News & Tall Tales. 1800s.
California Gold Mines
Monday, January 1, 1849, The Patriot, A Family and General Newspaper, London
CALIFORNIA GOLD MINES
The most interesting and authentic description of these mines is detailed in a despatch from Colonel Mason, the officer in command at Monterey. He says: -
"We reached San Francisco on the 20th, and found that all, or nearly all, its male inhabitants had gone to the mines. The town, which a few months before was so busy and thriving, was then almost deserted. On the evening of the 24th the horses of the escort were crossed to Sausalito in a launch, and on the following day we resumed the journey by way of Bodega and Sonoma to Sutter's Fort (Image right: Sutter's Fort, 1846-1866), where we arrived on the morning of the 3rd of July. Along the whole route mills were lying idle, fields of wheat were open to cattle and horses, houses vacant, and forms going to waste. At Sutter's there was more life and business. Launches were discharging their cargoes at the river, and carts were hauling goods to the fort, where already were established several stores, a hotel, c&c. Captain Sauer had only two mechanics in his employ a wagon-maker and a blacksmith, whom he was then paying 10 dollars a day. Merchants pay him a monthly rent of 100 dollars per room, and whilst I was there a two story house in the fort was rented as a hotel for 500 dollars a month.
"On the 5th resumed the journey, and proceeded twenty-five miles up the American Fort to a point on it now known as the Lower Mines, or Mormon Diggings.
"The hillsides were thickly strewn with canvass tents and bush arbors; a store was erected, and several boarding shanties in operation. The day was intensely hot, yet about 200 men were at work in the full glare of the sun, washing for gold some with tin pans, some with close woven Indian baskets, but the greater part had a rude machine, known as the cradle. This is on rockers six or eight feet long, open at the foot, and at its head has a coarse grate or sieve: the bottom is rounded with small elects nailed across. Four men are required to work this machine: one digs the ground in the bank close by the stream, another carries it to the cradle, and empties it on the grate; a third gives a violent rocking motion to the machine, whilst a fourth dashes on water from the stream itself. The sieve keeps the coarse stones from entering the cradle, the current of water washes off the earth matter, and the gravel is gradually carried out at the foot of the machine, leaving the gold mixed with a heavy fine black sand above the first elects. The sand and gold, mixed together, are then drawn off, through augur holes, into a pan below; are dried in the sun, and afterwards separated by blowing off the sand. A party of four men, thus employed at the lower mines, averaged 100 dollars a day. The Indians, and those who have nothing but pans or willow baskets, gradually wash out the earth and separate the gravel by hand, leaving nothing but the gold mixed with sand, which is separated in the manner before described. The gold in the lower mines is in fine bright scales, of which I send several specimens.-
"Remarkable success attended the labours of the first explorers, and, in a few weeks, hundreds of men were drawn thither. At the time of my visit, but little more than three months after its first discovery, it was estimated that upwards of four thousand people were employed.
"At the mill there is a fine deposit or bank of gravel, which the people respect as the property of Captain Sutter (Image right: James Wilson Marshall finds Gold at Sutter's Fort), although he pretends no right to it, and would be perfectly satisfied with the simple promise of a pre-emption on account of the mill which he has built there at considerable cost. Mr. Marshall was living near the mill, and informed me that many persons were employed above and below him; that they used the same machines as at the lower washings; and that their success was about the same ranging from one to three ounces of gold per man daily.
This gold, too, is in scales a little coarser than those of the lower mines. From the mill, Mr. Marshall guided me up the mountain on the opposite or north bank of the south fork, where, in the bed of small streams or ravines, now dry, a great deal of coarse gold has been found. I there saw several parties at work, all of whom were doing very well; a great many specimens were shown me, some as heavy as four or five ounces in weight; and I send three pieces, labelled No. 5, presented by a Mr. Spence.
