Gold Mining Experiences of the Old Timers

"Notwithstanding the success which seemed to attend the labors of the Sonorans, I subsequently discovered that the entire quantity of gold thus painfully obtained, disappeared at the gambling-stalls. They were generally clad most wretchedly, many of them wearing nothing more than a dirty shirt, a pair of light pantaloons, and the wide sombrero peculiar to the inhabitants of this country and Mexico. Some few sported a serapa, but they were men of superior native rank, of which this garment is a distinctive characteristic. Continuing my route up the ravine, I met a man named Corrigan, galloping along with two fine horses, one of which he was leading. He stopped as soon as he recognized me, and we were soon engaged in a very interesting conversation respecting the doings at the “diggings.” The substance of his information was, that he had made a great deal of money at the mines by digging, but infinitely more by speculation. He thought of buying a ranches, marrying, and settling down. He was then going to seek for pasture for his horses; and, bidding me a hasty good-bye, galloped off, and soon disappeared.

"As I advanced, the ground became drier and more sandy, rock and slate of various kinds abounding; some quite soft and friable, yielding readily to the pickaxe or the crowbar ; and, in other places, so hard as to resist the utmost strength of the miners. Several of the diggers were perseveringly exploring the localities where the rotten sorts of slate were found in the largest quantities, and I saw them pick out a good deal of gold with their jack-knives. Their principal aim was to discover what they termed 'a pocket,' which is nothing more than a crevice between the blocks of slate, into which a deposit of gold has been washed by the heavy rains from the higher districts, and which, soon accumulating, swell into rapid torrents, which rush down these ravines with extraordinary swiftness and force, sweeping every thing before them.



"There did not appear to be many mining parties at the Stanislaus at this particular period, for the encampments were generally from two to five miles apart, the space between them increasing the higher you advanced towards the mountains, to the foot of which the ravine extended—altogether, a distance of many miles. The lower part of the mine, I concluded from this fact, to be by far the richer, simply from the circumstance I have mentioned ; richer, comparatively, because here the deposits of gold are more easily found and extracted ; not richer, in reality, as the metal must exist in immense quantities in the upper regions, from which it is washed down by the rains and floods into the lower districts. The virgin deposit would, doubtless, be difficult to come at ; but, if sought after at all, that it is to be sought in the mountains and high lands, I feel persuaded. "I turned back, after prosecuting my excursion until the ravine became almost too rocky to allow me to proceed, and until I saw that the “diggings” diminished materially in number. On clambering the hills at the side, I beheld abundance of pines, oak, cedar, and palm ; but no grass, nor vegetation of any other kind, save prickly shrubs, with here and there a patch of extremely dry moss. On my way back, I passed several tents and huts erected by the miners, all of the very poorest and most wretched description. "I found Van Anker's party at dinner, in front of their tent. Van showed me a leathern bag, containing several pounds' weight of very pure gold, and which was carelessly tossed about from one to the other for examination. It was the produce of his morning's work, he having fortunately struck upon a large pocket.

"On inquiring whether, as there existed such strong temptation, robberies were not very frequent, I was informed, that, although thefts had occurred, yet, generally speaking, the miners dwelt in no distrust of one another, and left thousands of dollars' worth in gold dust in their tents whilst they were absent digging. They all felt, intuitively, that honesty was literally the best policy, and a determination to punish robbery seemed to have been come to by all as a measure essential to the security and welfare of the mining community, independent of any question of principle. The supply of gold seemed to be inexhaustible, they persisted in this reckless course, and discovered only when it became too late to redeem their error, that even here gold cannot always be procured. They went on until the placers failed to yield, and were then reduced to great extremities.

''The miners were by no moans averse to lending 'dust' to those who required it, notwithstanding that the lenders often experienced some difficulty in getting back the advance. One of Van's party, for instance, lent another six ounces of gold, which not being returned at the stipulated period, nor for some time afterwards, he dunned his debtor at every meal, until the latter, who had quietly submitted to the importunity, begged him to 'just wait ten minutes, and time it.' He shouldered his pickaxe, as he said this, and going out of the shed, returned within the time, bringing back more than sufficient to liquidate the debt. This little incident created much amusement." The whole of the gold region lies between the San Joachin and Sacramento Rivers and the California range of mountains. The principal mines are the Toulumne, the Stanislaus, the Mokelumne, the Merced, Fremont's Diggings, or Mariposa, the Calaveras, the American, the South, Middle, and North Forks, Bear Creek, Yuba, Feather River, and the Sacramento.

The mines are nothing more than so many ravines, which run across from the range of mountains, and are flooded by the torrents which pour down from the upper region during the rainy season, and which have been supposed to bring the gold down with them. The Macalamo Dry Diggings is considered one of the richest placers in the gold region. It is a long ravine, the soil of which is red, and sometimes bluish in places, sand predominating. The blue clay is thought to be the richest by the diggers. The sides of the ravine are so steep and irregular, that the miners are troubled to find resting places of a night. The gold taken out of this mine runs large ; the average size of the lumps being that of a pea. Pieces have been taken out of it that weighed above two pounds.

Instances of robbery and murder have not been few in the gold region, as might be conjectured from a knowledge of the motley character of the miners, and the temptations offered to avaricious spirits. Yet, all things considered, the number of instances will not appear so very extraordinary. Lynch law, the only resort of the wronged in pocket, or the friends of the murdered, exercised its terrible power, and tended to prevent the crimes that would, otherwise, have been frequent. An instance of this summary justice we here relate, to illustrate the means by which the miners protected their lives and property. "A sailor, a deserter from the Ohio, took it into his head, one night, to rob one of the volunteers, who had set up a drinking store. He had already got two bags, containing about five thousand dollars' worth of gold ; but, not satisfied with them, grasped at a third, half full of dollars in silver. The jingling of the coin awoke the owner, who, springing up, gave the alarm, and, after a hot pursuit, the thief was captured, and bound to a tree until morning. At about nine, a jury of twelve miners sat to consider the case, a volunteer named Nutman officiating for Judge Lynch.



Of course, he was found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged; but, some opposition being raised to depriving him of life, and a milder punishment suggested ; it was finally determined that he should receive a hundred lashes on his bare back, have his ears cut off, and his head shaved, so that he might be every -where recognized in the mining districts. This sentence gave general satisfaction. The poor wretch was at once fastened by his hands to the branch of a tree, and the fellows proceeded to shave his head, whilst some sailors of the party set to work manufacturing cats. His feet were then tied together to the foot of the tree, and when his head had been shaved, a doctor lopped off his ears. He bled a good deal ; but, when the blood was staunched, they set to flogging him, and they didn't spare him either. After this, they kicked him out. Well, he went off, and when he was about half a mile away, stole a mule, and rode over to the ' Calaveras' diggins, where the animal was claimed by the owner. He was thereupon tried for mule-stealing, and sentenced to receive another flogging, but when the miners came to strip him, they found his back so shockingly cut up, that they took compassion on him, and contented themselves with driving him out of the district, where he never appeared again."

During the summer season, when exposure and labor in the mines, together with unwholesome food, produce a great prevalence of fever and dysentery, the native Californians make use of a singular remedy. It is called the temascal; being a sort of hot air bath, shaped something like a sentry-box. It is built of wicker-work, and afterwards placered with mud until it becomes air tight. The mode of application of this remedy is as follows :—A large fire is built close up to the door of the structure—a narrow aperture, just large enough for a roan to squeeze through. This is allowed to burn itself out, having while burning. heated to a very high degree the air in the interior of the box. Into this the patient screws himself, and there remains until a profuse perspiration is produced, which is checked suddenly by a plunge into the chilly waters of the river. This is of the nature of a Thompsonian remedy.

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