Diary of a 49er, Part II: July 7th, 1849, Salmon Falls, South Fork of the American River

July 7th. This morning witnessed an instance of that remarkable success in mining which rarely occurs, but which, when it takes place, turns the heads of so many. I might aptly quote Yirgil's figurative description of Rumor, and apply it to these gold stories. They go out quite respectable in appearance, furnished with hat and cane at the start, but, as they proceed, they suddenly expand to the proportions of Hercules, with his trunk of a tree for a club. We met this story long afterward, after it had returned from its voyage to the States and to Europe, and, but for its having claimed Salmon Falls as its birth-place, it could not have been recognized at all.

The facts were simply these: Two Irishmen followed the " lead" of the Jordan brothers, who had made their gold by penetrating into a bank which had evidently been detached from the mountains behind in some convulsion of nature, and pushed forward over the bar. They commenced in the bank at the edge of the bar, and when they .reached the line in which the Jordans had found their vein, they were so fortunate as to find it again. This vein is about seven inches wide, and ten feet below the surface of the bank, and is imbedded in a stratum of hard clay, through which the fine scale gold is richly sprinkled. 



The vein runs, in a compact body, diagonally across the claims which have been and are being "worked out," and so on, in a straight line, to the edge of the bar, where it is broken, scattered, and lost by its descent. At this remarkable place, these two men, before breakfast this morning, took out $422. As I witnessed their success, for we are working within three yards of them, and when I held a large bottle, nearly full of the beautiful gold, in my hands, I was at first conscious of feelings of elation and hope. This has given place, this evening, to temporary despondency, for I have been compelled to contrast our own small operations with their brilliant success. Poor Jemmie, one of these Irishmen, and who had never before been the owner of a sovereign, said to me to-day, "Every body is talking about my good luck, but, I don't know how it is, I can't feel so ; and, faith, I think a sovereign looks to me more!''. Our company have been engaged today in "prospecting," and preparing for work. The last washings, near night, gave us fifty cents to the pan, which is considered encouraging.

July 8th, Sunday. All the miners upon the bar, with the exception of one man, who is working by himself below, have laid aside their labors for the day. This is, partly at least, owing to a regard for its sacredness. And when may we be so much sustained by the encouragements, cheered by the promises, or influenced by the restraints of religion, as in the circumstances in which we are now placed? Religion —Heaven's most precious gift to man—comes and offers to lead us, and to be with us in all our weary exile from home. 

July 9th. Today we have made $0.20 each. One of the conclusions at which we are rapidly arriving is, that the chances of our making a fortune in the gold mines are about the same as those in favor of our drawing a prize in a lottery. No kind of work is so uncertain. A miner may happen upon a good location in his very first attempt, and in a very few days make his hundreds or thousands, while the old miners about him may do nothing. Two foreigners, who had been some time in the mines, began to work their respective claims, leaving a small space between them. The question arose to which of them this space belonged. As they could not amicably settle the dispute, they agreed to leave it to the decision of an American who happened by, and who had not yet done an hour's work in the mines. He measured off ten feet—which is allowed by custom—to each of the claimants, taking for his trouble the narrow strip of land lying between them. In a few hours, the larger claims, belonging to the old miners, were abandoned as useless, while the new miner discovered a deposit which yielded him $7435 (360 ounces).



July 10th. We made $3 each today. This life of severe hardship and exposure has affected my health. Our diet consists of hard bread, flour, which we eat half cooked, and salt pork, with occasionally a salmon which we purchase of the Indians. Vegetables are not to be procured. Our feet are wet all day, while a hot sun shines down upon our heads, and the very air parches the skin like the hot air of an oven. Our drinking water comes down to us thoroughly impregnated with the mineral substances washed through the thousand cradles above us. After our days of labor, exhausted and faint, we retire - if this word may be applied to the simple act of lying down in our clothes - robbing our feet of their boots to make a pillow of them, and wrapping our blankets about us, on a bed of pine boughs, or on the ground, beneath the clear, bright stars of night. Near morning there is always a change in the temperature of the air, and several blankets become necessary. Then the feet and the hands of the novice in this business become blistered and lame, and the limbs are stiff. Besides all these causes of sickness, the anxieties and cares which wear away the life of so many men who leave their families to come to this land of gold, contribute, in no small degree, to this same result. It may with truth be said, "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." I have today removed to the top of the hill above the encampment, and beneath a large oak-tree, for the benefit of a cooler air and shade during the intense heat of noon.


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