"You will perceive that some of the specimens accompanying this, hold, mechanically, pieces of quartz, that the surface is rough, and evidently moulded in the crevice of a rock. This gold cannot have been carried far by water, but must have remained near where it was first deposited from the rock that once bound it. I inquired of many if they had encountered the metal in its matrix, but in every instance they said they had not, but that the gold was invariably mixed with washed gravel, or lodged in the crevices of other rocks. All bore testimony that they had found gold in greater or less quantities in the numerous small gullies or ravines that occur in that mountainous region. On the 7th of July, I left the mill, and crossed to a small stream emptying into the American fork, three or four miles below the saw-mill. I struck the stream (now known as Weber's Creek) at the washings of Sunol and Co. They had about thirty Indians employed, whom they pay in merchandize. They were getting gold of a character similar to that found In the main fork, and doubtless in sufficient quantities to satisfy them.
"I send you a small specimen presented by this company of their gold. From this point we proceeded up the stream about eight miles, where we found a great many people and Indians, some engaged in the bed of the stream and others in the small side valleys that put into it. These latter are exceedingly rich, and two ounces were considered an ordinary yield for a day's work.
"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 M'Coon had, a short time before, obtained 17,000 dollars worth of gold. Captain 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 left 10,000 dollars' worth of this gold. Another small ravine was shown me, from which bad been taken upwards of 12,000 dollars' worth of gold. Hundreds of similar ravines, to all appearance, 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 Commodore Stockton, had been at work about three weeks in the neighborhood, and showed me in bags and bottles over 3,000 dollars' 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 dollars a day; but bearing that others were doing better at Weber's piece, they had removed there, and were then on the point of resuming operations.
"I might tell of hundreds of similar instances; but to illustrate how plentiful the gold was in the pockets of common labourer, I will mention a similar occurrence which took place in my presence when I was at Weber's store. This store was nothing but an arbor of bushes, under which be had exposed for sale goods and groceries suited to his customers. A man came in, picked up a box of Seidlitz powders, and asked its price. Captain Weber told him it was not for sale. The man offered an ounce of gold, but Captain Weber told him it only cost 50 cents., and he did not wish to sell it. The man then offered an ounce and a half, when Captain Weber had to take it. The prices of all things are high, and yet Indians, who before hardly knew what a breach cloth was, can now afford lo buy the most gaudy dresses.
"The country on either side of Weber's Creek is much broken up by hills, and is intersected in every direction by small streams or ravines, which contain more or less gold. Those that have been worked are barely scratched, and although thousands of ounces have been carried away, I do not consider that a serious impression has been made upon the whole. Every day was developing new and richer deposits; and the only impression seemed to be, that the metal would be found in such abundance as seriously to depreciate in value.
"On the 8th of July, I returned to Monterey. Before leaving Sutter's, I satisfied myself that gold existed in the bed of the Feather River, in the Yuba and Bear, and in many of the small streams that lie between the latter and the American Fork; also, that it had been found in the Cosanmmes, to the south of the American Fork.
"In each of these streams the gold is found in small scales, whereas in the intervening mountains it occurs in coarser lumps.
"Mr. Sinclair, whose rancho is three miles above Sutter's, on the north side of the American, employs about fifty Indians on the north fork, not far from its junction with the main stream. He had been engaged about five weeks when I saw him, and up to that time his Indians had used simply closely-woven willow baskets. His net proceeds (which I saw) were about 16,000 dollars' worth of gold. He showed me the proceeds of his last week's work 14 lbs. avoirdupois of clean-washed gold.
"The principal store at Sutter's fort, that of Brannan and Co., often received in payment for goods, 36,000 dollars' worth of this gold, from the 1st of May to the 10th of July. Other merchants had also made extensive sales. Large quantities of goods were daily sent forward to the mines, as the Indians, heretofore so poor and degraded, have suddenly become consumers of the luxuries of life. I before mentioned, that the greater part of the farmers and rancheros had abandoned their fields to go to the mines. This is not the case with Captain Sutter, who was carefully gathering his wheat, estimated at 40,000 bushel. Flour is already worth, at Sutter's, 36 dollars a barrel, and soon will be 50. Unless large quantities of breadstuff reach the country, much suffering will occur; but, as each man is now able to pay a large price, it is believed the merchants will bring from Chili and Oregon a plentiful supply for the coming winter.
"The most moderate estimate I could obtain from men acquainted with the subject was that upwards of 4,000 men were working in the gold district, of whom more than one-half were Indians, and that from 30,000 dollars to 50,000 dollars worth of gold, if not more, was daily obtained. The entire gold district, with very few exceptions of grants grants made some years ago by the Mexican authorities, is on land belonging to the United States. It was matter of serious reflection with me, how I could secure to the Government certain rents or fees for the privilege of procuring 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 crime should call for interference.
"I was surprised to learn that crime of any kind was very infrequent, and that no thefts or robberies had been committed in the gold district. All live in tents, in bush arbors, or in the open air; and men have frequently about their persons thousands of dollars' worth of this gold, and it was to me a matter of surprise that so peaceful and quiet a state of things should continue to exist. Conflicting claims to particular spots of ground may cause collisions, but they will be rare, as the extent of country is so great, and the gold so abundant that for the present there is room and enough for all. Still the Government is entitled to rents for this land, and immediate steps should be devised to collect them, for the longer it is delayed the more difficult it will be. One plan I would suggest is to send out from the United States surveyors with high salaries, bound to serve specified periods; a superintendent to be appointed at Sutter's fort with power to grant licenses to work a spot of ground say 100 yards square for one year, at a rent of from 100 dollars to 1,000 dollars, at his discretion ; the surveyors to measure the ground and place the renter in possession. A better plan, however, will be to have the district surveyed and sold at public auction to the highest bidder, in small parcels say from 20 to 40 acres. In either case there will be many intruders, whom, for years, it will be almost impossible to exclude.
"The discovery of these vast deposits of gold has entirely changed the character of upper California. Its people, before engaged in cultivating their small patches of ground, and guarding their herds of cattle and horses, have all gone to the mines, or are on their way there. Labourers of every trade have left their work benches, and tradesmen their shops.
"Sailors desert their ships as fast as they arrive on the coast, and several vessels have gone to sea with hardly enough hands to spread a sail. Two or three are now at anchor in San Francisco with no crew on board. Many desertions, too, have taken place from the garrisons within the influence of these mines; 26 soldiers have deserted from the post of Sonora, 24 from that of San Francisco, and 24 from Monterey.
"For a few days the evil appeared so threatening that great danger existed that the garrisons would leave in a body; and I refer yon to my order of the 25th of July, to show the steps adopted to meet this contingency. I shall spare no exertions to apprehend and punish deserters, but I believe no time in the history of our country has presented such apprehension to desert as now exist in California. The danger of apprehension is small, and the prospect of high wages certain; pay and bounties are trifles, as labouring men at the mines can now earn in one day more than double a soldier's pay and allowances for a month; and even the pay of a Lieutenant or a Captain cannot hire a servant. A carpenter or mechanic would not listen to an offer of less than 15 or 20 dollars a day. Could any combination of affairs try a man's fidelity more than this? And I really think some extraordinary mark of favour should be given to those soldiers who remain faithful to their flag throughout this tempting crisis.
"No officer can now live in California on his pay, money has so little value; the prices of necessary articles of clothing and subsistence are so exorbitant, and labour so high, that to hire a cook or servant has become an impossibility, save lo those who are earning from 30 to 40 dollars a day. This state of things cannot last for ever. Yet from the geographical position of California, and the new character it has assumed as a mining country, prices of labour will always be high, and will hold out temptations to desert. I therefore have to report, if the Government wish to prevent desertions here on the part of men, and to secure zeal on the part of officers, their pay must be increased very materially. Soldiers, both of the volunteer and regular service, discharged in this country, should be permitted at once to locate their land warrants in the gold district. Many private letters have gone to the United States giving accounts of the vast quantity of gold recently discovered, and it may be a matter of surprise why I have made no report on this subject at an earlier date. The reason is, that I could not bring myself to believe the reports that I heard of the wealth of the gold district until I visited it myself. I have no hesitation now in saying, that there is more gold in the country drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers than will pay the cost of the present war with Mexico a hundred limes over. No capital is required to obtain this gold, as the labouring man wants nothing but his pick and shovel and tin pan with which to dig and wash the gravel; and many frequently pick gold out of the crevices of rocks with their butcher knives in pieces of from one lo six ounces.
"Mr. Dye, a gentleman residing in Monterey, and worthy of every credit, has just returned from Feather River. He tells me that the company to which he belonged worked seven weeks and two days, with an average of 50 Indians (washers), and that their gross product was 2731b. of gold. His share (one-seventh), after paying all expenses, is about 37lb., which be brought with him, and exhibited in Monterey. I see no labouring man from the mines who does not show his 21b., 3lb., or 41b. of gold. A soldier of the Artillery Company returned here a few days ago from the mines, having been absent on furlough, twenty days. He made, by trading and working during that time, 1,500 dollars. During those twenty days he was travelling ten or eleven days, leaving but a week in which he made a sum of money greater than he receives in pay, clothes, and rations, during a whole enlistment of five years. These statements appear incredible, but they are true: Gold is also believed to exist on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada; and, when at the mines, I was informed by an intelligent Mormon that it had been found near the Great Salt Lake by some of his fraternity.
"Nearly all the Mormons are leaving California to go the Salt Lake; and this they surely would not do, unless they were sure of finding gold there in the same abundance as they now do on the Sacramento. The gold "placer," near the mission of San Fernando, has long been known, but has been little wrought for want of water. This is in a spur that juts off from the Sierra Nevada (see Fremont's map), the same in which the present mines occur. There is, therefore, every reason to believe that, in the intervening spaces of 600 miles (entirely unexplored), there must be many hidden and rich deposits.
The "placer" gold is now substituted as the currency of this country; in trade it passes freely at ten dollars per ounce; as an article of commerce its value is not yet fixed. The only purchase I made was of the specimen No. 7, which I got of Mr. Neligh at twelve dollars the ounce. That is about the present cash value in the country, although it has been sold for less. The great demand for goods and provisions made by this sudden development of wealth has increased the amount of commerce at San Francisco very much, and it will continue to increase.."
Colonel Mason then recommends that a mint be established at some eligible point of the Bay of San Francisco, and concludes, "If this course be not adopted, gold, to the amount of many millions of dollars, will pass years to other countries, to enrich their merchants and capitalists."
We quote the following testimony to the genuine quality of the gold from the Washington Union:
"Understanding that Lieutenant Locser had arrived in this city, and had deposited in the War-office the precious specimens he had brought with him, we called to see them, in order to free our mind of all hesitation as to the genuineness of the metal. We had seen doubts expressed in some of our Exchange papers; and we readily admit, that the accounts so nearly approached the miraculous, that we were relieved by the evidence of our own senses on the subject. The specimens have all the appearance of the native gold we had seen from the mines of North Carolina and Virginia; and we were informed that the secretary would send a small chest called a caddy, containing about 3,000 dollars worth of gold, in lumps and scales, to the Mint to be melted into coin and bars, and most of it to be subsequently fashioned into medals, commemorative of the heroism and valor of our officers. Several of the other specimens he will retain for the present in the War-office as found in California, in the form of lumps, scales, and sand; the last named being of a different hue, from bright yellow to black, without much appearance of gold. We have seen it stated, in letters and in the newspapers, that what was found in California and brought to the United Stales was mica; but it seems to us impossible, from the appearance, and density, and weight of the metal which we saw last night in the War-office, that there can be any delusion or mistake. The specimens have gone to Washington as they were extracted from the materials of the placer. The heaviest piece that is brought by Lieutenant Loeser weighs a little more than two ounces, but the varied contents of the casket (as described in Colonel Mason's schedule) will be sent off to-day by special messenger to the Mint at Philadelphia for assay, and early next week we hope to have the pleasure of laying the result before our readers. Among the specimens were some grains of metal supposed to be platina, one of the heaviest of metals; and also a rich specimen of cinnabar, or the ore of quicksilver (very heavy). They are transmitted to the Mint, with the gold of California, also to be submitted lo analysis. Some suppose that the quicksilver