Diary of a 49er, Part III: August 20th, 1849, Webber Creek

Aug. 20th. After my last date I was prostrated at once by the acclimating disease of the country, and rendered as helpless as a child. All day and all night long I was alone under my oak, and without those kind attentions so necessary in sickness, and which can not be had here. I was reduced to a very low state, with but little hope, under the circumstances, of recovery. It did seem hard to lie down to die there, and to think that I was no more to see my beloved family. Yet I feared not to die. Indeed, I marked off the spot under the oak where my grave should be, and prayed for submission to God’s righteous will, and that his love would protect and bless those dear to me.

The lines of an Englishman, addressed, as he was dying at the mines, "To a gold coin," vividly described my feelings at that time:
"For thee, for thee, vile yellow slave, I left a heart that loved me true!
I crossed the tedious ocean-wave, To roam in climes unkind and new.
The cold wind of the stranger blew chill on my withered heart—the grave
Dark and untimely met my view— And all for thee, vile yellow slave!



At this critical time, a gentleman from New Orleans, hearing of my case, came up to see me, and gave me a few pills, which, fortunately, he had with him. They checked the disease, and after a few hours I could eat a bird shot and cooked for me by a kind friend. Not soon shall I forget this noble hearted friend, B. Rough as a grisly bear, he was yet one of nature's noblemen. At home he filled, at one time, the office of sheriff. He said that the office cost him too much, and was making him poor. If he was sent to seize a destitute woman's effects for rent, he would be sure to pay that rent, and then would send her a bag of flour from his own farm. Thus we learn that many of the most valuable traits of character and excellencies of heart lie, like the purest gold, concealed beneath a rough surface. 

Not thinking it best, in the feeble state of my health, to return to mining immediately, as soon as I was strong enough, with my blankets upon my back, I walked to " Sutter's Mill," now named Coloma. "When I first reached the country, a school had been offered me in this place at a stipulated compensation of $16 a day. After spending a few days with Mr. Wimmer, one of the two who discovered the first gold, while engaged in digging a mill-race for Mr. Sutter, a spot now regarded with peculiar interest, my health was so much improved that I concluded to return to the mines.On reaching Salmon Falls, to my surprise I found Mr. C, a French gentleman, and who had formerly had the charge of the French classes in my seminary, and who was now waiting to invite me to join himself and a friend, a dentist from Philadelphia, in a prospecting tour upon the north and middle forks. "We spent two weeks in this exploring tour, and on our return to Salmon Falls spent several days in mining there. When all our expenses were paid and a dividend made, we had $2 each, the result of three weeks of hard toil.

Hearing of good diggings at Webber's Creek, I proposed to my companions to go over, and, after prospecting, send them word. One of them accompanied me on my way as far as Coloma. As he was leaving me to return, after spending the night together in an emigrant's wagon we found by the roadside, a miner who had just arrived, after a long and dangerous journey across the plains, rode up to me. He told me he was without money, and without provisions or tools for mining:, having exhausted his means on his long journey. This miner, named W., had been a Texas Ranger. When he told me his condition, I went with him into Coloma, and succeeded in procuring all he wanted on a credit of a few days. He manifested his gratitude by offering to pack my provisions with his own upon his mule, and to accompany me wherever I was going. After traveling three miles, we stopped under a tree to cook slap-jacks—a fried batter—and pork, and wait for the cool of the evening. About four o'clock we again started for the diggings on Weaver's Creek, five miles distant. Taking the wrong trail, we lost our way, and wandered on six miles till it was too dark to see the path. We were in a wild gorge of the mountain, hungry and tired, with no means of kindling a fire, and my feet badly blistered. But our most serious want was that of water, our thirst having become intolerable. We tied a rope to the neck of our mule, keeping one end of it in our hands, hoping that his instinct would lead him to water; - but we were disappointed ; and hungry, thirsty, and tired, we laid us down where we could feel a place in the dark which was smooth enough.

In the morning we found, to our surprise, that we had been sleeping in the middle of the road, and within a few yards of us was a fine spring of water. Yesterday morning we reached Weaver's Creek, and, after prospecting some hours, located ourselves on the spot where we now are at work, with some good prospect of success. Just below us is a Georgia miner, who showed me to-day nine pounds of gold he made last week with the assistance of two hired men. The mountains here are very precipitous and abrupt, hanging over our heads in wild grandeur. The creek is only accessible through wild ravines and over steep mountains. Owing to their great depth, and their being shut up on all sides by mountains so lofty that the sun rises two hours later, and sets two hours earlier than upon the plains, the heat is most ,intense. We have spent our first day in making preparations for our work. W. is now putting up a brush arbor, to guard us more effectually against the heat of the sun. Beneath the same large and wide-spreading tree are two other companies of miners. In one of these companies is a Missourian, shivering beneath the hot sun with a violent attack of fever and ague. For several days I have remonstrated with him against going into the cold water when heated, and standing there while washing out the gold. Today he became much heated, and in this state repeated the experiment, and in ten minutes was seen creeping into his blankets. In a little time he sent for me. His look was very wild and wandering as I went to his side, and he said, looking up shivering into the tree above him, "Woods, if you don't remove this tree, my fever never will break."



Webber's Creek, Aug. 21st.  Our mining company has been to-day increased, two others having joined us, making our number five. One of these has been engaged in walling in a spring where we obtain our drinking-water—another is making a cradle. The others have been employed in removing the stones and top soil, and carrying the auriferous dirt on handbarrows, made of hides, down to the edge of the water, ready to be washed. From every indication, we have " struck a rich lead." We find much gold on the rocks: on one I counted twenty-five scales.

Aug. 22nd. We have finished our cradle, and washed a little dirt this forenoon, which yielded us about $10 in all. Our hopes are bright for the morrow.

Aug. 23rd. How is "the gold become dim I" After all our preparations and hopes, our toil early and late, toil of the most laborious kind, digging down in the channel of the river till the water was up to our knees, giving ourselves barely time to eat, we have made but $4 each. We sat down upon the rocks, and looked at the small ridge of gold in the pan, and then at each other. One fell to swearing:, another to laughing ; I tried to say some encouraging things. Our way indeed is dark, and great are our difficulties, and oft-repeated our failures, and we experience the bitterness of the "hope deferred which maketh the heart sick," but our motto must be to press on.

The motives which induced us to come here were good—our object is good—then, trusting in God's merciful providence, let us persevere. One young man near us has just died. He was without companion or friend—alone in his tent. Not even his name could be discovered. We buried him, tied down his tent, leaving his effects within. Thus is a home made doubly desolate. Years will pass, and that loved son, or brother, or husband still be expected, and the question still repeated. Why does he not come ? Right below me, upon a root of our wide-spreading oak, is seated an old man of threescore and ten years. He left a wife and seven children at home, whose memory he cherishes with a kind of devotion unheard of before. He says when he is home-sick he can not cry, but it makes him sick at his stomach. He is an industrious old man, but has not made enough to buy his provisions, and we have given him a helping hand. Is it surprising that many fly to gambling, and more to drink, to console their disappointments ? Today I have weighed my little store of gold, after paying all expenses, and find it amounts, after over six weeks of hard labor, to $35.

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