Slike strani
PDF
ePub

boys, found the matter, in common with the others, too weighty for them. For a time affairs here proceeded much as usual. The men, who for the most part were honest and conscientious, had pledged their word to six weeks' work, and they meant to keep it. The idea of self-sacrifice, if any such arose, was tempered by the thought that perhaps after all there was but little gold, and that little confined within narrow limits; hence if they abandoned profitable service for an uncertainty, they might find themselves losers in the end. As a matter of course, they could have no conception of the extent and power of the spirit they had awakened. It was not necessary, however, that on Sundays they should resist the worship of Mammon, who was indeed now fast becoming the chief god hereabout.

The historic tail-race, where first in these parts became incarnate this deity, more potent presently than either Christ or Krishna, cominanded first attention; indeed, for some time after gold had been found in other places, it remained the favorite picking-ground of the mill-men. Their only tools as yet were their knives, and with these from the seams and crevices each person managed to extract metal at the rate of from three to eight dollars a day. For the purpose of calculating their gains, they constructed a light pair of wooden scales, in which was weighed silver coin against their gold. Thus, a Mexican real de plata was balanced by two dollars' worth of gold, which they valued at sixteen dollars the ounce, less than it was really worth, but more than could be obtained for it in the mines a few months later. Golddust which balanced a silver quarter of a dollar was deemed worth four dollars, and so on.

On the 6th of February, the second Sunday after Marshall's discovery, while the others were as usual busied in the tail-race, Henry Bigler and James Barger crossed the river, and from a bare rock opposite the mill, with nothing but their pocket-knives, ob

THE GOLD-FIELDS.

Ounce.

tained together gold to the value of ten dollars. The Saturday following, Bigler descended the river half a mile, when, seeing on the other side some rocks left bare by a land-slide, he stripped and crossed. There, in the seams of the rocks, were particles of the precious stuff exposed to view, of which the next day he gathered half an ounce, and the Sunday following an

Snow preventing work at the mill, on Tuesday, the 22d, he set out for the same place, and obtained an ounce and a half. Up to this time he had kept the matter to himself, carrying with him a gun on pretext of shooting ducks, in order to divert suspicion. Questioned closely on this occasion, he told his comrades what he had been doing, and the following Sunday five of them accompanied him to the same spot, and spent the day hunting in the sand. All were well rewarded. In the opposite direction success proved no less satisfactory. Accompanied by James Gregson, Marshall ascended the river three miles; and at a place which he named Live Oak Bar, if we may believe Gregson, they picked up with their fingers without digging a pint of gold, in pieces up the size of a bean. Thus was gradually enlarged the area of the gold-field

to

About the 21st of February, Bigler wrote to certain of his comrades of the Mormon battalion-Jesse Martin, Israel Evans, and Ephraim Green, who were at work on Sutter's flour-mill—informing them of the discovery of gold, and charging them to keep it secret, or to tell it to those only who could be trusted. The result was the arrival, on the evening of the 27th, of three men, Sidney Willis, Fiefield, and Wilford Hud

* Statement of James Gregson, MS., passim. The author was an Englishman, who came to California in 1845 and engaged with Sutter as a whipsawyer. Lumber then cost $30 a thousand at Sutter's Fort. He served in the war, and after the discovery of gold went to Coloma, accompanied by his wife. Throwing up his engagement with Marshall, he secured that year $3,000 in gold-dust. Sutter appears to have, in February, already set some Indians to pick gold round the mill. His claim to this ground was long respected.

son, who said they had come to search for gold. Marshall received them graciously enough, and gave them permission to mine in the tail-race. Accordingly, next morning they all went there, and soon Hudson picked up a piece weighing six dollars. Thus encouraged they continued their labors with fair success till the 2d of March, when they felt obliged to return to the flour-mill; for to all except Martin, their informant, they had intimated that their trip to

