Personal Adventures In California Mining, by William Ryan

One of the most frequented placers of California is called the Stanislaus mine, situated near the Stanislaus River. It was one of the first places worked to any extent by the gold-seekers, but not satisfying the expectations of some of the most greedy, it has since been partially abandoned. A description of this mine, and of the living and operations of its workers in the winter of 1848-49, will give a good general idea of the toils and privations endured by the early gold-seekers in that region, and, also, of their mode of procuring the precious metal at most of the mines. We extract from a recently published work, distinguished for minuteness of detail and accuracy of description.

"The mine was a deep ravine, embosomed amidst lofty hills, surmounted by, and covered with pine, and having, in the bottom itself, abundance of rock, mud, and sand. Halliday and I encamped at the very lowest part of the ravine, at a little distance from Don Emanuel's party ; a steep rock which towered above our heads affording us shelter, and a huge, flat stone beneath our feet promising a fair substitute for a dry bed. Here then we stretched our macheers and blankets, and arranged our saddles and bags, so as to make ourselves as comfortable and warm as possible, although, in spite of our precautions and contrivances, and of a tolerably good fire, our encampment was bitterly cold, and we lay exposed to a heavy dew.



"We had given up our horses into the charge of the Indians, and I saw to their being safely placed in the cavallard, whilst Halliday went to chop wood; a task I was too weak to perform. I cannot say we slept; we might more correctly be said to have had a long and most uncomfortable doze, and when morning broke, we were shivering with cold, and shook the dew in a shower from our clothes. I consulted with my companion, and urged upon him the prudence of our setting to work to construct ourselves a sort of log cabin; otherwise I felt certain, from the experience of the past night, our sojourn at the mines would be likely to prove fatal to one or both of us. He was, however, far too eager to try his fortune at digging to listen to my proposal, at which he even smiled, probably at the bare idea of weather, privation, or toil, being able- to affect his powerful frame. I saw him presently depart up the ravine, shouldering a pick, and glancing now and then at his knife, whilst I proceeded in search of materials for constructing a temporary place of shelter.

"As my strength was unequal to the task of felling timber, I endeavored to procure four poles, intending to sink them into the ground, and to stretch on the top of them a bed-tick I had reserved for the purpose. The contrivance was a sorry one at the best, but shelter was indispensable; and great was my disappointment though I procured the timber after a painful search - to find that the rocks presented an insuperable obstacle to my employing it as I intended. My efforts to sink the poles proved utterly futile, and I was at last compelled to renounce the attempt in despair. I then packed up our goods into as close a compass as possible; and, having requested one of the Spaniards in Don Emanuel's party to keep watch over them, departed to explore the ravine.

"Within a few paces of our encampment there was a large area of ground, probably half a mile square, the surface of which consisted of dark soil and slate, and was indented with innumerable holes of every possible dimension, from six inches to as many feet or more, wide and deep. In all of these lay abundance of water, of which large quantities are to be found a little beneath the surface, the ravine being supplied with it in great abundance by the rains that pour down from the hills during the wet season. To the extreme right of our camp, the ground assumed a more rocky character ; and, from the vast deposit of stagnant water, did not seem to offer many attractions to the miners. Yet there was scarcely a spot in any of these places where the crow-bar, the pick, or the jack-knife, had not been busy:  evidence that the whole locality must have been extremely rich in the precious metal, or it would not have been so thoroughly worked.

