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RG3875.AM:  Leonard Whiting Gilchrist, 1831-1919

Papers:  1857-1919

Wahoo, Saunders County, Neb.:  State Legislator, Railway Commissioner

Size:  1 reel of microfilm


Leonard Whiting Gilchrist was born at Goffstown, New Hampshire on December 14, 1831, a son of James and Anne Dickey Gilchrist. He received his early education in the public schools and when he was about 17, went to sea where he spent two years as a sailor. On April 15, 1850, Gilchrist arrived in San Francisco and went to the Gold fields where he took up residence at Columbia, California. He remained in California until 1863 when he returned to the east. After spending some months in New Hampshire and other eastern states, Gilchrist returned to the west, arriving in Nebraska City, Nebraska, in July of 1865. The following spring, he embarked for Ft. Benton, where he built flatboats for emigrants returning down the Missouri River from the gold mines. During the next few years, Gilchrist was involved in a variety of ventures including the operation of a sawmill at Nebraska City from 1867-1868. In the latter year, he purchased 160 acres of land in Saunders County, Nebraska, and in 1885 sold this property to purchase an interest in a cattle ranch near Alliance, Nebraska. While he resided at Alliance, he was elected to the Nebraska Legislature, serving in 1889, but he resigned this position to become a state railway commissioner. While Gilchrist was on the Railway Commission, he made his home in Lincoln until 1892 when he took up residence in Wahoo, Nebraska and went into semi-retirement.

Seemingly never content to settle permanently in one place, Gilchrist went to Alaska in 1900 when gold was discovered there. Although his health compelled his return to California, he again went to Alaska in 1902, where he worked as a carpenter. Following a brief period as a carpenter working in Windsor, Missouri and Fayetteville, Arkansas, Gilchrist returned to Wahoo, Nebraska where he lived until his death. He was survived by a daughter, Ora Jeanette and son James Charles who were the children from his marriage to Nancy J. Smith on February 17, 1880. His wife had preceded him in death in 1891. Gilchrist died on April 9, 1919.


This collection consists of the papers of Leonard W. Gilchrist contained on one roll of microfilm and arranged in five Series: 1) Correspondence of Leonard W. Gilchrist, 1886-1909; 2) Correspondence of Charles K. Gilchrist, 1891-1900; 3) Diaries and Journals, 1857-1902; 4) Genealogical Data, 1897; and 5) Newspaper Clippings, 1919 and undated. This collection relates to the life and travels of Leonard W. Gilchrist in California, Nebraska, Montana, and Alaska. Of primary interest are two handwritten journals covering the periods 1857-1863 when Gilchrist was in California and his 1866 steamboat journey up the Missouri River to Ft. Benton, Montana Territory. They also include an account of his ocean voyage from San Francisco to New York via Nicaragua in 1863.

Gilchrist was a keen observer and descriptive writer and the diaries are rich in commentary regarding political affairs, geographical and physical surroundings, and the persons he encountered during his travels. The California journals contain numerous references to the election of 1860 and the role of the pony express as the primary source of news from the east. A republican, Gilchrist was a supporter of Abraham Lincoln and comments frequently regarding the state of the Union and the seccession crisis. His Missouri River journal describes the flora and fauna he observed, as well as military installations, Indian tribes, and the many steamboats encountered on the river.

Two additional smaller diaries relate to Gilchrist’s ocean voyage to Alaska in 1900 and his return from Nome, Alaska to Seattle in 1902. The correspondence consists predominately of letters Gilchrist wrote to his wife Nancy, and later to his daughter Ora Jeanette. They relate generally to his business affairs, political events, and his ranching interests. They often contain commentary about persons and places encountered in the several locations in which Gilchrist took up residence. A few letters from Gilchrist’s brother, Charles K. Gilchrist, are also present in the collection.

The majority of the collection was loaned for microfilming in June of 1973. The NSHS does hold the first two diaries in its collection, but they are restricted for preservation. Researchers must use the microfilm.

Note:  See the Nebraska History index for various articles about Leonard Gilchrist and other members of the Gilchrist family.


Series 1 – Correspondence of Leonard W. Gilchrist, 1886-1909

Reel 1

Letters, mostly from Leonard W. Gilchrist to Nancy J. Gilchrist and Ora Jeanette Gilchrist 1886-1909

Series 2 – Correspondence of Charles K. Gilchrist, 1891-1900

Letters to Ora J. Gilchrist and Leonard W. Gilchrist, from Sacramento, California 1891-1900

Series 3 – Diaries and Journals, 1857-1902

  1. 1857-1861

  2. 1856-1857, and 1863-1866

  3. 1900

  4. 1902

Series 4 – Genealogical Data, 1897

“Genealogical History of the Gilchrist Family of New Hampshire,” by Charles Kent Gilchrist, 1897

Series 5 – Newspaper Clippings, 1919, n.d.

Includes the Obituary of Leonard W. Gilchrist, April 9, 1919



Alaska — Description and travel

California — Description and travel

Gilchrist, Charles K.

Gilchrist, Leonard Whiting, 1831-1919

Gilchrist family

Missouri River — Navigation

Nebraska — Description and travel

Politics and government




JEP/ht   06-11-1973 kfk   04-01-2003

Encoded TMM   04-07-2010