Slike strani



urally scarce. This no less than the sudden abundance of gold tended to depress the value of the metal, so much so that the miners often sold their dust for four dollars an ounce, and seldom obtained at first more than eight or ten dollars. 13 The Indians were foremost in showed me in bags and bottles over $2,000 worth of gold; and Mr Lyman, a gentleman of education and worthy of every credit, said he had been engaged with four others, with a machine on the American fork, just below Sutter's mill; that they worked eight days, and that his share was at the rate of $50 a day; but hearing that others were doing better at Weber's place, they had removed there, and were then on the point of resuming operations. I might tell of hundreds of similar instances,' he concludes. John Sinclair, at the junction of the north and middle branches of the American River, displayed 14 pounds of gold as the result of one week's work, with fifty Indians using closely woven willow baskets. He had secured $16,000 in five weeks. Larkin writes in a similar strain from the American forks. Referring to a party of eight miners, he says: 'I suppose they made each $50 per day; their own calculation was two pounds of gold a day, four ounces to a man, $64. I saw two brothers that worked together, and only worked by washing the dirt in a tin pan, weigh the gold they obtained in one day. The result was $7 to one and $82 to the other.' Buffum relates his own experiences on the middle branch of the American. Scratching round the base of a great bowlder, and removing the gravel and clay, he and his companions came to black sand, mingled with which was gold strewn all over the surface of the rock, and of which four of them gathered that day 26 ounces. 'The next day, our machine being ready,' he continues, 'we looked for a place to work it, and soon found a little beach which extended back some five or six yards before it reached the rocks. The upper soil was a light black sand, on the surface of which we could see the particles of gold shining, and could in fact gather them up with our fingers. In digging below this we struck a red stony gravel that appeared perfectly alive with gold, shining and pure. We threw off the top earth and commenced our washings with the gravel, which proved so rich that, excited by curiosity, we weighed the gold extracted from the first washing of 50 panfuls of earth, and found $75, or nearly five ounces of gold to be the result. The whole day's work amounted to 25 ounces. A little lower on the river he struck the stony bottom of 'pocket, which appeared to be of pure gold, but upon probing it, I found it to be only a thin covering which by its own weight and the pressure above it had spread and attached itself to the rock. Crossing the river I continued my search, and after digging scme time struck upon a hard, reddish clay a few feet from the surface. After two hours' work I succeeded in finding a pocket out of which I extracted three lumps of pure gold, and one small piece mixed with oxydized quartz'-294 ounces for the day; not much short of $500. There are a class of stories, such as those related by H. L. Simpson and the Rev. Colton, of a wilder and more romantic nature, apparently as easy to tell as those by writers of proved veracity, and which, whether true or false, I will not trouble my readers with. For additional information on yield, see more particularly Larkin's letters to the U. S. secty of state, dated S. F., June 1, Monterey, June 28, July 1, July 20, and Nov. 16, 1848, in Larkin's Official Corresp., MS., 131-41; Mason to to the adjt-gen., Aug. 17, 1848; U. S. Gov. Docs, 31st cong. 1st sess., H. Ex. Doc. 17, 528-36; Sherman's Memoirs, i. 46-54; Soule's Annals of S. F., 210; Carson's Early Recollections, passim; Hittell's Mining, 21; McChristian, in Pioneer Sketches, 9; Burnett's Recollections, i. 374-5; and a number of miscellaneous documents in Foster's Gold Regions. Also Simpson's Three Weeks in the Goll Mines; Colton's Three Years in Cal.

13 Jones writes in Nov. 1848 that miners often sold an ounce of gold for a silver dollar. It had been bought of Indians for 50 cents. Revere's Tour of


lowering the price, at least in the early part of the season. They had no idea of the value of gold, and would freely exchange it for almost anything that caught their fancy. Although honest enough in dealings among themselves, the miners did not scruple to cheat the natives, the latter meanwhile thinking they had outwitted the white man. Presently, however, with growing experience, they began to insist upon a scale of fixed prices, whereupon the trader quoted prices of cotton cloth or calico at twenty dollars a yard, plain white blankets at six ounces, sarapes from twenty to thirty ounces each, beads equal weight in gold, handkerchiefs and sashes two ounces each. Care was moreover taken to arrange scales and weights especially for trade with the savages. To balance with gold the great slugs of lead, which represented a 'digger ounce,' the savages regarded as fair dealing, and would pile on the precious dust until the scales exactly balanced, using every precaution to give no more than the precise weight. The scales usually employed, often improvised, were far from reliable; but a handful of gold-dust more or less in those days was a matter of no great moment.15

The inflowing miners arrived as a rule well supplied with provisions and other requirements, but they had not counted fully on wear and tear, length of stay, and accidents. As a consequence, they nearly all came to want at the same time toward the close of the sea

Duty, 254. Carson says that gold was worth but $6 per ounce in the mines. Early Recollections, 14. Buffum says from $6 to $S. Six Months, 96; Dally that it could not be sold for more than $8 or $9. Narrative, MS., 53; Swan

says $4 to $8. Trip to the Gold Mines Birnie bought a quantity of dust at $4 per oz. in Mexican coin. Biog, in Pioneer Soc. Arch., MS., 93-4.

14 We hear of ragged blankets and the like selling for their weight, 2 lbs, 3 oz. of dust being given for one. Buffum's Six Months, 93-4, 126-9; Coronel, Cosas de Cal., MS., 142-3; Fernandez, Cosas de Cal., MS., 175, 178; Tulare Times, Sept. 19, 1874.

15 Carson's Early Recollections, 35-6. Green relates that on the Tulare plains he sold his cart and pair of oxen to a Frenchman for $600. The gold was weighed by the Frenchman with improvised scales. Green fancied the Frenchman was getting the better of him, but said nothing. On reaching Sutter's Fort he weighed the gold again and found it worth $2,000. Life and Adventures, MS., 17. A somewhat fanciful story.



son, and the supply and means of transportation being unequal to the demand, prices rose accordingly.18 It did not take men long to adapt themselves to the new measurements of money; nor could it be called extravagance when a man would pay $300 for a horse worth $6 a month before, ride it to the next camp, turn it loose and buy another when he wanted one, provided he could scrape from the ground the cost of an animal more easily than he could take care of one for a week or two. Extravagance is spending much when one has little. Gold was too plentiful, too easily obtained, to allow a little of it to stand in the way of what one wanted. It was cheap. Perhaps there were mounains of it near by, in which case six barrels of it might be easily given for one barrel of meal.

And thus it was that all along this five hundred miles of foothills, daily and hourly through this and the following years, went up the wild cry of exultation mingled with groans of despair. For even now the unfortunate largely outnumbered the successful. It may seem strange that so many at such a time, and at this occupation above all others, should consent to work for wages; but though little capital save a stock of bread was required to work in the mines, some had lost all, and had not even that. Then the excitement and pressure of eager hope and restless labor told upon the constitution no less than the hard and unaccustomed task under a broiling sun in moist ground, perhaps knee-deep in water, and with poor shelter during the night, sleeping often on the bare ground. The result was wide-spread sickness, notably fevers and

16 Sales are reported, for example, flour $800 a bbl; sugar, coffee, and pork, $400; a pick, shovel, tin pan, pair of boots, blanket, a gallon of whiskey, and 500 other things, $100 each. Eggs were $3 each; drugs were $1 a drop; pills, $1 each; doctor's visit, $100, or $50, or nothing; cook's wages, $25 a day; hire of wagon and team, $50 a day; hire of rocker, $150 a day. If there happened to be an overstock in one place, which was not often the case during this year, prices were low accordingly. Any price, almost, would be paid for an article that was wanted, and nothing for what was not wanted. A Coloma store-keeper's bill in Dec. 1848 runs thus: 1 box sardines, $16; 1 lb. hard bread, $2; 1 lb. butter, $6; lb. cheese, $3; 2 bottles ale, $16; total, $43; and this for not a very elaborate luncheon for two persons.

dysentery, and also scurvy, owing to the lack of vegetables.17

The different exploitations resulted in the establishment of several permanent camps, marked during this year by rude shanties, or at best by log huts, for stores, hotels, and drinking-saloons. Some of them surpassed in size and population Sutter's hitherto solitary fortress, yet this post maintained its preeminence as an entrepôt for trade and point of distribution, at least for the northern and central mining fields, and a number of houses were rising to increase its importance. On the river were several craft beating up with passengers and goods, or unlading at the landing. The ferry, now sporting a respectable barge, was in constant operation, and along the roads were rolling freight trains under the lash and oaths of frantic teamsters, stirring thick clouds of incandescent dust into the hot air. Parties of horsemen, with heavy packs on their saddles, moved along slowly enough, yet faster than the tented ox-carts or mulewagons with their similar burdens. A still larger proportion was foot-sore wanderers trudging along under their roll of blankets, which enclosed a few supplies of flour, bacon, and coffee, a little tobacco and whiskey, perhaps some ammunition, and, suspended to the straps, a frying-pan of manifold utility, the indispensable pick and shovel, tin pan and cup, occasionally a gun, and at the belt a pair of pistols and a dirk. Up the steep hills and over the parched plains, toiling on beneath a broiling sun, such a load became a heavy burden ere nightfall.

Within the fort all was bustle with the throng of coming and going traffickers and miners, mostly rough, stalwart, bronze-faced men in red and blue woollen shirts, some in deerskin suits, or in oiled-skin and fishermen's boots, some in sombrero, Mexican sash, and spurs, loaded with purchases or bearing enticingly

17 Buffum was attacked, but found a remedy in some bean-sprouts which had sprung up from an accidental spill.




plethoric pouches in striking contrast to their frequently ragged, unkempt, and woe-begone appearance. Hardly less numerous, though less conspicuous, were the happy aboriginals, arrayed in civilization's cotton shirts, some with duck trousers, squatting in groups and eagerly discussing the yellow handkerchiefs, red blankets, and bad muskets just secured by a little of this so lately worthless stuff which had been lying in their streams with the other dirt these past thousand years.

Every storehouse and shed was crammed with merchandise; provisions, hardware and dry goods, whiskey and tobacco, and a hundred other things heaped in indiscriminate confusion. The dwelling of the hospitable proprietor, who had a word for everybody, and was held in the highest respect, was crowded with visitors, and presented the appearance of a hotel rather than private quarters. The guard-house, now deserted by its Indian soldiers, and most of the buildings had been rented to traders and hotel-keepers,18 who drove a rushing business, the sales of one store from May 1st to July 10th reaching more than $30,000.19 The workshops were busy as ever, for the places of deserting artisans could be instantly filled. from passers-by in temporary need.

In October the heavy rains and growing cold rendered mining difficult, and in many directions impossible. The steady tide of migration now turned toward the coast. Yet a large number remained, 800 wintering at the Dry Diggings alone, and a large number on the Yuba, working most of the time, for the mines were yielding five ounces a day. Efforts proved remunerative also in many other places. 20

18 A two-story house at $500 a month; rooms for $100.

19 Sterling's company wrote Larkin not to delay in forwarding stock, for from 50 to 500 per cent could be made on everything. There were no fixed


20 Hayes' Cal. Mining, i. 50; Burnett's Rec., MS., 369-70; Buffum's Six Months, 52; Cal. Star, Dec. 12, 1848; Yuba Co. Hist., 37; Hall's Hist. S. José, 172-3.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »