The Great Gold Rush of 49

After the quiet inflowing from the valley adjacent to the gold-fields came the exodus from San Francisco, which began in May; in June San Jose, Monterey, and the middle region contributed their quota, followed in July and August by the southern settlements. Other towns and settlements in California were no less slow than San Francisco to move under the new fermentation. Indeed, they were more apathetic, and were finally stirred into excitement less by the facts than by the example of the little metropolis. Yet the Mexicans were in madness no whit behind the Americans, nor the farmers less impetuous than townsmen when once the fury seized them. May had not wholly passed when at San Jose the merchant closed his store, or if the stock was perishable left open the doors that people might help themselves, and incontinently set out upon the pilgrimage. So the judge abandoned his bench and the doctor his patients; even the alcalde dropped the reins of government and went away with his subjects. Criminals slipped their fetters and hastened northward; their keepers followed in pursuit, if indeed they had not preceded, but they took care not to find them. The San Francisco town alguacil, Henry Bee, had ten Indian prisoners under his charge in the lock-up, two of them charged with murder. These he would have turned over to the alcalde, but that functionary had already taken his departure. Bee was puzzled how to dispose of his wards, for though he was determined to go to the mines, it would never do to let them loose upon a community of women and children. Finally he took all the prisoners with him to the diggings, where they worked contentedly for him until other miners, jealous of Bee’s success, incited them to revolt. By that time, however, the alguacil had made his fortune.



Soldiers fled from their posts; others were sent for them, and none returned. Valuable land grants were surrendered, and farms left tenantless; waving fields of grain stood abandoned, perchance opened to the roaming cattle, and gardens were left to run to waste. The country seemed as if smitten by a plague. As for the shipping, it was left to the anchor, even this dull metal sometimes being inconstant. The sailors departing, captain and officers could only follow their example. One commander, on observing the drift of affairs, gave promptly the order to put to sea. The crew refused to work, and that night gagged the watch, lowered the boat, and rowed away. In another instance the watch joined in absconding. Not long afterward a Peruvian brig entered the bay, the first within three weeks. The houses were there, but no one came out to welcome it. At length, hailing a Mexican who was passing, the captain learned that everybody had gone northward, where the valleys and mountains were of gold. On the instant the crew were off.

All along down the coast from Monterey to Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego, it was the same. Towns and country were well nigh depopulated. There the fever raged fiercest during the three summer months. At the capital a letter from Larkin gave the impulse, and about the same time, upon the statement of Swan, four Mormons called at Monterey en route for Los Angeles, who were reported to carry 100 pounds avoirdupois of gold gathered in less than a month at Mormon Island. This was in June. A fortnight after the town was depopulated, 1,000 starting from that vicinity within a week. At San Francisco commerce had been chiefly affected; here it was government that was stricken. Mason's small force was quickly thinned; and by the middle of July, if we may believe the Reverend Colton, who never was guilty of spoiling a story by too strict adherence to truth, the governor and general-in-chief of California was cooking his own dinner.

In a proclamation of July 25th, Colonel Mason called on the people to assist in apprehending deserters. He threatened the foothills with a dragoon force; but whence were to come the dragoons? The officers were as eager to be off as the men; many of them obtained leave to go, and liberal furloughs were granted to the soldiers, for those who could not obtain leave went without leave. As the officers who remained could no longer afford to live in their accustomed way, a cook's wages being $300 a month, they were allowed to draw rations in kind, which they exchanged for board in private families. But even then they grew restless, and soon disappeared, as Commodore Jones asserts in his report to the secretary of the navy the 25th of October.'' Threats and entreaties were all of little avail. Jones claims to have checked desertion in his ranks by offering large rewards; but if the publication of such notices produced any marked effect, it was not until after there were few left to desert.

In the midst of the excitement, however, there were men who remained calm, and here and there were those who regarded not the product of the Sierra foothills as the greatest good. Luis Peralta, who had lived near upon a century, called to him his sons, themselves approaching threescore years, and said: "My sons, God has given this gold to the Americans. Had he desired us to have it, he would have given it to us ere now. Therefore go not after it, but let others go. Plant your lands, and reap ; these be your best gold-fields, for all must eat while they live. Others looked around and saw with prophetic eye the turn in the tide when different resources must spring into prominence; not only land grants with farms and orchards, and forests with their varied products, but metals and minerals of a baser kind, as quicksilver, copper, coal. They foresaw the rush from abroad of gold-seekers, the gathering of vast fleets, the influx of merchandise, with their consequent flow of traffic and trade, the rise of cities and the growth of settlements. Those were the days of great opportunities, when a hundred properly invested would soon have yielded millions. We might have improved an opportunity like Sutter's better than he did. So we think; yet opportunities just as great perhaps present themselves to us every day, and will present themselves, but we do not see them.

