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THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD IN CALIFORNIA.
BY HARRY L. WELLS.
History fails to inform us of a time when gold was unknown. The researches of the achseologist convince us that, in the dim twilight of civilization, jewels and the precious metals were unknown or unappreciated, but the earliest authentic records that now exist of the most ancient civilized nations speak of gold being used, both as a commercial medium and an ornament. The great Pharaohs of Egypt procured it in the Zabarah mountains in great quantities, and of this gold were made the ornaments of which the children of Israel spoiled the Egyptians when they fled from the land, as well as the golden calf that Aaron set up for the discontented people to worship at the base of the holy mountain of Sinai.- In the reign of Solomon, one of the most splendid and magnificent the world has ever known, gold abounded in great profusion, and was wrought into ornaments and vessels for the temple with astonishing prodigality. This was the celebrated gold of Ophir, brought by the Phoenicians and Jews from that unknown land of Ophir, whose location is a puzzle to historians. From the coast of Asia Minor, a voyage thither and return consumed three years, and it is supposed to have been on the southeast coast of Africa or in the East Indies. In the Ural mountains, that still yield their yellow treasure, gold was being mined in the time of Herodotus, and ancient Ethiopia and Nubia added their contributions to the precious store. The Romans procured it in the Pyrenees and in the provinces of Italy bordering on the Alps, while the Athenians obtained it in Thessaly and the island of Thasos. The ancient Spaniards washed the golden burden of the river Tagus, while the nations of Eastern Asia found it in abundance in their own country.
At the time of the discovery of America and the opening to Europe of the vast store of treasures accumulated by the Aztecs and Incas, as well as the inexhaustible mines, the estimated supply in Europe was but $170,000,000. Its production had, to a great degree, ceased, so that only enough was annually added to replace the loss by wear and usage. For years, the alchemists had been endeavoring to transmute the baser metals into gold, many of them claiming to have succeeded, and were persecuted by the ignorant, credulous and bigoted populace for witchcraft and being in league with the devil; and long after the great storehouse of America was thrown open did these deluded and deluding scientists pursue the ignis fatuus of gold. Humboldt estimated the quantity of gold sent from America from the time Columbus planted the cross on San Domingo until Cortez conquered Mexico, in 1521, at $270,000 annually, but from that time the golden stream that flowed into Spain made that nation the richest in Europe. An idea of the vast quantity possessed by the natives, and used chiefly for ornaments, can be had from the statement that the celebrated Pizarro received for the ransom of the captured Inca, in Peru, a room full of gold, that is estimated to have been of the value of $15,480,710. The discovery of the great silver-mines of Potosi, in 1545, added to the vast mineral wealth that poured into Spain from Mexico, Peru and the East Indies.
Although gold is found in small quantities in nearly every country, the three great centers of production are California a ad the western states and territories, Australia, and Russian Siberia. Gold is found in considerable quantities in Italy, Austria, Hungary, Ural mountains, Siberia, China, Japan, India and the Indian Archipelago, Borneo, and the other large islands of that group, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, and in small quantities in Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Russia in Europe, and, in fact, in nearly every land in the Old World. In the western hemisphere it is found and mined in Brazil, and from Chili, following up the Andes, Cordilleras, Rocky, Sierra, and connecting chains of mountains, clear into British Columbia, and now, by recent discoveries, even in Alaska. Canada and Nova Scotia add their quota, while the Appalachian gold-fields, running through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, have yielded a golden treasure since the first discovery was made, in 1799, in Cabarrus county, North Carolina.
Until the discovery in California, followed by Australia three years later, Russia was the greatest producer in the world. The home of big nuggets seems to be in Australia, where were found the great Ballarat nugget of 2,217 oz. 16 dwts., valued $50,000, and exhibited at the great Paris Exposition, and the still larger one, called the Sarah Sands, weighing 233 lbs. 4 oz. troy. The first discovery of the metal in Australia was made in 1839, but the government officials, fearing the effect upon the 45,000 convicts there, caused it to be kept a secret. Several times was the fact that gold lay hidden in the soil ascertained and the knowledge suppressed, but at last, in 1851, E. H. Hargreaves returned there from the mines of California, prospected on the river Macquarie, in New South Wales, and made the discovery that brought thousands thither, and to the still richer mines of Victoria, and added millions to the world's store of precious metals.
The estimated production of gold in the United States, from 1848 to 1873, is $1,240,750,000, of which California gave $995,800,000.
Blake gives the following table of the gold-yield of the world for the year 1867 :—
Great Britain 12,000
Borneo and East Indies 5,000,000
China, Japan, Central Asia, Roumania and other unenumer
ated sources 5,000,000
One of the chief allurements possessed by the unknown country to the northwest of Mexico, to Uortez and other explorers, was its supposed richness in gold, silver, and precious stones. In his letter to Charles V. of Spain, in 1524, Cortez speaks of this unknown land "abounding in pearls and gold." Still later the not-over-veracious chaplain, Mr. Fletcher, who chronicled the events of Sir Francis Drake's voyage along the coast in 1589, in speaking of the country just north of the bay of San Francisco says, "There is no part of earth here to be taken up wherein there is not a reasonable quantity of gold or silver." As at the same time, in the month of June, he speaks of snow and weather so cold that meat froze when taken from the fire, one at all acquainted with the nature of the climate there and knowing that snow seldom falls in winter and that the thermometer, even in the most severe seasons, sees the freezing point but occasionally, needs not be assured that the worthy chaplain was addicted to drawing largely upon his imagination in chronicling events. No gold has ever been discovered there, and the probable possession of it by the natives may have been the foundation for his assertion. The opinion that the precious metals existed in California seems never to have entirely died out, although it lost its potent influence in stimulating exploration and conquest.
