[D8828ADH], Letter from Frank McGowan to Thomas Alva Edison, November 10th, 1888


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[D8828ADH], Letter from Frank McGowan to Thomas Alva Edison, November 10th, 1888

Editor's Notes

I am without any advices from you since Tate's letter of July 2nd. This is what I call tough. What is the cause of this Rip Van Winkleism? Has a blizzard cut off New Jersey from all communication with the outer world? Or has the Phonograph which contained the articulations for my letter bust & killed the typewriter? It surely cannot be that Tate has skipped to Canada with some sugar. If Blondy hasn't cashed in his checks stir him up with a long pole & make him write me every other mail & not keep me monkeying around here in idleness. No letters from any one; no newspapers from any one. I sent in to Simmonds yesterday to know who had been elected President up North. I told him if it was Cleveland to send me 2 bottles of his beer (foreign) so that I could drink to the confusion of the enemies of Democracy, the glorious principles of which would eventually govern the world. I have the beer but no word as to who is elected. To provide against any misunderstanding I'll drink the beer at dinner & then if I hear that Harrison is on top I'll send in the empty bottles to Simmonds & tell him to fill them full of wind. ### My steamer leaving Buenaventura July 23rd I sent you 83 pieces of gramina weighing 1181 lbs or 1/2 ton for which you had to pay in N.Y. on through Bill of Lading to 30 or 60 per ton. I suppose you are testing that now which accounts for this strange silence. Of course that stuff was not quick seasoned by fire as I did not know then that it rotted so quickly. I also sent you by mail of Aug. 7th a sample from La Bolsa + asked you to cable me the one word 'Certainly' if it suited you & you wanted 50 tons, but if not to cable me the one word 'Depressed." That sample was not quick seasoned because when I cut it I had not received Tate's letter of July 2nd. Now, in the absence of any information orders or suggestions from you, I will give you some idea of the cost of shipment of this stuff. Suppose you ordered me to ship you 50 tons of the best I could find in this Valley. At present I would decide to take them from La Bolsa. As they have to be cut into pieces 3 ft. in length to enable mules to carry them it would require 8700 pieces to make 50 tons. I can get the bamboo at the rate of 50 for 8 or 16 a piece. I will now allow that I can get from each tree 3 pieces 10 inches from joint to join & an inch thick. I would require 2900 bamboos which at 16. cts. A piece amounts to $464. To transport the 8700 pieces to the Cauca River would require 1000 mules at $4 each making $1000. To float stuff down the river opposite Cali would require 22 rafts at $30 each-$660. From Cali to Cordoba 1000 mules at $4 each-4000. From Cordoba to Buenaventura I don't know rates but Simmonds has telegraphed to find out. The charge for produce is about 30 cts per 125 lbs. From a Buenaventura to N.Y. on through Bill of Lading $60 per ton or the $3000 am. Gold for 50 tons.To recapitulate [list of items and their costs follows]. I have not mentioned the cost of tying the 8700 pieces of gramina into bundles of 4 each (8 pieces for each mules) nor the cost of the hoop iron for binding them together which is an essential point. When I sent the 83 pieces to you the mule drivers emphatically declared that no money would again get them to take gramina as a cargo because it had almost destroyed their animals. They gave me to understand that they would not work for me any more. I told them to come to hell, that I would buy all the mules I wanted & failing in that, I would rig up a balloon + wait for the first favorable wind to waft me to perdition out of their cursed country. Then there is another point to be thought over. From Cali to Cordoba the gramina is exposed to a burning hot sun & to torrents of rain alternately. At night time it is dumped on the ground without any covering and if there happens to be a heavy fall of rain during the night you can imagine how a burning sun will harm it. Then comes the sweating of these iron steamers on the coasts. Their holds resemble Russian baths. If there is no steamer at Colon going to N.Y. the gramina is allowed to remain on the wharf sometimes 2 weeks. I was told so by a man who was on his way back from N.Y. & who noticed the 83 pieces lying on the wharf at Colon. ### Now I can go down to Cartage, 210 miles N. From Cali & 9 miles from Cauca River, + get gramina some of which is 12 inches in diamter but it will cost a great deal more than taking it from La Bolsa. My only alternative there is to cross