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

the saw-mill was merely to pay a visit, and to shoot deer. Willis and Hudson followed the stream to continue the search for gold, and Fiefield, accompanied by Bigler, pursued the easier route by the road. On meeting at the flour-mill, Hudson expressed disgust at being able to show only a few fine particles, not more than half a dollar in value, which he and his companion had found at a bar opposite a little island, about half-way down the river. Nevertheless the disease worked its way into the blood of other Mor

[blocks in formation]

mon boys, and Ephraim Green and Ira Willis, brother of Sidney Willis, urged the prospectors to return, that together they might examine the place which had shown indications of gold. It was with difficulty that they prevailed upon them to do so. Willis and Hudson, however, finally consented; and the so lately slighted spot presently became famous as the rich Mormon Diggings, the island, Mormon Island, taking its name from these battalion boys who had first found gold there.

It is told elsewhere how the Mormons came to California, some in the ship Brooklyn, and some as a battalion by way of Santa Fé, and how they went hence to the Great Salt Lake, part of them, however, remaining permanently or for a time nearer the seaboard. I will only notice here, amidst the scenes now every day becoming more and more absorbing, bringing to the front the strongest passions in man's nature, how at the call of what they deemed duty these devotees of their religion unhesitatingly laid down their wealth-winning implements, turned their back on what all the world was just then making ready with hot haste and mustered strength to grasp at and struggle for, and marched through new toils and dangers to meet their exiled brethren in the desert.

It will be remembered that some of the emigrants by the Brooklyn had remained at San Francisco, some at New Helvetia, while others had settled on the Stanislaus River and elsewhere. A large detachment of the late Mormon battalion, disbanded at Los Angeles, was on its way to Great Salt Lake, when, arriving at Sutter's Fort, the men stopped to work a while, no less to add a little to their slender store of clothing and provisions than to await a better season for the perilous journey across the mountains. It was while thus employed that gold had been discovered. And now, refreshed and better fitted, as spring approached their minds once more turned toward the original pur

HIST. CAL., VOL. VI. 4

pose. They had promised Sutter to stand by him and finish the saw-mill; this they did, starting it running on the 11th of March. Henry Bigler was still there.

On the 7th of April Bigler, Stephens, and Brown presented themselves at the fort to settle accounts with Sutter, and discuss preliminaries for their journey with their comrades. The 1st of June was fixed upon .

for the start. Sutter was to be informed of their intention, that he might provide other workmen. Horses, cattle, and seeds were to be bought from him; also two brass cannon. Three of their number had to precede to pioneer a route; eight men were ready to start as an overland express to the States, as the loved land east of the Mississippi was then called. It was not, however, until about a month later that the Mormons could move, for the constantly increasing gold excitement disarranged their plans and drew from their numbers.

In the mean time the thrifty saints determined to. improve the opportunity, that they might carry to their desert rest as much of the world's currency as possible. On the 11th of April, Bigler, Brown, and Stephens set out on their return to Coloma, camping fifteen miles above the flouring mill, on a creek. In the morning they began to search for gold and found ten dollars' worth. Knowing that others of their fraternity were at work in that vicinity, they followed the stream upward and came upon them at Mormon Island, where seven had taken out that day $250.8 No little encouragement was added by this hitherto unparalleled yield, due greatly to an improvement in method by washing the dust-speckled earth in Indian baskets and bowls, and thus sifting out also finer particles. Under an agreement to divide the product of

8 The seven men were Sidney Willis and Wilford Hudson, who had first found gold there, Ira Willis, Jesse B. Martin, Ephraim Green, Israel Evans, and James Sly. In regard to the names of the last two Bigler is not positive. Diary of a diormon, MS., 76. See also Mendocino Democrat, Feb. 1, 1872; Hittell's Mining, 14; Sherman's Mem., i. 51; Gold Dis., Account by a Mormon, in Hayes' Cal, Mining, iii. 8; Oregon Bulletin, Jan. 12, 1872; Antioch Ledger, Feb. 3, 1872; Findla's Stat., MS., 6; Ross' Stat., MS., 14.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »