The Gold Rush Discoveries Spread

One of the first to realize the importance of Marshall's discovery was Isaac Humphrey, the Georgia miner mentioned in many of the historic accounts, who accompanied Bennett on his return to Sutter's Fort, after the failure to obtain a grant of the gold region. Humphrey advised come of his friends to go with him to seek gold, but they only laughed at him. He reached Coloma on the 7th of March; the 8th saw him out prospecting with a pan; the 9th found him at work with a rocker.

The application of machinery to mining in California was begun. A day or two later came to the mill a French Canadian, Jean Baptiste Buelle by name, commonly called Baptiste, who had been a miner in Mexico, a trapper, and general backwoodsman. Impressed by the geologic features of that region, and yet more perhaps by an ardent fancy, he had five years before applied to Sutter for an outfit to go and search for gold in the mountains. Sutter declined, deeming him unreliable, but gave him occupation at the whip-saw on Weber Creek, ten miles east of Coloma. After examining the hills at Coloma, he declared there must be gold also on Webber creek, wondered why he had never found it there; indeed, the failure to do so seems stupidity in a person so lately talking about gold-finding. Nevertheless, he with Humphrey was of great service to the inexperienced gold-diggers, initiating them as well in the mysteries of prospecting, or seeking for gold, as in washing it out, or separating it from the earth.



So it was with John Bidwell. who came to Coloma toward the latter part of March. Seeing the gold and the soil, he said there were similar indications in the vicinity of his rancho, at Chico. Returning home he searched the streams thereabout, and was soon at work with his native retainers on Feather River, at the rich placer which took the name of Bidwell Bar. Not long after Bidwell's visit to Coloma, P. B. Redding arrived, there. He also was satisfied that there was gold near his rancho at the northern end of the great valley, and finding it, he worked the deposits near Clear Creek with his Indians.

Meanwhile the metal was discovered at several intermediate points/ especially along the tributaries and ravines of the south fork, which first disclosed it. Thus at one leap the gold-fields extended their line northward two hundred miles. It will also be noticed that after the Mormons the foremost to make avail of Marshall's discovery were the settlers in the great valley, who, gathering round them the Indians of their vicinity, with such allurements as food, finery, alcohol, went their several ways hunting the yellow stuff up and down the creeks and gulches in every direction. Sutter and Marshall had been working their tamed Indians at Coloma in February. As the field enlarged, so did the visions of its occupants. Reports of vast yields and richer and richer diggings began to fly in all directions, swelling under distorted fancy and lending wings to flocking crowds. In May the influx assumed considerable proportions, and the streams and ravines for thirty miles on either side of Coloma were occupied one after another. The estimate is, that there were then already 800 miners at work, and the number was rapidly increasing. Early in June Consul Larkin estimated them at 2,000, mostly foreigners, half of whom were on the branches of the American. There might have been 100 families, with teams and tents. He saw none who had worked steadily a month. Few had come prepared to stay over a week or a fortnight, and no matter how rich the prospects, they were obliged to return home and arrange their business. Those who had no home or business must go somewhere for food. When Mason visited the mines early in July, he understood that 4,000 men were then at work, which certainly cannot be called exaggerated if Indians are included. 

By the turn of the season, in October, the number had certainly doubled, although the white mining population for the year could not have exceeded 10,000 men. Arrivals in 1848 have as a rule been overestimated. News did not reach the outside world in time for people to come from a distance during that year. It is impossible to trace the drift of the miners, but I will give the movements of the leading men, and, so far as they have come under ray observation, the founders of mining camps and towns. The success of Bidwell in the north was quickly repeated by others. Two miles from his camp on the north fork of Feather River, one Potter from the Farwell grant opened another bar, known by his name. Below Bidwell Bar lay Long Bar; opposite, Adamstown, first worked by Neal. From Lassen's rancho went one Davis and camped below Morris Ravine, near Thompson Flat. Subsequently Dye and company of Monterey with 50 Indians took out 273 pounds of gold in seven weeks, from mines on this river. The Indians  began to work largely on their own account, and Bidwell found more advantage in attending to a trading post opened by him.

The success on Feather River led to the exploration of its main tributary, the Yuba, by Patrick McChristian, J. P. Leese, Jasper O'Farrell, William Leery, and Samuel Norris, who left Sonoma in July, and were the first to dig there for gold, making in three months $75,000.  The diggings on the Yuba were subsequently among the most famous in California, and form the scene perhaps of more of the incidents and reminiscences characteristic of the mining days than any other locality. The leading bars or camps were those of Parks, Long, and Foster, where miners, although poorly supplied with implements, made from $60 to $100 a day (3 to 5 ounces); and it is supposed that they lost more gold than they saved, on account of the clumsiness of their implements. Below, on Bear River, J. Tyrwhitt Brooks camped with a party. Reading extended his field to Trinity River, the most northerly point reached in 1848; but he had the misfortune to encounter a company of Oregonians on their way south, and these, embittered against all Indians by the recent bloody wars in which they had been engaged with their own tribes, drove him and his party of natives away from what afterward proved to be an exceedingly rich locality.