mines of California may prove more valuable even than its placers of gold. The high price of quicksilver, so important a material for extracting gold, has hitherto prevented the working of many of the mines. Should this treasure continue lo be as abundant as it promises to do, and as this specimen of cinnabar indicates, the quicksilver mines of California will probably prove the richest in the world. The house of Manning and Mackintosh, of Mexico, who have taken charge of this great undertaking for opening a water communication between the two oceans, through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, had begun a road for the transportation of all the materials necessary for this great work. The road is preparing for the purpose of establishing at once a temporary communication to the point where already the river Cautzacualeos and the fine lakes bordering on the Pacific, and running into that ocean, can be navigated with safety and facility for the distance of forty miles by vessels of large tonnage. The lands through this whole district are celebrated for their extraordinary fertility, and it abounds in timber of the greatest value, both for shipbuilding and furniture. The road now opening is to be completed within the ensuing eight months, and negotiations are now progressing between the undertakers and the Post-office department for the regular transmission of the American mail by this route."
The New York correspondent of the Daily News writes:
"In connection with these remarks, the California news presents itself very naturally to our consideration. If any doubt existed as to its truth, my last letter must have dispelled it. The gold of California is no fable. Midas lives. The greatest ass in the United States may, if he will abandon his thistles, touch nothing but gold. Large amounts of the metal have reached Washington (some on private accounts), have been sent to the Mint, and have been found remarkably pure too pure, indeed, for our standard. The quantity collected is far greater than was supposed; indeed, there have been some attempts made to mislead the public purposely, to prevent further excitement, while some have estimated that ten thousand millions of pounds may be found there before the supply will be exhausted. I am at a loss what to think of it. But suppose that every foot of soil in England contained gold, that it could be picked out in large lumps from every rock, what would you think of it ? Now, as for as we can learn, a territory larger than England has been found to be in this condition. Would it not entirely change the face of things with you? Will it not with us? Some of our political economists are beginning already to speculate on the consequences. They say that stocks paying a stated interest at the present value of money will be worthless; that our government will pay off its debt with a song; that real estate and all articles dependent on new contracts for their value, or productive according to the new relations of things, will greatly rise. In this view, the more a man runs in debt for property to pay for it at a future day, the richer he will become. Your intelligent readers, doubtless, remember reading, that when the Romans captured Jerusalem, they obtained so much gold that the price of it in Syria was reduced one half. "I have just seen a letter, of very late date, from San Francisco. It confirms, by surpassing, all former accounts of the gold region. A common miner has arrived here to-day, by the way of the Isthmus, with his pockets full of gold. He is here to buy crucibles and an apparatus for melting the ore into bars, with which he intends to return without delay. A letter from Mr. Colton, dated at Alta California, says, to a friend of Washington: 'The shores are paved with gold, and the mountains swell in its glowing girdle, It sparkles in the sands of the valley; it glitters in the coronet of the steep cliffs; and yet you slumber over it and let the stronger despoil you. Well, slumber on if you will. We will startle Europe from her dreams, if not yon. We have not taken California in vain (in vein?), and we will vindicate the treasures she has cost us if you will send us a mint. I use strong terms; but who can speak in whispers when an earthquake rocks?"
"Thousands of people are preparing to emigrate from this country. Ships are daily chartered for the voyage round. Common sailors offer to go out at one dollar a month, if they can be permitted to leave the ship after it arrives. Millions of dollars are already invested in supplies for the new territory, and supercargoes and agents of undoubted character and ability may command their own price, if they will stipulate not to desert their employers after they arrive. The spirit of adventure affects all classes like. We are astounded at what we see with our own eyes."
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