over to the Magdelena River & either float it down the river on a huge raft or avail myself of the competition among the steamship cos. & get it down to Barranguila. From there it can be shipped by Atlas Line direct to N.Y. If you will look at a map of Columbia you will find a place on the Magdelana River called Honda. Further to the S.E. you will see the name of Guadas. That is the Spanish for bamboo & is pronounced thus go-ah-doo-ah. A general of the Columbian Army who had lately passed through there told me that he noticed an immense bamboo in the middle of the plaza in this town of Guduas & that he was as astonished at its immense diameter & circumference he tried to put both arms around it but could not make his hands meet! (Ah! There my size) If when I go there I find that that man has lied to me I'll report him to the Govt. But I've always had my eye on that spot. The General promised to send me samples but I never take any stock in what these people promise, so I must go there myself. I am yet undecided whether to go from Buenaventura to Panama cross over to Colon & go from there to Barrangquilla + thence up the Magdelena or go from Cali across the Central Cordillera to Honda. My object in going by way of Panama would be to see if it could not strike something on some of the rivers north of Buenaventura or if not then to try & find some big stuff on the lower Magdelena thus enabling me to ship cheaply. I can never ship more than 3 or 4 tons at a time from this valley because I cannot get mules enough. Of course I could buy 50 good mules for $5000 but there is the feeding of them besides the payment of 6 mule drivers & 50 mules could only carry 2 1/2 tons for each steamer unless you wanted plenty of stuff heaped up in Buenaventura. It is true that I could sell the mules for little less than they cost. In any event I only await your orders. If you decide to take stuff from La Bolsa I will quick season it and send in whatever quantity you desire. If you want me to go to Cartago I will do the same there. But I must soon be off for Guaduas. I can't stand this inaction indefinitely. I have now been all over this Cauca Valley and into the mountains three times and the best stuf that I can find goes forward to you by this steamer. It is from the hacienda of a Senor Barrero a wealthy cattle dealer in this Valley. The very large bamboos are scarce. Some of it is not quick seasoned because he had it cut when I was away and his man allowed it to lie in the sun too long. This Barrero cares not to sell his bamboo as he has plety of use for it in fencing in his immense farm, but he is willing to let me have some. How much I know not until you decide as to its merits. Then I will talk business to him. On another page you will find description etc of samples. Why was I not furnished with the book on Columbi which I asked for a decade or two ago? A map was sent me without any scale of miles and with the location of a great many places decidedly erroneous. I have seen here a huge map of Columbia bought in Fulton St. N.Y. One of these maps would have been my pie. I'm going to read the Riot Act to some one when I get back for this inattention. Don't start like that, Blondy, a Kannuck has always two chances. ### Mines & Mining ### On Nov 2nd notice was received from Pepyan that Mr. Tayillo and I were in possession of 15 out of the 18 mines and orders were given to give us our land grants. I will state at the end of this letter what the exact measurements are. I paid $270 for 18 mines at $15 out of the $600 you so kindly placed at my disposal. I need hardly mention to you, Mr. Edison, how grateful I am to you for the prompt manner in which you granted my request and I only hope that the future of some of these mines will amply repay you for your liberality. About the 23rd of Nov. I have to organize an expedition consisting of 12 peons and the Alcalde of Jamundi and his Secty. And two auctioneers to go over the same ground covered by my former expedition in the mountains, in order to get possession of all the lands allotted by Govt. to each mine. Mr. Troyillo will take charge of this expedition. In fact you and he will own the 18 mines between you and he will represent you down here. Nor is he unworthy of that representation for a more honest, straightforward, energetic young man I have seldom coe across. He idolizes the name of Edison and that fact should be a recommendation to you in itself. He was in N.Y. when you were upheavig the scientific world with your diabolisms, and, like every on eelse, he was awed at the majesty of your inventive genius. The expedition will last some 30 days and will cost some $550 or $600. Of course this all comes out of