Folsom A to Z: Mary Ballou

By: Rachel Zirin, Senior Reporter
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Editor’s note: Folsom A to Z is an intermittent series in the Telegraph where readers can learn facts and history about Folsom. Each week, the Telegraph will select a landmark, place, historical figure and major historical event that start with the next letter of the alphabet. This week we continue with “B.”

  • Mary Ballou was born in 1809.
  • She was an American memoirist most notable for her collection of letters, ‘I Hear the Hogs in My Kitchen.’
  • Ballou and her husband ran a boarding house in Negro Bar.
  • While most of the “49ers” who rushed to California went to pan gold, others, like Ballou and her husband, went to reap high profits by providing services to the miners.  
  • In a letter written to her son, she writes about life in California Negro Bar on Oct. 30, 1852: “All the kitchen that I have is four posts stuck down into the ground and covered over the top with factory cloth and no floor but the ground. This is a Boarding House kitchen…Now I will try to tell you what my work is at the Boarding House. Well, sometimes I wash and iron, sometimes I make mince, apple and squash pies. Sometimes I fry mince turnovers and donuts. I make biscuits and Indian jonnycake and a minute pudding filled with raisins. Then sometimes I stuff a ham of pork that costs forty cents a pound. Three times a day I set my table which is about thirty feet in length and do all the little fixings like filling pepper boxes, vinegar cruets, mustard pots and butter cups. Sometimes I am feeding my chickens and then again I am scaring the hogs out of my kitchen that chose to walk in, there being no door to shut from the kitchen to the dining room so the hogs and mules can walk in any time.”
  • On Oct. 11, she writes the following: “I washed in the forenoon and made a Democrat Flag in the afternoon sewed twenty yards of splendid worsted fringe around it and I made Whig Flag. They are both swinging across the road but the Whig Flag is the richest. I had twelve dollars for making them so you see that I am making flags with all rest of the various kinds of work that I am doing and then again I am scouring candlesticks and washing the floor and making soft soap. The people tell me that it is the first Soft Soap they knew made in California. Sometimes I am making mattresses and sheets. I have no windows in my room. All the light that I have shines through canvas that covers the house and my eyes are so dim that I can hardly see to make a mark so I think you will excuse me for not writing any better. I have three lights burning now but I am so tired and blind that I can scarcely see and here I am among the French and Dutch and Scotch and Jews and Italians and Swedes and Chinese and Indians and all manner of tongues and nations but I am treated with due respect by them.”
  • Ballou passed away in 1894.
  • Ballou Court in Folsom is named in her honor.