"In crossing the ravine, I was obliged to leap from one mound of earth to another, to avoid plunging ankle deep in mud and water. It was wholly deserted in this part, though formerly so much frequented; and, with the exception of a few traders, who, having taken up their station here when times were good, had not yet made arrangements for removing to a more productive place, not a soul was to be seen. I walked on until I reached the trading-post of Mr. Anderson, formerly our interpreter in the Lower Country, whom I felt delighted to meet with again. His shed was situated in one of the dampest parts of the mine, and consisted of a few upright poles, traversed by cross-pieces, and covered in with raw hides and leaves, but yet much exposed at the sides to the wind and the weather. lie had a few barrels of flour and biscuit, which he retailed at two dollars a pound;  for he made no difference between the price of the raw and the prepared material. The flour would go further, it was true ; but then the biscuit required no cooking on the part of the miner, whose time was literally money, and whose interest therefore it was to economize it in every possible manner. He also sold unprepared coffee and sugar at six Yankee shillings a pound ; dried beef at one dollar and a half; and pork, which was regarded as a great delicacy here, at two dollars for the same weight. The various articles of which his stock-in-trade consisted he had brought all the way from Monterey at considerable labor and expense; but, by the exercise of extraordinary tact, perseverance, and industry, he had succeeded in establishing a flourishing business.

"I discovered, however, that he possessed another resource—by which his gains were marvelously increased in the services of seven or eight Indians, whom he kept constantly at work, in the rear of his shed, digging gold, and whose labor he remunerated with provisions, and occasional presents of articles of trifling value to him, but highly esteemed by the Indians. They were watched by an American overseer, who was employed by him, to assist in the general business, particularly in slaughtering; for, as beef was scarce, he used to send his man in quest of cows and oxen; which he killed, cut up, salted and dried, in his shed, and watching the most favorable moment for the operation namely, when meat could not be procured at the “diggings” never failed to realize his own price for it. "Proceeding higher up the ravine, I observed a large tent erected on the slope of a hill, within a few yards of the bottom, where the gold is usually found. It was surrounded by a trench, the clay from which, as it was dug up, had apparently been thrown out against the canvas, forming a kind of embankment, rendering it at once water and weather-proof. I ventured into it, encountering on my way an immense piece of raw beef, suspended from the ridge-pole. Upon some stones in front, inclosing a small fire, stood a frying-pan, filled with rich looking beef scallops, that set my mouth watering, and severely tested my honesty ; for, although acorns are all very well in their way, and serve to stay the cravings of the stomach for awhile, I did not find my appetite any the less sharp, notwithstanding the quantity I had eaten. But I resisted the temptation, and penetrated further into the tent. At one side of it lay a crow-bar, and an old saddle that had seen rough service; yet not a soul appeared, and my eyes were again ogling the scallops, whilst an inward voice whispered how imprudent it was to leave them frizzling there, when, all at once, a little man, in a 'hickory shirt,' with his face ail bedaubed with pot-black and grease, darted out of some dark corner, flourishing in one hand a long bowie knife, and in the other three by no means delicate slices of fat pork,  at which he at once dropped into the frying-pan, stooping down on one knee, and becoming immediately absorbed in watching the interesting culinary process then going on in it.

"I came up next with a group of three Sonomeans, or inhabitants of Sonoma, busily engaged on a small sandy flat—the only one I had observed—at the bottom of the ravine. There was no water near, although I noticed several holes which had evidently been sunk in quest of it. These men were actively pursuing a process that is termed 'dry-washing.' One was shoveling up the sand into a large cloth, stretched out upon the ground, and which, when it was tolerably well covered, he took up by the corners, and shook until the pebbles and larger particles of stone and dirt came to the surface. These he brushed away carefully with his hand, repeating the process of shaking and clearing until the residue was sufficiently fine for the next operation. This was performed by the other men, who, depositing the sand in large bowls hewn out of a solid block of wood, which they held in their hands, dexterously cast the contents up before them, about four feet into the air, catching the sand again very cleverly, and blowing at it as it descended. This process being repeated, the sand gradually disappeared, and from two to three ounces of pure gold remained at the bottom of the bowl. Easy as the operation appeared to me to be, I learned, upon inquiry, that to perform it successfully required the nicest management, the greatest perseverance, and especially robust lungs. The men I saw had lighted upon a productive sand ; but very often, indeed, those who adopt this mode of gold washing toil long at barren soil before they discover the uselessness of laboring thus arduously.