my own sugar. I have told Mr. Triyillo to open up the Channels of the Indian Mine and also to open up the chanels of the Edison Mine (old Spanish mine). I have told him also to bring the best samples of each mine he could obtain so as to forward them to you. What I now want most of all is a Supt. And I think I have found one who will fill the bill to a nicety. Last July there came out here a Mr. Samuel G. Burn to act as Supt. Of the Chantadura Gold Mine (alluvial) situated some 12 miles S. from Cealis. This mine is owned by Schramms, Richardson etc William St. N.Y. Through the machinations of a nephew of the aforesaid Schramme, Mr. Burn has decided to tender his resignation (in fact has done so already) to take effect in the latter end of December. Mr. Burn now wants to take charge of your mining enterprises in South America. Salary for first year $300 per month Am. Gold. Second year increase of salary or participation in profits as may be agreed upon. Mr. Burn is an intellectual giant in mining matters combining a studiously acquired theory with a long practical experience and backed by a keen discrimination which will command your admiration when you read his exhaustive mining reports, should you decide to engage him. Out of a class of 57 he took First Prize as a Mineralogist and the application of explosives he knows from A to Z. His method of procedure in arranging work is a marvel and his fertility of resource in surmounting obstacles is only exceeded by the foresight and discernment he employs to abridge future difficulties (I guess I'll go and tackle one of the bottles of beer now) He has numerous offers from people hereabouts but his aspirations reach to a higher field of action where his ambition to excel as a skilled miner can be given full scope. Like Mr. Edison, he detest companies with their Boards of Directors, sotckholders and other useless appendages which tend to retard the progression of an enterprise. If I said any more in his favor you would think him too perfect to suit and would not therefore employ hi, so, as the gamino say, I'l cheese it. But how about employing him! There will never be such another chance around here. However you can grasp the situation with your usual intuition. If you decide to take him cable me the one word "Burn" and if you don't want him cable me the one word "Burnside". I'm burning to hear or know which it will be (I couldn't helpt it--I must have some fun) ### And now to start the mining ball arolling. Mr. Tuiyillo owns a magnificent farm here some 15 miles broad and the same in width. It was left him by his father, General Tuujillo who was in '78 President of Columbia. On the death of the latter some 4 years ago, the son left his studies in N.Y. to take charge of the hacienda. I'm afriad he had imbibed speculative ideas and when in the States for I find that he entered into a rash venture in the tobacco line in Panama and lost by it. Instead of taking the money he had made from his farm and devoting it to the further extension of his possessions he must rush madly into speculation and got left. It was a good lesson, however, and he has profited by it. He has on his property an alluvial gold mine which promises to pan out well. He was about to sell out his hacienda for some $40,000 or $50,000, mine also (If I owned the property I wouldn't sell it for $100,00 not taking the mine into consideration at all). I told him he was foolish to do anything of the kind and asked Mr. Burn to visit the mine with me. On our first visit we got one color from the washing of one batea full of earth and seven colors from another. Mr. Trujillo was somewhat chagrined at this small output but did not say much at the time. He had frequently told me that the niggers who formerly worked his mine on a division of half for them and half for him used to take 20 and 25 colors from one washing of a batea full of earth and that some of the pieces of gold were bigger than a bean. The niggers stole the best part of his share and he accordingly stopped work (I wonder if an honest coon ever lived). Mr. Burn said that it was a good prospect but that bedrock must be reached before he would make a wirtten report. I then told Mr. Trujillo to employ some peons and get down to bed rock. I went to the mine the other day with Mr. Trujillo and one batea panned out 38 colors and other 18. I laughingly asked him when he had last salted the mine. He replied that it was just his luck to have such a bad showing before Mr. Burn. The fact is the water percolates through the earth and stones and Mr. Trujillo could not take the earty from the strata or vein where the gold is. Mr. Burn understood this and told me that he liked to see the water