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of fine and coarse gold, yielding a comparatively steady return, with hopes centred rather in rich finds and 'pockets.'
The principal dry diggings were situated in the country since comprised in Placer and El Dorado counties, particularly about the spots where Auburn and Placerville, their respective capitals, subsequently rose. Smaller camps, generally named after their discoverers, were thickly scattered throughout the gold region. They were among the first discovered after the rush set in from the towns, and were worked by a great number of miners during June, July, and part of August. After this they were deserted, partly because the small streams resorted to for wash
ing dried up, but more because a stampede for the
southern mines began at that time. A few prudent and patient diggers remained, to collect pay-dirt in readiness for the next season; and according to all accounts they did wisely.
It was a wide-spread belief among the miners, few of whom had any knowledge of geology or mineralogy, that the gold in the streams and gulches had been washed down from some place where it lay in solid beds, perhaps in mountains. Upon this source their dreams and hopes centred, regardless of the prospect that such a discovery might cause the mineral to lose its value. They were sure that the wonderful region would be found some day, and the only fear of each was that another might be the lucky discoverer. Many a prospecting party set out to search for this El Dorado of El Dorados; and to their restless wanderings may be greatly attributed the extraordinarily rapid extension of the gold-fields. No matter how rich a new placer, these henceforth
7 Kelsey and party discovered the first dry diggings, which were named Kelsey's diggings. Next were the old dry diggings, out of which so many thousands were taken. Among the discoverers were Isbel, and Daniel and Jno. Murphy, who were connected with Capt. Weber's trading establishments, Murray and Failon of San José, and McKensey and Aram of Monterey. Carson's Early Recollections, 5. See also, concerning the dry diggings, Oakland Transcript, Apr. 13, 1873, and Oakland Alameda Co. Gazette, Apr. 19, 1873.
fated rovers remained there not a moment after the news came of richer diggings elsewhere. In their wake rushed others; and thus it often happened that men abandoned claims yielding from $50 to $200 a day, and hurried off to fresh fields which proved far less valuable or utterly worthless. Then they would return to their old claims, but only to find them fallen into other hands, thus being compelled by inexorable necessity to continue the chase. They had come to gather gold now, and bushels of it, not next year or by the thimbleful. At $200 a day it would take ten days to secure $2,000, a hundred days to get $20,000, a thousand days to make $200,000, when a million was wanted within a month. And so in the midst of this wild pursuit of their ignis fatuus, multitudes of brave and foolish men fell by the way, some dropping into imbecility or the grave, while others, less fortunate, were not permitted to rest till old age and decrepitude came upon them.
Although in 1848 the average yield of gold for each man engaged was far greater than in any subsequent year, yet the implements and methods of mining then in use were primitive, slow of operation, and wasteful. The tools were the knife, the pan, and the rocker, or cradle. The knife was only used in 'crevicing,' that is, in picking the gold out of cracks in the rocks, or occasionally in dry diggings rich in coarse gold. Yet the returns were large because
The pan was made of stiff tin or sheet-iron, with a flat bottom from 10 to 14 inches across, and sides from 4 to 6 inches high, rising outward at a varying angle. It was used mainly for prospecting, and as an adjunct to the rocker, but in the absence of the latter, claims were sometimes systematically worked with it. In 'panning,' as in all methods of placer-mining, the gold was separated from earth and stones chiefly by relying on the superior specific gravity of the metal. The pan was partly filled with dirt, lowered into the water, and there shaken with a sideway and rotary motion, which caused the dissolving soil and clay, and the light sand, to float away until nothing was left but the gold which had settled at the bottom. Gravel and stones were raked out with the hand. Except in extremely rich ground, such a process was slow, and it was therefore seldom resorted to, save for the purpose of ascertaining whether it would pay to bring the rocker to the spot. The cradle resembled in size and shape a child's cradle, with similar rockers, and was rocked by means of a perpendicular handle. The cradle-box consisted of a wooden trough, about 20 in. wide and 40 long, with sides 4 in. high. The
there were fewer to share the spoils, and because they had the choice of the most easily worked placers; and although they did not materially diminish the quantity of gold, they picked up much of what was in sight.
lower end was left open. On the upper end sat the hopper, or riddle, a box 20 in. square, with wooden sides 4 in. high, and a bottom of sheet iron or zinc pierced with holes in. in diameter. Under the hopper was an apron of wood or canvas which sloped down from the lower end of the hopper to the upper end of the cradle-box. Later an additional apron was added by many, above the original one, sloping from the upper to the lower end. A strip of wood an inch square, called a riffle-bar, was nailed across the bottom of the cradle-box, about its middle, and another at its lower end. Under the whole were nailed the rockers, and near the middle of the side rose an upright handle for imparting motion. The rocker was placed in the spot to which the pay-dirt, and especially a constant supply of water, could most conveniently be brought. The hopper being nearly filled with auriferous earth, the operator, seated by its side, rocked the cradle with one hand, and with the other poured water on the dirt, using a half-gallon dipper, until nothing was left in the hopper but clean stones too large to pass through the sieve. These being thrown out, the operation was repeated. The dissolved dirt fell through the holes upon the apron, and was carried to the upper end of the cradle-box, whence it ran down toward the open end. Much of the finer gold remained upon the canvas-covered apron; the rest, with the heavier particles of gravel, was caught behind the riffle-bars, while the water, thin mud, and lighter substances were carried out of the machine. This description of the rocker I have taken from Hittell's Mining in the Pacific States of North America, S. F., 1861, and from the Miners' Own Book, S. F., 1858. The former is a well arranged hand-book of mining, and exhausts the subject. The latter work treats only of the various methods of mining, which are lucidly described, and illustrated by many excellent cuts, including one of the rocker. Earlier miners and Indians used sieves of intertwisted willows for washing dirt. Sonorans occasionally availed themselves of cloth for a sieve, the water dissolving the dirt and leaving the gold sticking to it. Several times during the day the miner 'cleaned up' by taking the retained dirt into his pan and panning it out. The quantity of dirt that could be washed with a rocker depended upon the nature of the diggings and the number of men employed. If the diggings were shallow, that is to say, if the gold lay near the surface, two men-one to rock and one to fill the hopper-could wash out from 250 to 300 pans in a day, the pan representing about half a cubic foot of dirt. But if several feet of barren dirt had to be stripped off before the pay-dirt was reached, more time and men were required. Again, if tough clay was encountered in the pay-dirt, it took an hour or more to dissolve a hopperful of it. Dry-washing consisted in tossing the dirt into the air while the wind was blowing, and thus gradually winnowing out the gold. This method was mostly confined to the Mexicans, and could be used to advantage only in rich diggings devoid of water, where the gold was coarse. The Mexican generally obtained his pay-dirt by 'coyoting;' that is, by sinking a square hole to the bed-rock, and then burrowing from the bottom along the ledge. For burrowing he used a small crowbar, pointed at both ends, and with a big horn spoon he scraped up the loosened pay-dirt. This, pounded into dust, he shook with great dexterity from a batea, or wooden bowl, upon an extended hide, repeating the process until the wind had left little of the original mass except the gold. In this manner the otherwise indolent Mexicans often made small fortunes during the dry summer months, when the rest of the miners were squandering their gains in the towns.
ABSENCE OF MINING REGULATIONS.
Moreover, they were fettered by no local regulations, or delays in obtaining possession of claims, but could hasten from placer to placer, skimming the cream from each. In February Governor Mason had abolished the old Mexican system of 'denouncing' mines,' without establishing any other mining regulations.10 In this way some ten millions" were gathered by a population of 8,000 or 10,000, averaging an ounce a day, or $1,000 and more to the man for the season, and this notwithstanding the miners were not fairly at work until July, and most of them went down to the coast in October. Some, however, made $100 a day for weeks at a time, while $500 or $700 a day was not unusual.12
Mason's order to this effect is dated at Monterey, Feb. 12, 1848. 'From and after this date the Mexican laws and customs now prevailing in California relative to the denouncement of mines are hereby abolished. The legality of the denouncements which have taken place, and the possession obtained under them since the occupation of the country by the United States forces, are questions which will be disposed of by the American government after a definitive treaty of peace shall have been established between the two republics.' U. S. Gov. Docs, 31st cong. 1st sess., H. Ex. Doc. 17, 477; San Diego Arch., MS., 325; San José Arch., MS., ii. 69; Arch. Cal., Unbound Docs, MS., 318; S. F. Californian, Feb. 23, 1848. This order caused dissatisfaction in several quarters, chiefly because many, after expense and trouble in looking for veins, had denounced them after Feb. 12th, but before the decree was known to them. Mason to J. S. Moerenhout, consul of France at Monterey, June 5, 1848, in U. S. Gov. Docs, as above, 56; Mason to alcalde of San José, March 9, 1848, in S. José Arch., MS., 42; People of Monterey to Mason, March 9, 1848, in Arch. Cal., Unbound Docs, MS., 408-11.
10 The desirability of regulations is spoken of by Mason in a letter to J. R. Snyder as early as May 23, 1848, as the latter is about to visit the gold region; and he is requested to obtain information and submit a plan. U. S. Gov. Docs, ubi sup. 554-6. In his letter to the U. S. adjt-gen. of Aug. 17, 1848, Mason writes: 'It was a matter of serious reflection to me how I could secure to the government certain rents or fees for the privilege of obtaining this gold; but upon considering the large extent of country, the character of the people engaged, and the small scattered force at my command, I resolved not to interfere, but to permit all to work freely, unless broils and crimes should call for interference."
