Very Important Passengers: San Francisco 1800s


Soon after this gold was discovered and a great rush for the new El Dorado in Cal. Quite a number of Cornish miners went, among them several of the hard drinkers, which made Dodgeville a better place to live in after they were gone. In the autumn of 1850, the Cholera broke out in Dodgeville and several towns in the County. The first case occurred in Wingville now Montfort and Dr. Sibley of this place was called to attend the case. The Doctor took the disease and died. Some days after the first case occurred, the plague had many victims. One Sunday there were 5 funerals. The citizens were panic stricken, and all who could do so left the place. Many were out near Cobb and lived in tents on the prairie.

My father had just returned from England a short time before the Cholera broke out and brought with him a man called Wm Rogers a brother of my brother in law, Matthew Rogers. Matthew and my father were taken down with the disease in our old brick house. My mother & Nanny my sister and wife of Matthew, waited on them. Shortly after, Wm Rogers who came from Cornwall with my father was taken suddenly and died the next day in our house where he was staying. The supply of Coffins was exhausted. Old Mr. Marr the undertaker was a victim. He died soon after the disease broke out. As no coffins were to be had, rough unplained boards were made into boxes of the length needed and the remains consigned to their resting place in the old cemetery. I remember going over to Redruth Hollow with a horse and cart for the coffin to enclose Mr. Roger's remains. The streets were white with lime that had been scattered on them for Sanitary purposes as a disinfectant.

During the weeks that followed, my father and brother in law were attended by no regular physician but were waited on by "Old Man Tyrer" as he was called who lived about a mile west of the present N.W. Depot. He had remarkable success with the cases he treated. I think it was said that all those he treated recovered. He waited on my father and Matthew Rogers and both recovered. His treatment was medicated steam inhaled through the nose. Soon after those who had gone away returned when the plague ceased. Mother, my sister, Mrs. Rogers, and myself kept well and suffered no attack.

Not long after this I obtained a position as clerk with Fregaskis & Rowen in a general Store and stayed with them for a year or more until they closed out their business. My brother John went to Cal in 185_ and in the Spring of 1852 he sent money to pay my passage to Cal. He was working in the placer gold mines near Sonora on Kinkaids flat, 4 miles from town. Sonora was the County seat of Tuolumne Co. In the early part of May 1852 in company with several Dodgeville Citizens whom I was acquainted with, I started for California. I was then 16 years and 8 months old and weighed 110 lbs. So I was a lightweight for my age. I had however had some experience in handling the pick & shovel some years before which was a benefit to me.

At that time the Mil & St Paul R R. was begun and 20 miles of road was in operation. We went by Stage to Madison and thence to the R R line via the plant road to Watertown to the terminal of the St. Paul Road. From Mil we went to Toledo Ohio by Steam ship and from thence to Buffalo and on to New York City via the New York Central & Hudson River R. R. We remained in New York several days at No 2 Front St. a hotel largely patronized by Cornish miners. It so happened that a party of miners from Lake Superior came into the hotel and my brother Alfred was among them. So we journeyed afterward together until we reached San Francisco. At last the party engaged passage on the Steamship Northern Lights a Vanderbilt boat via the Nicaragua Route. We paid $170 for our fare in the Steerage from New York to San Francisco.

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Boat on Lago de Nicaragua with
Volcan Concepcion
Isla de Ometepe, Rivas, Nicaragua
Margie Politzer

After an uneventful passage we arrived in Greytown or "San Juan Del Norte" the landing place where a small steamer of light draft awaited our arrival to take us up the river as far as Castille Rapids near the entrance to Lake Nicaragua. The water was low and when necessary a great many of the passengers would get off to lighten the boat and walk through the jungle where a path had been made. Thus enabling the steamer to get over the shallow water in the numerous rapids we had to pass. There was a dense tropical forest along the river, number of monkeys and tropical birds making strange music and chattering in the trees.

After some days we reached the Castille rapids, and waited for the coming of a larger steamer to take us across Lake Nicaragua. It was towards evening when the steamer arrived. We soon got on board and were not long before we entered the lake and were on the boat all night arriving at Virgin Bay early in the morning. It is a beautiful body of water set in the mountain range affording the grandest scenery. There are a number of active volcanoes in Nicaragua. It is a volcanic region, and eruptions occur at irregular intervals. I think the view from Virgin bay most delightful and the scenery is most impressive and I have not forgotten it through sixty years.