come through the ground that way. Tom Davis, a former Supt.of the Chautadura Mine told Mr. Trujillo to ask $200,000 for his mine. But I prefer Mr. Burns' report. Now I proposed to Mr. Trujillo that, in view of the liberality shown him with the 18 mountain mines, he should throw in his alluvial mine with the rest, half for you and half for him, he of cousre paying his half out of the first output for the necessary apparatus such as monitors, tubes to carry water, bringing wood from the mountains to make flumes, quicksilver for undercurrents etc etc which you will have sent down here should everything be to your satisfaction. Had I been able to get peons to further open the mine I would have sent you 100 lbs. of the sand by this steamer along with Mr. Burns' report. But the water accumulates so fast it is necessary to have a pump constantly at work. But by the steamer after this you will have everything. How about your gold separating machine? Can it be utilized in a mine of this kind, and if so, how? If it would save the expense of flume etc that would be a big thing. Now should you decide to engage Mr. Burn and should his report on this alluvial mine be favorable he could take charge of its development on Jany 1st by brining a big river (Rio Claro) by ditches down to the mine a distance of some 5 or 6 miles. There would then be water enough to supply 50 monitors if needed by 2 will be enough to commence with ading to them of course as the mine is widened. Mr. Burn informs me that he cleans up every month and sometimes every two weeks. Now we will suppose this alluvial mine properly started and the monitors are washing thousands of cubic yards of earth down every day, Mr. Burn can then start for the mountains to fully open up the Edison Mine. I have told Mr. Trijillo to try and make a pathway for horses the whole distance. There is an abundance of all kinds of serviceable wood surrounding the mine and also plenty of water. While he is thus making a circuit of all the mines and reporting to you which are the best, the Alluvial Mine is in the interval panning out gold enough to defray the expenses to be incurred in the mountains. Should any of these mountain mines turn out to be unusually rich it would then be the proper caper to clean away all t
e surrounding country and grow artificial grass for cattle, horse etc. This in itself would be no inconsiderable resource and in the course of some years would develop into an immense industry. Then the Panama Canal is opened the tide of European immigration will no doubt turn this way and Colombia will be the first to be benefited by it. Her people don't deserve it for a more lazy, shiftless and treacherous set never existed. I don't care in how many countries a man may have travelled--I don't care how much those travels may have benefited him and sharpened his perceptive faculties--I don't care whether he has come into contact with the lowest dregs of society elsewhere and still preserved his equilibrium or whether he has gained notoriety in even circumventing Wall Street sharps--when he comes to Colombia he will soon find out how little he knows about sharp practices. Shecmers and deluders, they are the very incarnation of deception. It is all the same with men, women, children, priests, Congressmen and President. Calling their country a republic and claiming to have modelled the Constitution after that of the U.S.A. they in reality posses a despotism as merciless, ferocious and tyrannical as ever digraced the annals of history. Previous to an election they take all the leaders of the Liberal Party in each town and imprison them indefinitely without a scintella of evidence against them. They will start rumors of an intended revolution and then drag to prison every man who has expressed a liberal or progressive idea. Foreigners would share the same fate were it not for the men of war cruising up and down the coast. The boy whom you engage to feed your horse will deliberately beat you out of every cent and then swear that he spent it for food for the horse. A foreigner in any other country who seks a nights hospitality in a country house is treated with marked respect. Here is it not so. You must sleep with all your clothes on if you wish to save any money you may have about your and you will have to take other extra precautions or you will come out loser. A stranger is just a piece of pumpkin pie to these people. Their whole aim is to beat him in every way and their laws are so lax there is no redress. You look around in vain for cultivated lands of any sort. Your bed is made of split bamboos with no bedding. Yoru food is a piece of plantain boiled in water. No energy, no progression. Lethargy