News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

The Diggin' Has Commenced

The December 14, 1849 Alta California published the following letter from California.

California Gold Rush.Pan with Gold Nuggets.
Pan with Gold Nuggets

While these letters were printed in newspapers, undoubtedly the editors made them up, or some starving writer in California who needed a few extra bucks. Many of the people who came to California in those early days were well-educated, as is demonstrated by letters in historical societies, and while the following is what many people believe to be indicative of the way immigrants in the gold fields talked, it was unlikely. More accurate would be accents from around the world given that people from every part of the globe populated San Francisco and the gold country. Still, it gives a glimpse of life in them thar hills and of the fantasies of gold seekers.

"The following humorous epistle is one of a series originally published in the New York Sunday Timesunder the head of "California in Slices." It has been in our possession several months, but having been mislaid accidentally, it only "turned up," again a few days since, and we hasten to present it to our readers."

AMERICAN FORK, March 1, 1849

The diggin’ has commenced. I can see from my shanty a movin specktikil of more’n a thousand heads some a bobbin up and down, and some a sea-sorring backards and forrards, accordin as the owners is to work to fill the cradles, or a rockin of the same. Two sociations have arrived since the rains with steam engines; but the felers warnt satisfied with the work of the engines done, and said they blowed off too much wapor; so they tied down the safety walves to keep it in; whereupon the steam bursted everything to almighty smash, and scalded the whole billin. One of the surwivers, a fine spoken young man from Little Falls, who went up on the walking beam and came down by the run, remarked after the highst, that water in a state of abolition was a powerful agent. Jennison’s machines takes well; and many a miner, who has to stand bare-legged all day in the water, would be very glad of his pumps and hose. The difficulty, when you have got the gravel, is to bring the water, which in course is necessary, to carry off the stuff you don’t want.

There is a good deal of frute here in the vallies, but those who valley health don’t eat it. Grapes and gripes goes together. Some grain has been sowed here since the rain; but there is so much metal in the sile, that all the wheat is killed with the rust. There’s more’n thirty thousand people at the mines, and provishuns is rapidly going down. Deer meat is cheap, and prairie dogs dog cheap the latter is not unholesum, as hydryfoby is unknown in these parts. Brandy the worst kind is all the time egrejusly high, and so is the lower class of miners. There is a minister here now who continually preeches temperance, and says that the worm of the still is the father of the worm that is never still, and that the spirit must answer for the flesh, but they don’t mind him.

California Gold Rush.California Gold Rush.
Gold Mining in California during The Gold Rush
Curier & Ives

Fish of all shapes and sizes is found in the streams, being all of a bright gold kuller in consekence of the gold sands; and the kingfishers, which feeds upon them, is also yaller. Yaller is likewise the prevailing kuller of the trees, frutes, and flowers; and the sky, from the reflekshun of the sile, looks kinder green a mixture of yaller and blue. The injuns, as you have no doubt heern tell, is a sorter dirt-darkened yaller, and it is astonishin how soon white folks begin to turn yaller after they get to grubbin among the gold. In fact, this is a little the yallerest kuntry altogether on this hemisphere on the earth.

New-cummers arrive here at the rate of hundreds a day some fat and jolly, others so maciated that they look like frames of men, just set up and started ahead without the flesh and mussel. A party arrived yesterday that come by the plains, and complain orfully of their sufferins. They say that nothing ever endoored on board tender ships at sea could equil their hardships on shore. They started forty and came in twenty: one-half having eaten the other. They brought locks of all the wictims’ hair for keepsakes, and to show that they was not ongrateful for past favors. The winds of the plains seems to sharpen the appetite and blunt the feelins.

Those that come through Mexico get into a muss about the muskets. No sooner do they land at Very Croos, than all hands in required to give up their arms, in order that the darnd thieves may rob them without the danger of having their karkisses perpetrated with a bullet. If you want to scape a Mexican muss, come by the Ismuss. The people of Cruces is better to deal with than the thieving Very Crooses.

The Californy steamer sailed from San Francisco jest before I left, with an unknown quantity of the preshus metal; the Lexington also has went home with such a sum as I wouldn’t like to name. Informashun has probably got to York, that lumps of 150 pounds has been picked up by small boys in the lower diggins; and you may believe anything you like of the riches of the kuntry, for the estimates is no where near the mark.

California Gold Rush.California's Gold Fields.
Sierra Nevada, California
While panning for gold, California's miners were surrounded by untouched vibrant landscape rich with not only minerals, but fish, game, tall trees, and pure water! Albert Bierstadt.

In the heart of the Sarah Nevady a spring of quicksilver, they say, has bursted out: and as fast as it flows, it thickens up with the gold that lays in heaps all around. Wonderful are the wurks of natur! Some prefers the wet diggins, but the majority is located on the dry. It is all dry diggin in this seeshun. Furriners cums in faster an ever, tracted, as a tierman rag-picker said the other day, by "the luker of Cain." I think Uncle Sam ought to have his toll out of the untold wealth these aleyens expect to carry off. A tonnage duty would do.

I would say more, but this is about as much as my pigeon at San Francisco will be able to carry, although he’s not a.orgmon carrier, My pile grows, and as soon as its so bit I can’t jump over it, here goes for York, says


P.ESS My spellin’ and grammer maybee won’t ‘malgamate with your idees; but what can a feller do writing with a bad pen, in a dissolute wilderness, without no dickshunary!

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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