I may shoulder a musket in the great cause. ### It was at Buenaventura that Humboldt started inland on his way to Quito, so I determined to take the same route. Leaving my clothes in Buenaventura, and taking only my axe and saw, with my corduroy clothes I footed the pad to Cali. I was six days on the jouney, and I had to stop and climb up big hills to examine the Gramina, and then for the first time on my whole trip did I come to the conclusion that I was on the right track. Of these six days, it rained continuously for four days and night. I was wet through from daylight to dark, and then had to sleep in my wet clothes under a cliff, or in fact in any place where darkenss over took me. In those six days I had five meals, if a few pieces of plantain boiled in water can be called a meal. The further I travelled inland, the better the Gramina looked, and on one occasion I spied a piece of Gramina in a house that excited my admiration. It was used to carry water in and had but one joint. It was a splendid specimen, though lacking the necessary thickness in shell. Of course the parties watned the thinnest they could get. I asked the woman of the house where that stuff was to be had. With a wave of the hand she told me, "In all the mountsin". I will visit that locality before long. I did not know before I got here, that Humboldt had ascended the River Dagua for some distance and then took the old Indian pathway over the mountains. I came along the new road and of course missed what Humboldt had seen (Post me on this in your letter). But here in the Cauca Valley are the good Graminas. They are used for every conceivable purpose here, and the big ones are not touched, as they are too heavy to be toted along by mules. I comence operations on them in a short time now. You can judge of what I have to do, when I tell you that I have to bring them 12 miles inland to the River Cauca, and then float them down to here (Cali) then mules take them from here to the coast, and from there to Panama &c. It is for you to say, after receiving them whether the expense will justify my sending in large quantities. The Cauca River is some 500 miles long. It has rapids three or four hundred miles from here, and I am told that nothing can go by way of the river to the Magdalena and thence to the Atlantic. Let me know if you want me to visit these rapids. I wont lose any time by going down there, as I might fall in with good Gramina. When I was down the river last week an old man showed me a piece of bamboo that he had for an upright for his house and it was a buster for size. He told me that it came from the Central Corillera, and that he has seen Gramina there the tops of which he could not see. These people exagerate terribly, but I wil scoop that place in by and by. I like the look of the Central Cordillera immensely. A great deal more vegetation on it, than on the Western slope. ### MINING Tell Major McLaughlin, that I met a California miner by the name of Tom Davis down here. He knows the Major slightly, but says that he is on intimate terms with Jack Powers. He is strating the Cheutodura mine here, which is owned by Richardson & Shirmer (or Schraemer), Wall St., N.Y. Davis used to be Sup't of Crescent Mine in Cal. He has plenty of interests in big mines here, and if he gets the necessary capital can make a big thing of it. He has sent samples of ore to the Rothschilds, England, Cherry, Cal., Perkins, Cal., Hutchingson, and somebody else in Cal. and he tells me that California never beat this country for mines (Gold). He says that there are millions of tons of black sand containing fine gold, a statement which I can back up. I send you a little sample of gold picked up in the river close to here by a bay, while bathing. There is going to be a big boom here in mining before long, and I think that Major McLaughlin could not do better than come down here and make an inspection. During the week that I was awaiting a reply to my telegram, I was shown Quartz ore of every description. People are sending samples of it to Cali from every direction. Nor is mining confined to the Cauca Valley. In all the provinces in Columbia are to be found mines of the richest kinds. There is a Dr. Nagin, of Heidelberg, (in Saxony, I think), now in New York, to interest capital for these Columbia mines. They call him "Sone of a Bitch" down here but, no doubt he will make a good thing of what he got hold of down here. Davis tells me that he is making a good thing of it, but that as a practical miner he is an eminent failure. If Major McLaughlin decided to come down here telegraph me the single word "Major", and I will have horses ready for him to come to Cali, or perhaps meet him at the steamer in Buenaventura and take him up here. Soemthing ought to be done here right away, or English capital will pour in before long and gobble everything right up. I got onto a gold mine in Equador, whilst coming up the Napo, and I am reserving it for you, Mr. Johnson, Major McLaughlin, Mr. Insull, and myself, and a man in Quito who is willing to go to New York and give all the necessary information, and then start out with the expedition for the Napo. When in Ibarro I met an American, who told me of mines having mbee discovered near Pasto, Columbia which yielded 164 pounds to the ton (gold) and 3 pounds in silver to the ton. He promised