Larkin says: ' Last night several of the most respectable American residents of this to-mi arrived home from a visit to the gold regions; next week they with their families, and I think nine tenths of the foreign store-keepers, mechanics, and day-laborers of this place, and perhaps of San Francisco, leave for the Sacramento. West, a stable-keeper, had two brothers in the mines, who urged him at once to hasten thither and bring his family. ' Burn the barn if you cannot dispose of it otherwise,' they said. 'I found John M. Horner, of the mission of San Jose, who told me he had left about 500 acres of splendid wheat for the cattle to roam over at will, he and his family having deserted their place entirely, and started off for the mines.' J. Belden, Nov. 6th, writes Larkin from San Jos6: 'The town is full of people coming from and going to the gold mines. A man just from there told me he saw the governor and Squire Colton there, in rusty rig, scratching gravel for gold, but with little success.

One day,' says Carson, who was then at Monterey, 'I saw a form, bent and filthy, approaching me, and soon a cry of recognition was given between us. He was an old acquaintance, and had been one of the first to visit the mines. Now he stood before me. His hair hung out of his hat; his chin with beard was black, and his buckskins reached to his knees.' The man had a bag of gold on his back. The sight of its contents started Carson on his way at once. In May Larkin had prophesied that by June the town would be without inhabitants. June 1st Mason at Monterey wrote Larkin at S. F. : 'The golden-yellow fever has not yet, I believe, assumed here its worst type, though the premonitory symptoms are beginning to exhibit themselves, and doubtless the epidemic will pass over Monterey, leaving the marks of its ravages, as it has done at S. F. and elsewhere. Take care you don't become so charged with its malaria as to inoculate and infect us all when you return. Jackson McDuffee, addressing Larkin on the same date, says: ' Monterey is very dull, nothing doing, the gold fever is beginning to take a decided effect here, and a large party will leave for the Sacramento the last of the week. Shovels, spades, picks, and other articles wanted by these wild adventurers are in great demand. Schallenberger on the 8th of June tells Larkin that 'a great many are leaving Monterey. Times duller than when you left.' In Sept. there was not a doctor in the town, and Mrs. Larkin who was lying ill with fever had to do without medical attendance.



Gen. Mason, Lieut. Laninan, and myself forma mess... This morning for the fortieth time we had to take to the kitchen and cook our own breakfast. A general of the U. S. army, the commander of a man-of-war, and the alcalde of Monterey in a smoking kitchen grinding coffee, toasting a herring, and peeling onions! I of course could not escape the infection,' says Sherman, and at last convinced Colonel Mason that it was our duty to go up and see with our own eyes, that we might report the truth to our government. Swan relates an anecdote of a party of sailors, including the master-at-arms, belonging to the Warren, who deserted in a boat. They hid themselves in the pine woods till dark, and then came into town for provisions, but got so drunk that on starting they lost the road, and went to sleep on the beach opposite their own ship. Just before daylight one of them awoke, and hearing the ship's bell strike, roused the others barely in time to make good them escape. Swan afterward met them in the mines. Certain volunteers from Lower California arriving in Monterey formed loose companies, helped themselves to stores, and then started for the mines.

From Sonoma some one wrote in the Californian wrote on Aug. 5th, that the town was well nigh depopulated. 'Not a laboring man or mechanic can be obtained in town.' Vallejo says that the first notice of gold having been discovered was conveyed to Sonoma through a flask of gold-dust sent by Sutter to clear a boat-load of wheat which had been forwarded in part payment for the Ross property, but later seized for debt at Sonoma. Gov. Boggs, then alcalde of Sonoma, and I,' says Vallejo, 'started at once for Sacramento to test the truth of the report, and found that Sutter, Marshall, and others had been taking out gold for some time at Coloma. . . We came back to Sonoma, and such was the enthusiasm of the people that the town and entire country was soon deserted.

The year of 1848 has its individuality. It is different from every other California year before or since. The men of '48 were of another class from the men of '49. Suffice it to say here, that the vile and criminal element from the continental cities of civilization and the isles of ocean, which later cursed the country, had not yet arrived. Those first at the mines were the settlers of the California Valley, just and ingenuous, many of them with their families and Indian retainers; they were neighbors and friends, who would not wrong each other in the mountains more than in the valley. The immigrants from the Mississippi border were accustomed to honest toil; and the men from San Francisco Bay and the southern seaboard were generally acquainted, and had no thought of robbing or killing each other.

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