Virgin Bay is about 12 miles from the Pacific Coast at "San Juan Del Sud" (St. John the South). Here we had to ride on horse back or mule back, or tramp it. The trail led through the mountains, and was narrow so that most of the way we had to travel single file. No carriages could pass over it. Some of the lady passengers were perplexed over the situation and found it necessary to borrow pantaloons to ride the mules or ponies provided. A lady by the name of Williams borrowed a pair of mine, which proved satisfactory. She remembered the incident when I met her in Victoria British Columbia 50 years after. That 12 miles was long and rough but in due time we finished the journey and reached "San Juan Del Sud," on the Pacific where we got our first view of the Great Pacific Ocean. It had taken about a week in getting from Ocean to Ocean. In the middle of the day the shade was desirable as it was pretty hot. The old barracks called a hotel was near the beach. A few went bathing but soon after a shark was seen which ended that luxury. Oranges limes and lemons were cheap and abundant, and grew near by or were brought there.

The Steamer Independence had not arrived and we had to wait a week in that very uncomfortable place before she came to take us to San Francisco. (The passenger list for this journey is shown at the end of his description of the voyage.) She was a miserable excuse for a passenger boat. About 260 passengers were on board. I believe it was 16 days before we entered the Golden Gate the entrance to the great harbor of San Francisco. On the way up the coast we put in at the Mexican port of Acapulco, a small but beautiful land locked harbor, and stayed some hours. A number of natives some of whom were small boys swam around the boat and many coins were thrown in the water, which they dove after and very quickly obtained them. It was an interesting sight to many of the passengers who had never seen the like before. The steerage fare didn't suit my appetite. The hard sea biscuit and fat bacon I had not been used to and I should have fared pretty hard had not Alfred Jenkins and his wife cabin passengers who were citizens of Mineral Point, kindly remembered me by smuggling some appetizing food from the Cabin table. There was a young man who was a waiter in the Cabin who was from Davenport, England, with whom Alfred and myself became acquainted. Some 7 or 8 days before we reached San Francisco one of the cabinet pantrymen took the Panama Fever and this young Englishman got me his place in the pantry, and my brother Alfred got the job of cleaning the knives & forks. We both lived well from that on and were paid $2. a day for our time when we got into port. I thought we were quite fortunate.

The 4th of July was celebrated on board, being on a Sunday. Through the kinsman of the young Englishman I was an invited guest. The cabin table was decorated with small flags. I dare say the speeches made were patriotic, though I do not remember any thing that was said (but I am certain I had a good dinner).

The city of San Francisco at that time had a population of 5 to 10,000. Gambling houses, where many were fleeced, were open night and day. We did not stay there longer than we were obliged to. Here my brother Alfred and I separated, he going to the North at Weaverville and I to Sonora in the Southern mines, which was about 75 miles from Stockton at the head of Navigation, which place we reached by Steamer. Having yet a ride by Stage of 75 miles we lost no time and soon were at the end of our journey. These places can easily be found in any late geography. About 4 miles from Sonora is Kincaid Flat where my brothers John and Thomas had claims. The latter came to Cal from England where he married a Miss Reynolds the daughter of a respectable farmer. After remaining a few hours in the City of San Francisco we got on board the Steamer for Stockton. We crossed the magnificent Bay of San Francisco and steamed up the Sacramento River to where the San Joaquin River flows into it and from there up the latter to Stockton the head of navigation on the River at that time. There was a stage line from Stockton to Sonora the county seat of Tuolumne County, which was the principal town in the Southern Mines. In and around the vicinity of Sonora within a few miles were many rich mining claims.

On reaching Sonora I was at the end of my journey. Four miles from Sonora my eldest brothers John and Thomas were mining on Kinkcaids Flat a recent discovery. I was very glad to meet my brothers and received an affectionate greeting from them. My brother Thomas had arrived there from England (leaving his wife there) some few weeks before my arrival, and had purchased an interest in a claim joining the one owned by my brother John & partner an Irish man by the name of Dan Downey who was the discoverer of the claim. I think my brother paid him the small sum of $100 for a half interest. It proved to be a fortunate investment.