''I noticed, that although the largest proportion of the gold obtained in this manner presented the appearance of a fine powder, it was interspersed, here and there, with large scales of the precious deposit, and with a few solid lumps. The metal was of a dingy hue, and, at a cursory view, might easily have been mistaken for particles of yellow clay, or laminae of stone of the same color. The Sonomeans placed the product of their labor in buckskin bags, which were hung around their necks, and carefully concealed inside of their shirts. They work in this fashion at the mines in their own country ; but I doubt if any other than a native constitution could very long bear up against the peculiar labor of dry-washing in such a climate and under such difficult circumstances. I felt half tempted to try the process myself, for the surface of this sandy bed was literally sparkling with innumerable particles of the finest gold, triturated to a polish by the running of the waters - as I conjectured ; but I soon discovered how fruitless my efforts would be. Had I possessed any chemical agents at hand, however, I might soon have exhausted the bed of its precious contents, and should, doubtless, have realized an immense weight of the metal of the very purest quality.

" I may as well mention here, that of the various new machines manufactured and sent out to California for the purpose of digging and washing gold, the great majority have been found quite useless. There are two or three of them, however, that have been employed with great success. I have made a sketch of those most in use amongst the diggers, as my readers may feel desirous of acquainting themselves with the latest improvements introduced in the art of mining, as practiced in this country.

They consist, in the first place, of the washing-rocker, or “cradle,' which has, in numerous instances, formed the model for ruder machines, constructed by the miners themselves, whilst in the mountains. The lid, at the bottom of which lie the holes through which the gold and soil pass, is fastened by hinges at the back, in order that it may be raised up, the more readily to throw off, from time to time, the stones that accumulate. Three men are required to work this rocker with success, and there are few processes in which a smaller number could operate without extraordinary labor. One person throws the soil upon the lid, another pours on the water, whilst a third is engaged in rocking the cradle by the handle attached to it for the purpose. In this way these men keep each other constantly employed ; and, indeed, this cradle, like its prototype, has often proved the bond of union between individuals who would otherwise have separated, for this simple reason, that one man could not work it half so profitably alone. The cross pieces, observable at the bottom, serve to intercept the gold as it flows towards the smaller end of the machine, whilst the dirt is carried off by the admixture with the water produced by the continual 'rocking.' As the earth becomes thoroughly dissolved, the gold naturally gravitates to the bottom ; and thus it is impossible for any but the very finest particles of the ore to escape.

"The second machine, in importance, is the gold borer. It is particularly useful in examining the bottom of streams, and consists of a short conical cylinder at the end of a long handle, containing inside, at its louver extremity, a valve, arranged so as to admit the earth and gold, and prevent their escaping when the receptacle is full. This instrument is used in the same manner as an augur. The third machine, the gold pan, is also of late introduction, but has been found rather too deep for the purpose for which it is intended.

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



Nevada Outback Gems

Find out more by checking out All of our links below:

View our Contemporary Turquoise Jewelry - Wearable Artwork! View our Unique Gem Quality Turquoise Cabochons
Premium Jewelry, with Gemstones of all types Top Quality Loose Gemstones - Gemstones of all types
Rare Crystals and Gemstone Rough, all types Our Free Colored Gemstone Information Encyclopedia
Chris' Gold Prospecting Encyclopedia Take a virtual tour of our Nevada Turquoise mines
Miners Reference Pages         Making Money with AdSense More Info about Turquoise, the Beautiful Gem
Basic Placer Mining Mineral Photo Gallery Nevada Outback Gems Homepage
Build Your Own Mining Equipment Investing in Gold and Precious Metals
Metal Detecting with the MXT Metal Detector More information about us - Nevada Outback Gems
Locations to Prospect for Gold The Rockhound's Corner Nevada Outback Library and Bookstore - Learn more!
  Chris's Prospecting Adventures About Nevada Turquoise More Info about Gem Cutting Tanzanite Jewelry
Nevada Outback Gems Site Map Make Your Own Jewelry Buy Safely on EBay: avoid fraud and scam artists