The Financial Situations of Those Who Dug For Gold

It may at this point in the history of mining be of some interest to know the financial condition of those who had been engaged in the business for the past year. As before stated, many returned to their Eastern homes in the spring, a few of them with a considerable amount of gold dust, and some having as much as $10,000 and even $15,000, but in very many cases with barely sufficient to pay their way to return. A few, again, who had succeeded in securing a fair amount, would engage in business in some one of the mining camps, or in Sacramento City or San Francisco, whilst others would buy land in some portion of the State and engage in the stock business. But those miners who remained in this portion of the mining region were, as a general rule, those who had not acquired a sufficient amount to satisfy them, and therefore determined to remain until they did. Others again, desired very much to return to their families, but not having the means were compelled to remain.

There were a few persons here who had accumulated a large amount of dust, and one man by the name of Harper, who was never known to wear a hat, a Scotchman by birth, is said to have accumulated about $75,000. Another one from Australia, but an Irishman by birth, who arrived in the mines early in the spring of '49, is said to have been a very lucky miner, as the saying goes, and had about $60,000 in gold which he had put into empty oyster cans and hidden around in various places, to which fact hangs a tale.



Several instances had occurred where persons had come into the mines and by a streak of good fortune been successful, or in other words had " struck it rich," and returned home again in a very short time. Among this number of very lucky ones, were two young men who had just arrived from their homes in the East, On the second day of their arrival in Hangtown (now Placerville), they were directed by an acquaintance to the big canyon a short distance north of town as being a good place to commence their operations, they dug a ditch down the side hill from the main ditch, in order to run the water into their sluices; and while at work a tin can was found in their sluices, which had been washed out from the loose soil above near the roots of an old oak tree, and had by the force of the water rolled down into the sluice. Upon examination, they found it full of gold dust and their work was done in California. They had found what they had come for, and the next morning were aboard the stage bound for San Francisco, with $15,000 worth of gold dust to divide between them. Australian Mike lived very near the spot, and the next day discovered his loss. An officer in pursuit of the young chaps arrived in San Francisco about two hours only, which however was enough, after the steamer had left the wharf for Panama, on which they had taken passage. Old Mike did'nt seem to care much for the loss,' and all he said was : " Be jabers, thin, I hev a plinty more handy, do ye moind ?"

People at the East often asked the question, and wondered why it was that so many returned again to their homes without having succeeded in making but very little in the gold mines, while others returned with fortunes. This seemed strange, and was often attributed to bad habits, intemperance or laziness, which, of course, was true in many cases but not in all, by any means. It is very true that the industrious man who worked early and late would, from the nature of things, be more successful than those who did the reverse or worked but seldom; and although this rule will apply to all human affairs in general, yet the mining industry in early days was, to some extent, at least, an exception to the accepted rule, for, as observation shows us, it was not the hardest-working man, or the most industrious, who succeeded best in striking the richest placers, but in very many instances fortune favored those who did the least work.



If gold had been scattered equally and uniformly throughout the land, then only those would be the most successful who were the most industrious; but this was not the case, however, for 'twas scattered all over only in spots, and it was the dropping upon these spots by accident that determined the success of the individual. It was often the case that persons were hard at work realizing daily but a few dollars, whilst a few feet away others were making perhaps hundreds of dollars per diem, and many again who to my knowledge were quite industrious barely made a living. That a few made large sums, whilst others again made but little, must therefore be attributed to their good fortune, or to their having, from chance conditions, located their claim and worked upon the right spot. In my opinion no other explanation can be given, or why a few were enabled to make large sums while others, equally industrious, realized but little.

For instance a sailor, who had just arrived from San Francisco, having deserted from his ship, strolled along up the creek one day where two miners were hard at work, and he stood silently watching them for a few minutes. Then transferring his cud of tobacco across from port to starboard, he remarked, in a coarse salt-water, tone of voice: "Well shipmates, what's the show for a fellow here, anyhow ?" They pointed out a vacant spot of ground a short distance above (near what is now called Cedar Ravine) and borrowing the necessary tools, Jack the sailor was soon at hard work.

Towards evening he returned again, and said that he didn't know anything about the blasted bed rock, gold, or anything else, and wanted the shipmates to go and take a look at the blasted thing. They went to his claim and found that he had dug a hole about five feet long and about three feet in width and four feet in depth. Near the center it was about six inches deeper, and in this depression, which was very rich, they washed out with their cradles for Jack in two hours about $83,500. He was only two days in the mines, for of course he returned to San Francisco immediately to enjoy himself and his newfound wealth.

Return To: California Gold Rush: True Tales of the 49ers


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