I was at that time about 6 yrs and 6 mos old and small of my age. My weight about 5 lbs. rather a lightweight to undertake to fill a man's place. The gravel had to be carted about 3/4 of a mile to Sullivan's creek where it was washed and the gold extracted by a very simple process, called the Long Tom, which was about 10 ft. in length and 2 ft in width, the sides being 10 in high, at the lower end there was a sheet iron grating with holes about 3/4 in diameter, some 3 ft in length and full width of the trough or box, and turned up at the end over which all the washed gravel & dirt passed, except the stones which were too large to pass thru the grating. Underneath the grating was the Riffle Box in a sloping position. A man stood at the lower end and shoveled away all the material which did not pass thru. In the riffle box were one or two strips of lumber some 1 1/2 inches wide placed across the bottom so as to prevent the gold from washing away.

My brother owned a mule and cart, and his partner Mr. Downey owned a horse and cart which he drove himself while I was hired to drive the mule & cart. My brother did the washing at the long Tom, and a man was hired to dig the dirt with a pick and help to load. Each driver had to help fill the load. I carried as many loads a day as Mr. Downey and got a man's wages which was $5. a day. I thought that was pretty good pay. The gravel was only some 2 1/2 to 3 feet to bed rock and was easy digging.

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Tuolumne River cuts through Stanislaus National Forest
Phil Schermeister

After about 3 months the pay streak was worked out, and my brother sold out to his partner. After which he went to Hawkings Bar on the Tuolumne River and bot 4 shares in a River claim. One share for himself, one for me, one for Wm. Wedlake and one for my brother Alfred who had recently come from Weaverville in the northern mines. It was in Aug month and we lived in a brush tent which we had made. Our work was to build two dams one at the head and one at the lower end of the claims and lay trestle work and build a flume in which an undershot water wheel furnished power to run Chinese pumps to prime out the water between the two dams so as to work the river bed. After the water was lowered sufficiently to begin working just below the upper dam, we began sluicing the gravel. We were just beginning to get rich pay dirt and had not reached the bed rock where we expected to find the best pay, when one night the river rose and washed out our dam which put an end to our work for the season. There were 38 shares in the claim. After paying for the material as made a dividend of ten dollars per share, so our board expenses and all our labor which was very hard went for nothing. We disposed of our shares and did not try river mining again.

We returned to Kinkaid Flats where we remained thru most of the Winter and lived in the log cabin we had previously occupied. Then the rainy season began provisions began to rise in price very rapidly. My brother went to Sonora and bot some things we needed among the rest was a sack of corn meal which cost $22. pr 100 lbs. Soon after flour, potatoes, beans, pork, ham &c went as high as $1.00 a lb in many camps. There was so much rain that the roads were almost impassable for teams. Most of the freight was carried by pack animals from Stockton some 75 miles. While the corn meal lasted we generally had mush and molasses for supper with a "heavy cake" to finish with.

In the early Spring we bot a mining claim inside the city limits of Sonora near the "Bull Pen" where Bull fights and Bull and Bear fights took place occasionally, (always on Sunday) as miners came to town generally on that day to do their trading in line of purchasing provisions &c and other things they needed. There were Saloons and 2 large gambling houses which seemed to be liberally patronized. Music furnished by skillful musicians was an attraction that drew many into those places. And doubtless many hard working men were relieved of their hard earnings by their own folly, illustrating the old saying that "fools and their money are soon parted." Drinking, Gambling, Wine, and Women of the underworld were the pitfalls of destruction then as they are today. Carrying revolvers was a very common practice. They were not concealed but were fastened to the side by a belt around the body which supported the holster in which the weapon was carried in full view of every one. Among the population were many Mexicans, mostly of the Peon class, many of them dangerous characters. Crimes were of frequent occurrence, and lynchings often followed.

Finally Vigilance Committees were organized in various cities to deal with the criminal classes. Trial by the ordinary legal process was slow and uncertain, but the prompt action of the Vigilantes was a terror to the evil doers. I saw 3 or 4 men, one of them was a white man the others Mexicans who had been tried by due process of law, hung at the same time in Sonora, who had been found guilty of murder. The hanging was in public and a large crowd were gathered, probably through curiosity than anything else.

In the Summer of 1853 my brother John gave up mining and with two others both Cornishmen went into the cattle business. They went to Los Angeles in Southern California, which at that time was a small town of a few hundred inhabitants, where owners of great herds of cattle made their homes. The Vaqueros or "Cowboys" did the herding on the grazing grounds. They were generally Mexicans or Chilians from Chili South America. They were experts in riding and throwing the lasso.