J. Ross Browne, in his report to Congress in 1867, says:—
"The existence of gold in California was known long before the acquisition of that territory by the United States. Placers had long been worked on a limited scale by the Indians, but the priests who had established the missionary settlements, knowing that a dissemination of the discoveries thus made would frustrate their plans for the conversion of the aboriginal races, discouraged, by all means in their power, the prosecution of this pursuit, and in some instances suppressed it by force. As early as December, 1843, however, Manuel Castanares, a Mexican officer, made strenuous efforts to arouse the attention of the Mexican government to the importance of this great interest."
The first actually known of the metals was the reported discovery, as early as 1802, of silver at Alizal, in Monterey county.
The following letter is an important document, showing that Jedediah S. Smith was not only the first white man to come overland to California, but that he was also the discoverer of gold:—
p, . D , , , „ a „ . Genoa, Carson Valley, September 18, 1860.
Edmund Randolph, Esq' s rrancisco:
Friend Randolph—I have just been reading your address before the Society of Pioneers. I have
known of the J. S. Smith you mentioned, by reputation, for many years. He was the first white man
that ever went overland from the Atlantic States to California. He was the chief trader in the employ
of the American Fur Company. At the rendezvous of the company, on Green river, near the South
pass, in 1825, Smith was directed to take charge of a party of some forty men (trappers) and penetrate
the country west of Salt Lake. He discovered what is now called Humboldt river. He called it Mary's river, from his Indian wife Mary. It has always been known as Mary's river by mountain men since— a name which it should retain for many reasons.
Smith pushed on down Mary's river, and being of an adventuresome nature, when he found his road closed by high mountains, determined to see what kind of a country there was on the other side. It is not known exactly where he crossed the Sierra Nevada, but it is supposed that it must have been not far from where the old emigrant road crossed, near the head of the Truckee. He made his way southerly after entering the valley of Sacramento, passed through San Jose and down as low as San Diego. After recruiting his party and purchasing a large number of horses, he crossed the mountains near what is known as Walker's pass, skirted the eastern shore of the mountains till near what is now known as Mono lake, when he steered an east-by-north course for Salt lake. On this portion of his route he found placer gold in quantities, and brought much of it with him to the encampment on Green river.
The gold that he brought with him, together with his description of the country he had passed through, and the large amount of furs, pleased the agent of the American Fur Company so well, that he directed Smith again to make the same trip, with special instructions to take the gold-fields on his return and thoroughly prospect them. It was on this trip that he wrote the letter to Father Duran. The trip was successful until they arrived in the vicinity of the gold-mines, east of the mountains, where in a battle with the Indians, Smith and nearly all his men were killed. A few of the party escaped and reached the encampment on Green river. This defeat damped the ardor of the company so much that they never looked any more for the gold-mines.
There are one or more men now living who can testify to the truth of the above statement, and who can give a fuller statement of the details of his two journeys than I can.
The man Smith was a man of far more than average ability, and had a better education than falls to the lot of mountain men. Few or none of them were his equals in any respect.
This is the first known discovery of gold in California, and much of the honor that is showered upon James W. Marshall should properly fall upon this intrepid and enterprising pioneer trapper, Jedediah S. Smith.
In 1828, at San Isador, in San Diego county, and in 1833, in the western limits of Santa Clara county, gold was also discovered. Gold placers were discovered in 1841, near the mission of San Fernando, forty-five miles north-east of Los Angeles, by a French Canadian named Baptiste Ruelle. He had for many years been a trapper in the Rocky mountains, whence he had found his way into New Mexico, and there learned to work in the placer mines. He continued on to California, and in 1841 made the discovery referred to. The mines did not prove sufficiently rich to attract attention, and though worked by half a hundred men, produced on the average but about six thousand dollars annually. In rare instances nuggets were found, some weighing an ounce, but the average wages were about twenty-five cents a day. When visited by Dr. John Townsend and John Bidwell, in March, 1845, these mines were still being worked, but in such an unprogressive manner, with wooden bowls, that in three and one-half years, the gravel-banks had been penetrated little more than twenty-five feet. Baptiste Ruelle went to Sutter's fort in 1844, where he stayed till 1848, when, after working in the mines a short time, he settled on Feather river above the Honcut, and there lived till the time of his death.
In 1842, James D. Dana, the well-known geologist, visited the coast with the Wilkes Exploring Expedition, and wrote later as follows:—
"The gold rocks and veins of quartz were observed by the author in 1842, near the Umpqua river, in southern Oregon, and pebbles from similar rocks were met with along the shores of the Sacramento,