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Collection 777 - Henry N. M. Rayner Papers, 1852-1896

Creator: Rayner, Henry N. M.

Provenance Note: Letters, diaries and papers created or collected by Henry N. M. Rayner were loaned to Special Collections for transcription and photocopying in 1967 by Mary Watters and Kate Amsden of Broadus, Montana. In 1977 Mable Watters Johnston and Ted Amsden donated most of the original papers to the Museum of the Rockies, and they were transferred to Special Collections on October 15, 1997.

Historical Note: Henry Nathaniel Mitchell Rayner was born in Ohio in 1827. He farmed in Noble County, Ohio, prior to traveling to the California gold fields in 1852, leaving his wife Mahala at home. His journey west began by passing through Philadelphia and New York City where he boarded a ship bound for the Isthmus of Panama. Rayner eventually prospected in Nevada County, California where he met with uneven success. Returning home sometime after 1854, Rayner next moved his family to Wisconsin where he again engaged in farming. During the 1850s Mahala and Henry had at least one son, Lee, who eventually married Mary Heron. On August 26, 1864, Henry enlisted in the First Wisconsin Heavy Artillery regiment, Company L, and eventually saw garrison duty in the fortifications surrounding Washington, D. C. He spent most of his enlistment at Fort Willard, Virginia, and was mustered out on June 20, 1865. After he returned home, Rayner received an appointment as Postmaster at Enterprise, Vernon County, Wisconsin and may have engaged in traveling dry goods sales work the following year along the Missouri River to Montana Territory. Rayner eventually settled down to farming at Viroqua, Wisconsin, becoming active in the Masonic Lodge, the Odd Fellows, and the Grand Army of the Republic before his death on February 10, 1901.

Content Description Note: The Rayner papers include letters exchanged between Mahala and Henry during his trip to California 1852-1854; letters sent by Rayner to his wife while serving in the Union Army 1864-1865; diaries and memoranda books kept by Henry, Lee, Mary Rayner 1862-1896; miscellaneous documents including those laid in the diaries; and memorabilia. The letters by Henry to Mahala concern his journey to California and the conditions he found there in Nevada County, while her replies concern home life and conditions in Noble County, Ohio. Letters written by Henry in 1864 concern his trip to Washington D.C., deployment at Fort Willard, rumors of military operations, other soldiers in Company L, First Wisconsin Heavy Artillery, and health. The diaries and memoranda books were kept by Henry, Lee, and Mary Rayner. Henry's Civil War diary presents the same information as his letters, and subsequent diaries concern Henry's sales trips in the western United States during 1867-1868, the day to day farm life in Enterprise, Wisconsin, and Henry's trips to various Grand Army of the Republic reunions and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Contents

Series 1 Letters, 1852-1865
Letters exchanged between Henry and Mahala during his journey to the California gold fields and his service with the Union Army during the Civil War.
Series 2 Documents, 1862-1880
Various printed and manuscript materials originally laid in the diaries, postmaster's commission, and military discharge.
Series 3 Diaries, 1862-1896
Diaries containing weather data, financial memoranda, and activity summaries kept by Henry while on the farm in Wisconsin, while serving in the Union Army in the Civil War, and during a sales trip to the western states in 1867-1868. Diaries by Henry's son Lee and daughter-in-law Mary are also included.
Series 4 Memorabilia, 1862-1896
Soldier's reunion medal, autograph album, bible and science reference book.
Series 5 Photocopies, 1852-1865
Photocopies and transcriptions of Henry Rayner's letters and Civil War diary made in 1967 from original donor loan.