Los Angeles was about 500 miles from the southern mines and the cattle were driven that distance, which took about a month to six weeks. The cattle were rounded up at night after grazing and a man or two kept guard through the night. Occasionally through the night some trifling thing would frighten them and they would rise and stampede in every direction, when all hands would be aroused, and follow them on horseback until they quieted down. Sometimes it might take some days to get them all together again, before they could pursue their journey. After reaching the mines they were herded by the cowboys until they were slaughtered and the meat sold in the various mining camps.

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Exterior View of Old Mississippi House
Shaws Flat, Jamestown, CA

Within a few miles of Sonora were a number of Mining Camps, which furnished employment to a great many miners. Shaw's Flat was about 3 miles from Sonora. Springfield 4 miles. Jamestown about 4 miles. Columbia about the same distance. Chinese Camp about 10 miles. Sullivan's Creek I mile. It was all placer mining at first, and after a few years most of the Shallow diggings were worked out and abandoned. Some years later Quartz mines were discovered some of which 50 years later are still being worked. Pocket mining so named on account of the gold being found in pockets, sometimes many thousands of dollars have been taken out of a few square feet of ground from a single pocket. By following a small stringer of Quartz it would often lead to another pocket.

The great "Mother Lode" as it is called can be traced by its surface croppings for scores and possible hundreds of miles. And many rich discoveries have been made in or near the huge body of Quartz. Near Jamestown are several good mines alongside the Mother lode, where it crosses the "Table Mountain." This mountain can be traced for many miles and appears very level. It was once the bed of an ancient river. Between Shaw's Flats and Jamestown, Volcanic rock or lava can be seen standing almost perpendicular fro 25 to 50 ft. high. Many tunnels have pierced the side of the mountain and struck a bed of gravel in places rich with gold, far below the lava on the top of the mountain. It is evident the lava from some extinct volcano must have flowed down the bed of the river and filled the valley and turned the stream into another Channel. In one place an acquaintance of mine at the base of the mountain found a gravel bed which led into the mountain side where there was a spring. The gold found was mostly coated with a film of black material very thin. The gold was of a coarse grade in size. I dare say Table Mountain has been examined by the Cal State Geologist but I have never seen in print any description or explanation of this very remarkable mountain which at a distance seems to be so level. The Mother lode and the Table Mountain are both interesting features in the Geological formation of that section.

In 1857 some paying quartz ledges were discovered about 2 miles from Sonora at what was called "Saulslyville," and they have been worked to a depth of several hundred feet, and they still give employment to quite a number of miners. The veins were generally not large but of good quality. About 2 miles from Soulsbyville toward the foothills of the Sierras, an old friend of mine by the name of Wm. Vincent a native of Cambourne, England and a man by the name of Wm Blakely, discovered a Quartz ledge, in which I purchased an 1/8 interest for $1200. The claim was 800 ft in length. The surface rock was of honeycomb formation and thru oxidation and action of the atmosphere the gold was in loose particles in the cells, but at a few feet in depth the pyrites of iron took the place of the honey comb rock on the surface, and those had to be roasted in order to recover the gold.

The names of the men who formed the company were Wm Vincent, Wm and James Blakely of New York who were the discoverers, Jas Bennett my bro in law, Francis Dunstan of Dodgeville Wis, Wm Hendy, John H. Benberthy and myself, also Dodgeville men, John Edwards, Richard Inch the former from Hazel Green, Wisconsin, the latter from Cornwall, Eng. and Rev. M.C. Baker an American who was at the time pastor of the ME Church at Springfield.

Stamp Mill.
Standard Stamp Mill
Bodie State Historical Park, California

We started a tunnel and soon reached the vein which was about 3 ft in width. After following the vein for about 100 ft it widened and formed two veins with stringers of quartz in the ground between. We had no Stamp Mill to crush the quartz. Mr. Inch who was a mining engineer owned an old 8 Stamp mill and the company entered into a contract with him to crush a thousand tons. Before his contract was finished the company decided to build a 20 stamp up to date mill at that time, operated by a 20 ft overshot wheel.

It was supposed that the vein would continue in depth and also into the hill. About that time my bro in law Jas Bennett decided to sell his interest and return to his family in Dodgeville. I had not been feeling very well for some months with indigestion, and decided to sell my interest also and return to Wis. with him.