everywhere. Bolivar was right when he said he had made a mistake in setting these people free. Humboldt says that the traveller in S.A. must have an unlimited amount of patience and be deeplyl in love wit his subject. Should you ever hear of any one complaining of obesity just tell them to trot their carcass down this way and in a month they can crawl into a cigar box. ### In this matter of mines you will please remember that I have no interest good, bad or indifferent in them. I have spent the few shiners I had saved up for a rainy day in properly securing them for you. If you don't see fit to take them over to yourself then I'll have to sing "Over the hills to the Poor House". But I have no doubt you will recognize the necessity of engaging Mr. Burn who will in short time render you such an account of his stewardship as will set all uncertainties at rest. With his splendid knowledge of Mineralogy it is easy for him to trace the various veins of quartz, or feeders, and locate a mine of unsurpassing richness. You have, however, for a dead certainty 4 mines that must yield big returns. ### I send you by same mail my contract with Mr. Trijillo. Please have it put in Englas so that you can glance over it. Of course it contains the usual amount of balderdash entering into all elgal contracts. In fact it is void as far as I am concerned because I cannot engage myself with any one else while I'm in your service. But it seems that here it is absolutely necessary to go through thisformula. After having noted the points in the contract, will you then make counter-contract and send it to Mr. Trujillo! Tate can easily consult a Colombian lawyer in N.Y. and that lawyer by consulting the mining laws of Colombia can readily draw up a contract embodying the points you wish specified in the Spanish language. Of course Mr. Trujillo would see to the safe transportation of all machinery, which Mr. burn might order, from Buenaventura to the mines using his own animals and help. This in itself is no small job. If left to the officials have monts would elapse ere anything turned up. In face, such an associate as Mr. Trujillo is indispensible here and he will prove of great value not only as to the present mines but in the matter of future discoveries along with Mr. Burn when they are permanently located in the mountains. Aside from the mines I might mention the great number of Indian deposits to be encountered. It seems that previous to the conquest of Colombia by the Spaniards the Indians were in the habit of burying their chiefs with great pomp and on these occasions they buried with him all his household treasures consisting of images worked in pure gold, figures of animals etc etc. These will all have attention along with the mines. ### I understand you have lately been blessed with a baby girl. Send me along the little cherub's name until I hunt up another mine specially for her. Come to think of it, in order to be prepared for future emergencies of this kind, I guess I'll look up 4 or 5 more mines and keep them in reserve. I send you names of 10 old Spanish mines located near Pasto, with analysis. They were formerly worked in a crude way by the Spaniards. The list was sent to me from Ibarra and I was told that I could have the on very good terms. The only drawback is the distance has to be brought inland. ### Say, Mr. Edison, you might send a poor devil a piece of plum duff for Christmas. I intend to buy a big turkey gobbler and try to get away with all of it myself. Lord, if I ever strike a resaurant up North again I'll make them think a Bengal Tiger has broke loose. ### Tate told me in his letter of July 2nd that he would write me when you wanted to regulate my movements. I would have been off long ago had it not been that I expected that letter. Therefore make it lively for me. There is no use of my shipping you a lot of stuff which may turn out to be of no use. How did the 83 pieces turn out? Remember that I can ship you bigger stuff than that and even when I'm not here Mr. Trujillo will attend to your every want. He knows just what to send you. ### How about sending me a machine to extract the fibre on the spot after it has been quick seasoned? Could I do it or would it be necessary to send an expert. I'm afraid that all gramina sent in bulk will rot on the passage. Bear in mind that to secure the best results I must cut it when the Moon is 5 days on the wane. ### Remember me to all the boys and hoping to soon here from you I am" Respectfully yours, F. McGowan "P.S. Will Mr. Tate kindly pass this leter to Messrs. Johnson and Batchelor, and will Mr. Tate please send me an occasional Sunday's Sun?





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