California Placer Gold Digging In 1850 and 1851

It was in the spring of '50 that four sailors, who had deserted from their ship in San Francisco, took a cruise up among the mines, as they remarked:
" Jest to see how the land lay."

They cruised about for several days, hardly knowing where to go, what to do or even how to do it, and during one of their daily excursions they found themselves near the head of a small ravine, and a very steep one, which emptied down into the big canon. It was a pleasant spot, and one of them remarked:
" Well now, me lads, let's drop anchor here; pipe all hands, pass the grog, and make the blarsted dirt fly."
So one of them volunteered to commence operations by measuring off a spot about the size of the forehatch, and then commenced work with his pick and shovel to break out the cargo, until he struck bottom, as he remarked. A number of miners at work in the ravine below watched the operations of the Jack Tars, and were very much amused to see them sinking a hole away up at the top of a hill. The sod was not deep, and the tars, by taking a turn about at the helm, were soon down to the bed rock, upon which they found the dirt and gravel of a very pretty red color. Filling a pan they took it to the ravine below, where one of the old miners kindly offered to wash it for them, although he remarked that it was hardly necessary, for gold never could have got away up there at the top of the hill. But upon washing it, they found to their astonishment that there was gold " away up there on the hill," and a considerable lot of it too, as the amount in the pan indicated, for it contained about $20. The jolly Tars procured cradles and the necessary tools, and started in to work, at which they continued some three months, during which time they extracted about $20,000, as was stated by Adams agent soon after they left. The ravine was afterwards known as the "Sailor Boy's Ravine," being about one and a half miles from Hangtown and near the trail to the American River.



It was late in the winter or fall of '49, that the discovery by W. Salmon and his comrades that gold existed in the hills in the vicinity of Georgetown was made, and that many of them contained beds of gravel which were rich in gold, this fact being well demonstrated by the discovery in Forest Hill, a few months later. Upon the discovery of hill diggings, mining assumed another form, for instead of the mines being worked out, which was the general opinion, we were only beginning to learn where to find the precious metal. The first hill diggings in Eldorado County were discovered near Upper Hangtown, early in the spring of '51 the Aiken Brothers, who worked a small ravine located on the side of Indian Hill. When working near the upper end of the ravine their pay dirt left them, and, instead of a slate bed rock, they now found that it had changed to what appeared to be of the nature of sandstone. This, however, proved to be, on examination, cement, under which, upon working through it, they found a deposit of rich gravel resting upon a slate foundation, and pitching into the hill. Other hills in the vicinity were soon found to be similar in character, cement capped, containing ancient river beds rich in gold.

The discovery of these ancient river beds, among a portion of the miners created (quite a discussion as to their origin and the period, in geological eras, when this ancient river system was destroyed, and by what forces. Many of the discussions between these veteran, self-taught, geological expounders were interesting, as well as instructive, each one, of course, having a theory of his own which must be the only reasonable interpretation. One of the most prominent of these students of nature was an old gentleman from the State of Wisconsin, Uncle Ben Coats, and to listen to one of his geological lectures, under the shade of an aged oak, surrounded by a crowd of miners who were ail anxious to be informed as to the facts of the case, was decidedly instructive and interesting—a scene, too, reminding one of Socrates or Aristotle lecturing to his pupils in the shady groves of Athens. We, the miners, soon became proficient in the use of the words tertiary, pliocene, carboniferous, spirituous, and gaseous eras or epochs, retaining even to the present time a very vivid recollection of them, but more especially of the two latter epochs.

As the spring of '51 approached, the opinion became general that the mines of California were very nearly worked out, or rather that portion of them which was thought to be worth working, and consequently many left the mining regions in the dry diggings and went up to the various rivers, north or south, others again returning to their Eastern homes. Owing to the great specific gravity of gold, and being ignorant, also, of the reasons why gold was almost invariably associated with running streams, for at this time quartz was unknown and hill gravel mining was not a possible conception, it was supposed that gold would always be found only in the lowest places. The time soon arrived, however, when all old miners, in this mining region at least, were to learn something in relation to mining, and discover that the richest deposits were not in the lowest places by any means, hut in the hills above, in the beds of other, older rivers, and also among the (quartz, which is called the mother of gold, since it is only in this rock that gold is found in its original state. To illustrate : 



Some miners were at work with their cradles in what is called Emigrant Ravine, and about two miles above town. It was a hot, sultry day, and a stranger, with his pick and pan for prospecting, inquired of them if there was a place where he could start in to work. One of the miners, for a joke, pointed towards an oak tree near the ravine upon a little rise of ground, and remarked :

" Yes, there by that tree is the finest place to work that I know of."

The prospector took a view of the ground, and, believing the old miner to be in earnest, commenced to work. It was deep ; the ground was dry and hard, but, by perseverance and hard work, in about two days he found the bed rock eight or ten feet below the surface, and from the bottom of this hole he cradled out more gold in a week than the company of astonished miners who had fooled him had obtained in their whole season's work. In this manner it was soon fully demonstrated that gold was universally scattered all over, in spots, in no one place in particular, but wherever you could find it. 

A short time subsequent to this a colored man, in walking along the trail at the foot of a steep hill, picked up a small piece of gold. Its edges were sharp, and from all appearances it had never been in running water ; but the question was, where did this come from, and there lay the mystery. Not from the ravine, and certainly not from the steep side hill ; but at any rate the colored man, from curiosity, dug a hole upon the steep side hill. He found no gravel, but saw that the soil upon the bed rock was a deep crimson color, and that, scattered around among this blood red earth was to be found coarse gold. This had never been in contact with water, but had been deposited by heat or chemical action, and was the first discovery in this section of the rich, red hill gold deposits.

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