Series 1: Letters, 1852-1865

Letters exchanged between Henry Rayner and Mahala Rayner concerning his experiences during his participation in the California gold rush, camp life in Nevada County, California, and his travels. Information includes mention of other Noble County, Ohio men who accompanied Rayner. Mahala's letters describe conditions at home and the reactions of locals to the news of family and acquaintances in California. Letters from 1864 and 1865 document Henry's experiences as a private in Company L, First Wisconsin Heavy Artillery, from the regiment's initial muster at Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin, to their eventual deployment in the fortifications surrounding Washington, D.C., especially Fort Willard, Virginia. Henry's letters describe his comrades and officers, garrison life, military rumors, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, conditions in Washington, the Grand Review of the armies in 1865, and his health. Original letters from 1865 which were photocopied in 1967 are missing, for the most part. The copies of these letters have been placed in Series 5. The letters in this series have been chronologically arranged.
Box 1
1. Letters, 1852
2. Letters, 1853-1859
3. Letters, September 1864
4. Letters, October 1864
5. Letters, November 1864
6. Letters, December 1864
7. Letters, 1865

Contents | Special Collections

Series 2: Documents, 1862-1880

Various printed and manuscript materials originally laid in the diaries, including recipes, financial notes, and calling cards; postmaster's commission; and military discharge.

Box 1 (cont.)
8. Documents, 1862-1880

Contents | Special Collections

Series 3: Diaries, 1862-1896

Diaries kept by Henry, Lee, and Mary Rayner containing weather data, financial memoranda, and activity summaries of Henry while on the farm in Wisconsin, while serving in the Union Army in the Civil War, during a sales trip to the western states in 1867-1868, and while visiting veteran reunions and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Lee and Mary's diaries have been identified as such and pertain to their day to day life on the farm near Viroqua, Wisconsin. The Civil War diary describes describe Henry's comrades and officers, garrison life, military rumors, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, conditions in Washington, the Grand Review of the Armies in 1865, and his health. Additional entries in this volume date from 1874 and relate to a trip Rayner took through Kansas and Nebraska, describing the countryside in detail. The sales diary of 1867-1868 is very sporadic and merely lists customer's names, locations, and orders. It is not clear if Rayner himself kept this diary or another family member. The diaries have chronologically arranged.

Box 1 (cont.)
9. Henry Rayner diary, 1862
10. Henry Rayner diary, 1864-1865; 1874
11. Henry Rayner diary (?), 1867-1868
12 Henry Rayner diary, 1869
13. Henry Rayner diary, 1873
14. Henry Rayner diary, 1875
15. Henry Rayner diary, 1876
Box 2
1. Mary Rayner diary, 1878
2. Lee Rayner diary, 1879
3. Mary Rayner diary, 1879
4. Henry Rayner diary, 1881
5. Lee Rayner diary, 1886
6. Henry Rayner diary, 1889
7. Henry Rayner diary, 1890
8. Henry Rayner diary, 1894
9. Henry Rayner diary, 1896
10. Henry Rayner diary, 1893; 1896

Contents | Special Collections

Series 4: Memorabilia, 1862-1896

Anonymous autograph album, undated memoranda book, soldier's reunion medal, pocket bible and scientific reference book.

Box 2 (cont.)
11. Album and memoranda book
12. Medal, ribbon, bible, scientific reference book

Contents | Special Collections

Series 5: Photocopies, 1852-1865

Photocopies and typed transcriptions of the letters in Series 1 and Rayner's Civil War diary in Series 2. The copied letters include many written by Henry in 1865 from Fort Willard, Virginia, which were missing when the collection was donated to the Museum of the Rockies in 1977. The diary, and some letters, were transcribed by a typist in 1966. The transcriptions of the scattered letters have been interfiled with the photocopies and the diary transcription has been placed in a separate folder.

Box 3
1. Letters, 1852
2. Letters, 1853-1859
3. Letters, September 1864
4. Letters, October 1864
5. Letters, November 1864
6. Letters, December 1864
7. Letters, January 1865
8. Letters, February 1865
9. Letters, March 1865
10. Letters, April 1865
11. Letters, May 1865
12. Letters, June 1865
13. Diary (photocopy) 1864-65
14. Diary (transcription) 1864-65

Contents | Special Collections

Updated: 2/10/09