Early in June John Sinclair went from his rancho, near New Helvetia, to the junction of the north and south branches of the American River, twelve miles above his house, and there worked fifty natives with good success. During the same month a party of Mormons abandoned their claim on the south branch of the American River, and crossing to the middle tributary, discovered the deposits on what was later known as Spanish Bar, twelve miles north-east from Coloma. This stream was the richest of any in all that rich region, this one spot alone yielding more than a million of dollars. Into a ravine between the north and middle branches of the American River, fifteen miles north-east of Coloma, stumbled one day an Irishman, to whom in jest had been given the nickname Yankee Jim, which name, applied to the rich deposit he there found, soon became famous. A few miles to the north-east of Yankee Jim were Illinoistown and Iowa Hill, found and named by persons from the states indicated. AV. R. Longley, once alcalde at Monterey, was followed by Dr Todd into the place named Todd Valley. Hereabout remained many Mormons, who forgot their desert destination, turned publicans, and waxed fat. There were Hannon, one wife and two daughters, who kept the Mormon House; Wickson and wife, the house to which under their successor was given the name Franklin; while Blackman kept an inn at one of the fifty Dry Diggings, which, at the great renaming, became known as Auburn.

North of Coloma, Kelsey and party opened the diggings which took his name. South of it Weber Creek rose into fame under the discoveries of a company from Weber's grant, now Stockton, including some Hispano-Californians. After a trip to the Stanislaus, and a more favorable trial on the Mokelumne, with deep diggings, they proceeded on their route, finding gold everywhere, and paused on the creek, at a point about twelve miles from the saw-mill. There they made their camp, which later took the name of Weberville; and while some remained to mine, the rest returned to Weber's rancho for supplies. Trade no less than gold-digging being the object, a joint-stock association, called the Stockton Mining Company, was organized, with Charles M. Weber as the leading member. The company, although very successful with its large native corps, was dissolved in September of the same year by Weber, who wished to turn his attention exclusively to building a town upon his grant.  On the creek were also Sunol and company, who employed thirty Indians, and Neligh. The Stockton company had scarcely been established at Webber Creek when a man belonging to the party of William Daylor, a ranchero from the vicinity of New Helvetia, struck into the hills one morning, and found the mine first called, in common with many other spots, Dry Diggings, afterward Hangtown, and later Placerville. It proved exceedingly rich, yielding from three ounces to five pounds of gold daily to the man; and from the middle of June, through July and August, the 300 Hangtown men were the happiest in the universe.

Thus far extended the northern district, which embraced the tributaries of the Sacramento and the north side of the Bay," and centered in Coloma as the point of primary attraction, and whence fresh discoveries radiated. The region below, tributary to the San Joaquin, was largely opened by Indians. On the Stanislaus, where afterward was Knight's Ferry, lived an Indian known to white men as Jose Jesus. He had been instructed in the mysteries of religion and civilization by the missionaries, and was once alcalde at San Jose. Through some real or fancied wrong he became offended, left San Jose, and was ever after hostile to the Mexicans, though friendly to others. Tall, well-proportioned, and possessed of remarkable ability, with the dress and dignified manner of a Mexican of the better class, he commanded universal respect, and on the death of Estanlslao, that is to say, Stanislaus, chief of the Wallas, Jose Jesus was chosen his successor. Courting the friendship of this man, Weber had through the intervention of Sutter made him his firm ally. On organizing the Stockton company, Webber requested of Jose Jesus some able-bodied members of his tribe, such as would make good gold-diggers. The chief sent him twenty five, who were dispatched to Weber Creek and given lessons in mining; after which they were directed to return to the Stanislaus, there to dig for gold, and to carry the proceeds of their labor to French Camp, where the mayordomo would pay them in such articles as they best loved.



This shrewd plan worked well. The gold brought in by the natives proved coarser than any yet found. Weber and the rest were delighted, and the Stockton company determined at once to abandon Webber Creek and remove to the Stanislaus, which was done in August. The news spreading, others went with them; a large emigration set in, including some subsequently notable persons who gave their names to different places, as Wood Creek, Angel Camp, Sullivan Bar, Jamestown, Don Pedro (Sansevain) Bar. Murphy

Camp was named from John M. Murphy, one of the partners. William Knight established the trading post at the point now known as Knight's Ferry. Such was the richness of the field that, at Wood Creek, Wood, Savage, and Heffernan were said to have taken out for some time, with pick and knife alone, $200 or $300 a day each.

The intermediate region, along the Mokelumne and Cosumnes, had already become known through parties en route from the south, such as Weber's partners. J. H. Carson was directed by an Indian to Carson Creek, where he and his companions in ten days gathered 180 ounces each. Angel camped at Angel Creek. Sutter, who had for a time been mining ten miles above Mormon Island with 100 Indians and 50 kanakas, came in July to Sutter Creek. Two months later, when further gold placers on the Cosumnes were discovered, Jose de Jesus Pico with ten men left San Luis Obispo and proceeded through

Livermore pass to the Arroyo Seco of that locality and began to mine. In four months he obtained sufficient to pay his men and have a surplus of $14,000.

Mokelumne or Big Bar was now fast rising in importance. A party from Oregon discovered it early in October and were highly successful. Their number induced one Syrec to drive in a wagon laden with provisions, a venture which proved so fortunate that he opened a store in the beginning of November, on a hill one mile from. where the first mine was discovered. This became a trade center under the name of Mokelumne Hill.

The richest district in this region, however, was beginning to appear on the head waters of the Tuolumne, round the later town of Sonora, which took its name from the party of Mexicans from Sonora who discovered it. The Tuolumne may be regarded as the limit of exploration southward in 1848. It was reached in August, so that before the summer months closed all the long Sierra base-line, as I have described, had been overrun by the gold-seekers, the subsequent months of the year being devoted to closer developments. One reason for the limitation was the hostility of the natives, who had in particular taken an aversion to the Mexican people, or Hispano-Californians, their old taskmasters, and till lately prominent in pursuing them for enslavement.

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

Early Pioneers Going To The Goldfields



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