Discoveries in the Southern Sierra

These Californians very naturally halted along the San Joaquin tributaries, which lay on the route taken from the southern settlements, and were reported even richer than the northern mines. Among them was Antonio Franco Coronel, with a party of thirty, who had left Los Angeles in August by way of San Jose and Livermore pass. Priests as well as publicans, it appears, were possessed by the golden demon in those days; for at the San Joaquin Coronel met Padre Jose Maria Suarez del Real who showed him a bag of gold which he claimed to have brought from the Stanislaus camp, that is to say, Sonora, a recently discovered spot that was rich in gold.

This decided Coronel and party to go to the Stanislaus, where they found a company of New Mexicans, lately arrived, a few Americans, as well as native Californians from San Jose and proximate places. To the camp where Coronel halted came seven Indians, wishing to buy from him and his party, and offering large quantities of gold for such articles as took their fancy. One of Coronel's servants, Benito Perez, was an expert in placer-mining. Struck with the display made by the natives, he proposed to his master to let him have one of his Indians as a companion, so that he might follow, and see whence the savages obtained their gold. It was dark before the Indians had finished their purchases and set out for home, but Benito Perez, with the Indian Augustine, kept stealthily upon their tracks, eventually arriving at the rancheria where Captain Estanislao had formerly lived.



Perez passed the night upon a hill opposite the rancheria hidden among the trees, and waiting for the Indians. Early the following morning the same seven started for the gold-fields, taking their way toward the east, followed by the Mexican and his companion. At a place afterward called Canada del Barro the seven began to dig with sharp-pointed stakes, whereupon Perez presented himself. The Indians were evidently annoyed; but Perez set to work with his knife, and in a short time obtained three ounces in chispas, or nuggets. Satisfied with his discovery, he went back to Coronel. The two determined to take secret possession; but eventually Coronel thought it would be but right to inform his companions, especially as Perez' report indicated the mine to be rich. Secrecy was moreover of little use; their movements were watched. In order not to delay matters, Perez was dispatched with two dumb Indians to secure the richest plats. This done, Coronel and the rest of his friends started, though late in the night. Such was their eagerness, that on reaching the ground they spent the night in allotting claims in order to begin work at daybreak.

Everybody was well satisfied with the first day's working. Coronel, with his two Indian servants, obtained forty-five ounces of coarse gold. Dolores Sepulveda, who was busy a few yards away, picked up a nugget fully twelve ounces in weight; and though there were more than a hundred persons round about, all had great success. On the same bar where Sepulveda found the nugget worked Valdes, alias Chapamango, a Californian of Santa Barbara, who, by digging to the depth of three feet, discovered a pocket which had been formed by a large rock breaking the force of the current and detaining quantities of gold. He picked up enough to fill a large towel, and then passed round to make known his good fortune. Thinking that he had money enough, he sold his claim to Lorenzo Soto, who took out in eight days 52 pounds of gold. Water was then struck, when the claim was sold to Machado of San Diego, did also, in a short time, secure a large quantity of gold.

Coronel, leaving his servants at his claim, started to inspect the third bar of the Barro Canada, with an experienced gambusino of the Sonorans known as Chino Tirador. Choosing a favorable spot, the gambusino marked out his claim, and Coronel took up his a little lower. The Chino set to work, and at the depth of four feet found a pocket of gold near an underground rock which divided the two claims. From nine o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon he lay gathering the gold with a horn spoon, throwing it into a wooden tray for the purpose of dry-washing. By this time the tray had become so filled with cleaned gold that the man could hardly carry it.



Tired with his work he returned to camp, giving Coronel permission to work his claim. The latter was only too glad to do so, for with a great deal more labor, and with the assistance of his servant, he had not succeeded in obtaining more than six ounces at the spot he had previously been working. During the brief daylight remaining Coronel made ample amends for previous shortcomings. The Chine's luck caused great excitement in the camp, where he offered to sell clean gold for silver; and had disposed of a considerable quantity when Coronel arrived and bought seventy-six ounces at the rate of twelve dollars and a half to the ounce. The next day the Chino returned to his claim; but as large numbers had been working it by night, with the aid of candles, he decided on abandoning the mine and starting upon a new venture.

Purchasing a bottle of whiskey for a double-handful of gold, and spreading a blanket on the ground, he opened a monte bank and started dealing cards. His luck however, had run out, and by ten o'clock that night he was both penniless and drunk. Such is one of the many phases of mining as told by the men of 1848.

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

Early Day Hydraulic Mining



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