The following spring, Mr. Hendy John Penberthy Frank Dunstan sold their interest and came back to Dodgeville their home. The mine looked promising at that time and the price of a share advanced about $2000. a share more than I obtained. When the tunnel was driven further into the hill it came to a point and formed a single vein again and failed to yield in values as before. A shaft was then sunk from the tunnel to a depth of some 40 feet to find out the character of the lode. The result proved that the vein got too poor to pay for working.

In the fall of 1859 in company with my brother in law we started our return journey to Wisconsin. We sailed from San Francisco on the Steamship Golden Gate and arrived in Panama in about 12 days a distance of about 3,500 miles. We crossed the Isthmus in the night by rail along the present route of the Panama Canal, but had no opportunity to see the nature of the country along the route.

We arrived at Aspinwall in the night and without delay went on board of the Steamship Baltic a vessel of 3000 tons burden, and in the morning we steamed out of the harbor bound for New York some 2500 miles, passing near the Island of Cuba on our way north. We reached New York in about 7 days. We had no storms to contend with and we made the voyage in schedule time. We saw but few steamers on the trip, and there was nothing of especial interest that happened. Our stay in New York was quite short and soon we were on our way by train to Chicago where we arrived in due time, and were soon on our way to Dodgeville, and were home at last in a few hours to the end of our long journey where our relatives and friends gave us a cordial greeting.

I had been away for about 7 1/2 years and had lived nearly all the time in a Bachelor's Cabin, and did my own cooking, washing and mending. It was a humdrum sort of a life, with few attractions and hard toil.

One of the incidents which occurred the winter of 852 at Kinkaid's Flat which afforded a little excitement was a report that a Grizzly bear had been seen near the camp and the miners turned out to get a view of the formidable and dangerous animal. Some were armed with pistols and guns and other weapons which to give battle to his Grizzlyship. The chaparral bushes were carefully searched and the pine trees of large size scanned very critically but to no purpose. The final conclusion was that the Bear had decided to leave the vicinity for safer quarters. My opinion is if the bear had given battle there would have been a lively stampede of the hunters.

Another incident was during the rainy season of 185_. It was on a Sunday. A heavy rain had fallen during the night. My bro Alfred and one or two others started to go on foot to Sonora. I also went. When we reached Sullivan's Creek we found the stream which was usually easy to cross, had swollen to quite a size which we did not attempt to cross. In looking in some of the shallow gullies which the rain had washed bare, one of the party espied a small nugget of gold. Then we all began to search. It was but a short distance from where my brother John's wash place stood. I went there and looking around I saw a nugget of gold which I picked up which was worth about $ 6. Not long before that time, a Cornishman by name Jack Rabey picked a nugget of gold and quartz near the Bull Pen in Sonora which was valued at about $1000.00. There was mining ground where it lay among the gravel.

At Carson's Camp in Calaveras Co. where the motherlode cropped out above the surface, some rich quartz had been found. In the gulch at the foot of the hill there were a number of claims which paid very well. My bro Alfred and I purchased a 1/4 interest in one of the claims. The bed rock was some 10 to 15 feet below the surface. Several feet below the surface of the ground was of no value. The method of handling was by "ground sluicing" the ground down to pay gravel was undercut by digging with picks. The stream of water was conducted to the fall of the bank. Then when the ground toppled over, the dirt which was quite free of stone was carried away by the force of the water, thus getting rid of the useless material and disposing of it at much less labor and expense than by shoveling. After the ground sluicing, the gravel and bedrock was afterward cleaned by picking and shoveling into sluice boxes where the gold was recovered. I will remember one day the Company who worked the claim below ours found a nugget weighing 45 ounces. Its market value was $850.

Excerpt from "Recollections of my Early Life in Dodgeville" and of "My Trip to California" By James Roberts. James Roberts was born in 1835 and these memoirs were written, it appears, around 1920.

The manuscript of James Roberts is in the G. H. Sanford Collection (1927) of papers at the archives of the Wisconsin State Historical Society in Madison, WI, 816 South Street, Archives Division. They are listed as Author-Eleanor Sanford, collector, MAD 4/14/SC 326, call numbers. Above are excerpts from those recollections about Dodgeville, the Roberts and Rogers families, and James' trip to mine gold in California.

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