Gold Strikes Near Mokelumne Hill

When we reached a place called Double Spring we were within three miles of Calaveras river where a great number of miners were working with more or less success. We were undecided whether we should make our debut as miners on the banks of that river or proceed directly to Mokelumne Hill where the diggings were deep and the gold coarse. That evening there came to the Springs a large party of discouraged miners from the hill. They were making their way to Stockton, and begged us not to go to the Hill, for, they said, the mines there had been worked out, and the suffering would be great among those who would be compelled to pass the winter there. Their gloomy report had its effect, and we determined to cast our lot with the men mining on the banks of the Calaveras river. I will pause here to make a few reflections upon the fact that human nature is so variously constituted that there are always some men who, in the midst of the most favorable opportunities, are controlled by a spirit of pessimism which makes them look at everything in the darkest light. This party from Mokelumne Hill were doubtless of that class.

Millions of dollars were taken out of the deep diggings of the Hill and its tributary gulches that winter. Indeed, no other camp in the whole state was more successfully worked for gold in the winter of  '49 than Mokelumne Hill. The "ne'er-do-wells" are always with us, and I remember that in the winter of 1850-51, when labor of all kinds in San Francisco was in demand and wages high, I was as frequently accosted in the streets by burly mendicants for money enough to get a meal with as I am in these days of the ubiquitous and irrepressible hobo.



The Bellamy system is very fine to read about, but where would be the place of our Mokelumne Hill pessimists or the healthy San Francisco beggars of 1850-51 in such a system? Or, suppose we should put the Fourrier system of equal division of property into practice, how long would it be until this same class would call vociferously for a new division? The divine mandate, that man shall live by the sweat of his face, is an insuperable bar to successfully placing in operation any of these attractive but impractical theories. They are the mere vagaries of men who have permitted their minds to go to seed in the contemplation of a false idea of philanthropy.

As we approached Calaveras river, and saw its banks here and there alive with men delving for gold, we were seized with a feeling something akin to that which must have animated the wanderers of old when they looked upon the land of promise from the heights of Pisgah. We could see the stream winding like a silver ribbon far beneath us, and we had be fore us the ocular demonstration of the truth of the golden stories we had feasted upon for, lo, these many months. No wonder we made the hills resound with hearty cheers and the air vocal with the then popular refrain, that we had come to California with our washbowls on our knees, and that there was no sense in Susannah, or anybody else, crying for us.

Our first experience in mining was not as encouraging as we had anticipated. The paying claims were on the bars, and as far as we could learn, they had all been located. However, we took the best we could find and worked the best we knew how. All mining at that time was done in the simplest way. A rocker, consisting of three smooth boards, four or five feet long, nailed closely together at the lower edges, with a square hopper at the upper end, into which a screen, made of sheet iron with holes in it, fitted. The frame was set upon rockers, such as are used for babies' cradles. The rocker was provided with two or three riffles to catch the gold as it was separated from the dirt by the action of the water which the operator poured constantly from a dipper upon the auriferous earth placed in the screen. One man was engaged in stripping the top dirt from the claim, whilst another filled a bucket with the gold-carrying material found near the bed rock, and carried it to the rocker which was kept in constant motion. After running through a certain number of buckets, the black sand and gold which, on account of their greater gravity, remained behind the riffles, were placed in a pan, or "wash-bowl," taken to the river, and carefully manipulated in the water until the sand was washed out and only the gold remained in the pan. We could make all the way from five to eight dollars a day to the hand, but that seemed so small compared with the wages the claims on the bars were yielding to our neighbors, that we were not at all satisfied. But as the rainy season was rapidly approaching, and the river was beginning to rise, we determined to send two of our party into the gulches to prospect for winter diggings, and in the meantime to work our river claim as long as we could.



To show the crude ideas which then obtained about mining I will mention one notable circumstance. In prospecting for winter diggings we opened a claim in a gulch some four or five miles from our camp. It paid moderately well until we came to a stratum of blue clay. We reasoned that the gold could not sink below this formation, and that there would be no more use in working below it than there would be to go deeper than the bed rock in a river claim. Therefore we only washed the earth above the blue clay, but as the pay was not inviting we soon abandoned the place, and located our camp near the Iowa Cabins, in a locality where there were a number of unworked gulches. The value of our conclusion, that it was impossible for the gold to sink below the blue-clay stratum, was exemplified two years afterwards. At that very point the Marlette series of mines were opened. They were immensely rich, and the flourishing town of San Andreas owes its origin and prosperity to them. Had we gone through the blue-clay stratum we would have struck a vein of rotten quartz, which carried gold with it to great depths and in wonderful profusion.

We moved into our new camp just before the rains set in. There were other camps within easy distance of us, so that we formed altogether a populous neighborhood. The gulches in our vicinity were numerous and some of them paid well.


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