to send me samples to New York. That pulverizing maching that Mr. Wiman bought the rights of, taken in connection with your gold ore separator, ought to prove a big thing down this way. Why not ask Wiman for the exclusive right of that pulverizing machine for South America. Major McLaughlin should start down here immediately upon receipt of this letter and bring 20 or 30 good men with him, as he can distribute them all over Columbia. He should bring machinery along and not depend on finding anything here, as these duffers are away behind the age in mining apparatus. When Davis is examining samples here in Cali, he tells me that he is afraid to tell the owners of the exact richness of the mines, as by so doing they would become saucy and not care for foreign capital. Think this over and let me know what are your ideas ### ELECTRIC LIGHTING Will you please ask Tate to have Mr. Hastings start a correspondence with Dr. A. Cardenas, of Quito, Equador, for the lighting of that city by electricity They have about 100 H.P. (water) about 15 blocks from the centre of city. A native of Guayaquil obtained the right to light Quito with 22 arc lamps, for which he received $10,000 a year. He has the right for 50 years, but must commence operations before May 10, 1889. He introduced the Thompson Houston system in Guayaquil. I had a long talk with him but he is looking after his own pocket, and would not listen to any proposition as to buying the machinery outright. He is a middleman. The Ecuadorian Congress meets on June 10, and closes on August 10. If Mr. Hastings will write to Dr. Cardenas, who is a Conress-man and Senator, the latter or proposition will be laid before the body and acted on immediately. Quito is compactly built, has some 80,000 inhabitants and needs some kind of light badly, as they light the street now with little pieces of candle. Too much religion there, and consequently no progress. Put a roof over the city and you have a first class whore house. ### In talking up the light for this town (Cali) I got an order for 500 light machine, but of course do not want to have these men led into a trap. Cali has some 20,000 inhabitants, has regular streets laid out in blocks, and plenty of water power in the river close by. Davis tells me, that the river has 2,000 miner's inches and often 7 and 10,000. Will Mr. Hastings please write to C.H. Simmonds, giving him full information as to placing turbine wheel in river, and 2-500 light machines, for lighting the streets and squares. Kereosene sells here at 60 cents a bottle or something like over $3.00 per gallon. The poor people use candles which they buy for 2-1/2 cents each. ### GENERAL REMARKS I think it very strange that nearly all the big Gramina that I have cut should have such small shells. The piece of Gramina that I cut in New York for a sample was not anything extra ordinary in size if I recollect aright, and I have handled stuff much larger in size, but wanting in thickness. I would like to have you give me all the information you can about Columbia, or else send me a good book on the subject. Also send me a map the best you can get. I can get no reliable information here and there are no books or maps here. When Humboldt made the remark about the Gramina 180 feet high, it was here in the Cauca valley or on the slopes of the Western Cordillera that he meant. But I have not seen any such long stuff. Some of them may fun 100 ft. long, and I think that is very good. Of course my future travels around here will settle the question whether Humboldt was right. ### My trip has been a very long one, but I could not help it, I struck the rainy season on the Napo, in Equador, and in Columbia, and such rain, you would imagine the heavens were falling. I suffered, as is evidenced by the fact that I lost 27 pounds in weight. This for a small man like I am is too much. For 98 days I did nto take off my clothes or boots except for an occasional bathe, and for 101 days I did nto taste fresh meat of any kind. Yet I have not felt unwell for one moment during all that time. Tired I have been, and I would often sit down on a mountain path and put my hand to my head and try to remember something. But the mind suffered as well as the body. However I set out to do what you asked me, and I will even do better I think. I will be long enough around this valley and adjacent mountains to receive a letter from you giving me all the advice you can, and any directions for future movements, address the letter care of C.H. Si
mends, Cali, Columbia, S.A. Am I to explore the Central Cordilllera? Am I go to go Bogota? It will take me a month at a cost of $200. Whilst I am down here make the best use of me you know how. I am willing to go anywhere and everywhere. ### Will you kindly pass this scrawl along to Mr. Johnson so that he may see how things are. ### Give my regards to all the boys, and tell them to bet their last dollar on me." Respectfully yours, P. McGowan. "Tell Tate to register his name in Cable Office as "Tate, New York", and address me when cabling "Macgowan, Cali, Columbia"." [Tate? Docket: "from McGown ### Became very ill and was nursed back to health by native girl"]




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Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University
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