The Old Cabins Of The 49ers

What an interesting book that would be to the Forty-niner and the student of history in general, if we could read the history of each and every one of the many old cabins built by the Forty-niners during their sojourns hunting for gold in California. One can still see the remains of a few of these old hose sites. The former occupants of so many now decayed log cabins some part would have had a great success; however we would also read of the defeated expectations of the greater number. Plus their ultimate result, and their final success or failure in life. Although no doubt such a history would show us that but a small proportion of those old-timers who are now living have achieved success, or who are at least at present in the enjoyment of it, yet it cannot be doubted but that the desire or wish would be unanimous to live over again the scenes and incidents of the past, and to experience once more the exciting pleasures and expectations found only among the mountains of the mining region. Oh, yes, one would answer; if we could only know what we have since learned in relation to gold mining; but such knowledge would break the spell and utterly destroy all interest, since the charm not only in seeking for gold, but in all other human affairs, consists more in the anticipation than in the realization. There is one fact in relation to all of these old cabins, which were built and occupied by the Forty-niners, which may be of some interest to mention.

 

 

In early mining days the conveniences for storing and taking care of gold dust were very poor. It being plentiful, the miners were very careless in handling when engaged in drying and cleaning it, which was usually done upon an old shovel or an old pan. The consequence was that much of the fine dust was scattered among the ashes or around upon the floor. The small buckskin sacks, also, in which each one usually carried about with him for present use a quantity of fine dust, were of poor quality, and through the seams of them fine dust would work its way out. The discovery was made by some inquisitive prospector, in the spring of '53, that the most of these ancient castles would pay to pan out, as well as the ash heaps in front of the door, and one enterprising prospector, previous to the fact being generally known, bought up a number of them, from which he realized quite a sum.

From one in particular, that I remember, which was a large cabin and had been occupied by a number of miners who had rich claims, he realized the sum of $600 from the dirt scraped up from under the floor and the fire place. These old cabins were hunted for among the various canons and ravines (for it must be remembered, as I have previously explained, that this portion of the mining region around Hangtown, as well as Coloma where the first mining was done, was worked out, and was almost entirely deserted by the spring of '54), and they all paid well; the amount cleaned from the floor and ash heap, as a general rule, giving some indication of the success of their former occupants. Many of the old-timers, when starting out for the new discoveries in the spring of '50, not wishing to be encumbered with their gold, and for fear also of losing it, would in such cases bury it somewhere around the old cabin beneath the floor or stones in the fireplace, or in some other locality, until they returned. Some of these hidden tin cans were afterwards found, and there is no doubt but that many of them are yet remaining securely hidden among the rocks, or beneath the roots of some large tree; for a portion of the miners never returned to the old mining camp, having died perhaps in some other part of the mining region. In other instances as of those who did return, two or three years afterwards, perhaps, they had forgotten where they had buried their gold, and searched for it in vain.

 

 

I remember the case of one old miner in particular, who, previous to starting out upon his prospecting expedition, took the greatest pains to bury his can, containing several thousand dollars worth of dust. And he did it in a very scientific manner: measuring so many yards due north from a certain stump; then so many yards due west; then so many to the right, and so many again to the left, etc., burying his can at the last point of measurement. Of course he made a chart of all this in true surveyor's style; but unfortunately for him he lost the chart, and the old stump was gone also. So, after digging and prospecting around for more than a year to find where that last point of measurement was, he was finally compelled to give it up, and the can yet remains hidden only a few feet below where that last little peg was stuck into the ground.

 

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

 

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