This is the figure accepted in Hittell's Mining, 39, although the same author, in Hist. S. F., 155, writes: 'The monthly gold yield of 1848 averaged perhaps $300,000.' The officially recorded export for 1848 was $2,000,000, but this forms only a proportion of the real export. Velasco, Son., 28990, for instance, gives the official import into Sonora alone at over half a million, and assumes much more unrecorded. See also Annals S. F., 208. Quart. Review, lxxxvii. 422, wildly calculates the yield for 1848 at $45,000,000. 12 John Sullivan, an Irish teamster, took out $26,000 from the diggings named after him on the Stanislaus. One Hudson obtained some $20,000 in six weeks from a cañon between Coloma and the American middle fork; while a boy named Davenport found in the same place 77 ounces of pure gold one day, and 2 ounces the next. At the Dry Diggings one Wilson took $2,000
In a country where trade had been chiefly conducted by barter with hides and other produce, coin was nat
from under his own door-step. Three Frenchmen discovered gold in removing a stump which obstructed the road from Dry Diggings to Coloma, and within a week secured $5,000. On the Yuba middle fork one man picked up in 20 days nearly 30 pounds, from a piece of ground less than four feet square. Amador relates that he saw diggings which yielded $8 to every spadeful of earth; and he himself, with a companion and 20 native laborers, took out from 7 to 9 pounds of gold a day. Robert Birnie, an employé of Consul Forbes, saw miners at Dry Diggings making from 50 to 100 ounces daily. Buffum's Six Months, 126-9; Cal. Star, Nov. 18, Dec. 2, 1848; Amudor, Memorias, MS., 177-80; Birnie's Biog., in Pioneer Soc. Arch., MS., 93-4. correspondent of the Californian writes from the Dry Diggings in the middle of August that 'at the lower mines the success of the day is counted in dollars, at the upper mines, near the mill, in ounces, and here in pounds!' 'The earth,' he continues, 'is taken out of the ravines which make out of the mountain, and is carried in wagons and packed on horses from one to three miles to the water, where it is washed; $400 has been an average for a cart-load. In one instance five loads of earth which had been dug out sold for 47 oz. ($752), and yielded after washing $16,000. Instances have occurred here where men have carried the earth on their backs, and collected from $800 to $1,500 in a day.' 'The fountain-head yet remains undiscovered,' continues the writer, who is of opinion that when proper machinery is introduced and the hills are cut down, huge pieces must be found.' At this time tidings had just arrived of new placers on the Stanislaus, and 200 miners were accordingly preparing to leave ground worth $400 a load, in the hope of finding something better in the south. This letter is dated from the Dry Diggings, Aug. 15, 1848, and is signed J. B. Similar stories are told by other correspondents; for instance, 'Cosmopolite,' in the Californian of July 15th, and 'Sonoma,' in that of Aug. 14th. Coronel states that on the Stanislaus in three days he took out 45, 38, and 59 ounces. At the same placer Valdés of Santa Bárbara found under a rock more gold-dust than he could carry in a towel, and the man to whom he sold this claim took out within 8 days 52 pounds of gold. Close by a Sonoran filled a large batea with dust from the hollow of a rock, and went about offering it for silver coin. Cosas de Cal., MS., 146–51.
And yet the middle fork of the American surpassed the other streams in richness, the yield of Spanish Bar alone being placed at over a million dollars. These tributaries also boasted of nuggets as big as any so far discovered. Larkin writes: 'I have had in my hands several pieces of gold about 23 carats fine, weighing from one to two pounds, and have it from good authority that pieces have been found weighing 16 pounds. Indeed, I have heard of one specimen that weighed 25 pounds.' Colton heard of a twenty-pound piece, and a writer in San Joaquin Co. Hist., 21, relates that the Stockton company obtained from the Stanislaus a lump of pure gold weighing 803 ounces avoirdupois,' of kidney shape, which was brought as a specimen. Mason reports that 'a party of four men employed at the lower mines averaged $100 a day.' On Weber Creek he found two ounces to be a fair day's yield. 'A small gutter, not more than 100 yards long by four feet wide and two or three feet deep, was pointed out to me as the one where two men, William Daly and Perry McCoon, had a short time before obtained $17,000 worth of gold. Cap. tain Weber informed me that he knew that these two men had employed four white men and about 100 Indians, and that at the end of one week's work they paid off their party and had $10,000 worth of this gold. Another small ravine was shown me, from which had been taken upwards of $12,000 worth of gold. Hundreds of similar ravines, to all appearances, are as yet untouched. I could not have credited these reports had I not seen in the abundance of the precious metal evidence of their truth. Mr Neligh, an agent of Com. Stockton, had been at work about three weeks in the neighborhood, and