Diary of a 49er, Part IV: August 25th, 1849, Salmon Falls, South Fork, American River

Aug. 25th. Yesterday I returned to Salmon Falls, and am again encamped beneath the old oak upon the hill, Mr. C. and his friend being with me. They have slung their hammocks up among the branches, where they sleep comfortably, protected from the ants and vermin. My bed is, as usual, upon the ground, where even my night-bag does not guard me from the annoying attacks of the ants and lizards.

Last night, after I had fallen asleep, my companions were aroused by hearing a coyote barking near us, and soon they saw him come and smell of my hands and face, seeming to doubt whether he could take a bite without being detected. A company of nineteen have just commenced damming the river at the head of an island above the falls, nearly a mile in length, by which they expect to lay bare the channel, on one side, the whole length of the island. The proceedings of a meeting of the company to-day, with reference to my admission, were truly Californian. It was first resolved that I should be admitted, and then, as they had been at work two days, that I should furnish the company five bottles of brandy as the condition of my membership. The brandy was bought and drank, and then a committee waited upon me to notify me that I was a member, and that the trader had furnished them brandy to the amount of $10 on my account.



As they knew that there was no other way by which they could obtain a " treat" from me, it was bought and drank before I was informed of the transaction. On my way from Weaver's Creek yesterday, I made the acquaintance of an intelligent gentleman from Washington City, who had held there a profitable office under government, and had left a family behind him. He came hoping to better a good condition. A few days labor in the mines was sufficient to convince him that it would have been better to ''let well enough alone." His is not a solitary case. The mines are full of such. The wonderful instances of success which those at home are made to believe are common, are about in the proportion of one to a thousand. Of the nine hundred and ninety-nine cases of failure, or at least of limited success, those at a distance know nothing—nothing of the privations and discouragements, trials, dangers, and deaths.

Aug. 26th. On my way to the place for preaching today, I stepped into a hornet's nest, and was badly stung on my hand. These hornets, called "yellow jackets," live around and in our tents, and share our provisions. I have had twenty of them on my plate at once. My hand was much swollen, and I feared I should be unable to fulfill my engagement with the company by preaching to them. The kindness of the wife of one of the miners, who brought a bottle of hartshorn from the tent, and bathed my hand with it, soon relieved me. Our church was "God's first temple." My audience were seated upon the grass on the river bank, beneath a cluster of pine trees. There they were, from all the states—from Europe, from Africa, from Oceanica. Such hours of worship on God's holy day, spent with my mining companions, or with some beloved Christian brother who remained "steadfast, immoveable" in his integrity amid the corrupting vices of the mines, will never be forgotten. When we could not walk to the house of God in company, we sometimes walked upon the mountains, and there together sang the songs of Zion, and prayed to the Father ever merciful and good in a strange land. I take pleasure in recalling to my mind such a noble-hearted Christian, who had devoted one fourth of all his anticipated earnings in California to religious charities. It was my pleasure afterward, when in San Francisco, to send him, through the Secretary of the American Bible Society, a quantity of Bibles, hymn-books, and sermons, his purpose being to form a Bible class among the miners. He wished them to be sent as early as possible, as ''he hoped," he said," to get possession of the ground, and thus keep out the gambling table and the brandy bottle." 

Sept. 3rd. We are yet at work throwing a dam over the river. It would be thought, from the manner in which some members of the company talk about what they "know must be" in the channel of the river, that they expect to do no more work after this. A perfect Mohammedan heaven, with its tree bearing every luxury, its beautiful treasures, its arbors where no care or trouble exist, seem ready to be revealed as soon as the water which curtains them over shall be drawn aside. An interesting incident occurred  today. A young Englishman in our company, from the Society Islands, was returning to his tent during the interval at noon for lunch and rest. On his way, one of the many strangers he met inquired the way to certain mines below. From this they fell into a conversation upon some indifferent topic, and both being wearied, they sat down, side by side, upon a rock, little thinking what an interesting and beautiful revelation was about to be made to them. In the conversation, one incidentally inquired of the other where he was from. " From the Society Islands," was the reply. With an awakened interest in his manner, he inquired, ''Which island?" "Tahiti," was the answer. He looked into the face of the other with a searching gaze, and with deep emotion inquired, "What is your name?" "H.," he said. "You are my brother! And they were locked in each other's arms. There they are, on the bar below me, walking arm in arm, and conversing with intense interest. I afterward learned many of these brothers from a lady, whose father was the first missionary to Tahiti.

Sept. 8th. Our damming operation has been an entire failure. We spent many days in constructing the dam, which, when completed, drained a large portion of the river. When this was done, we thoroughly prospected the whole, and found nothing. The banks and bars of the river were rich in some places, but there was not a grain of gold in the channel.



Sept. 9th. Attended preaching at Mormon Island today. Being late out, I called to spend the night with a company of gentlemen from Cincinnati, who are encamped in a solitary place some two miles below Salmon Falls, upon the river. We had just finished our supper an hour since, during which they were relating to me some difficulties they had with the Indians, who had stolen $200 from them. After this theft, the measures which had been resorted to for the recovery of the money, the Indians would frequently come after dark and throw stones across the river into their camp.

Sept. l0th. Upon a bar above our dam some miners lately met with some success. Rumors of this success, but much exaggerated, were circulated. Ounces were reported as pounds. The change at once was magical. Trading tents, the signs of rival physicians, eating and gambling booths have sprung up, and the noise and confusion of a large village are heard. More than a hundred men are at work upon the bar. The auriferous dirt must be taken a quarter of a mile to the river to be washed. Some do this by packing the dirt in bags upon mules, and some pack this upon their own backs. One company, from Hartford, gave us a surprise this morning. They had with them a quantity of hose, and by this means brought the water from the river upon the bar, thus saving the labor of packing the dirt. The gold is chiefly found in one vein, running in nearly a direct line at right angles to the river. The few who have found this vein have done comparatively well. All the rest "spend their labor for that which is not bread." A company of Cincinnati miners have invited me to work with them a '’claim" upon this bar. They have just told me that the Indians came last night in large numbers, and made an attack upon their camp, which they were compelled to abandon at midnight, and, swimming the river, to take refuge with a company of New York miners.

Sept. 18th. There is but little dirt upon this bar, and it is now regarded as " worked out," and the miners are leaving as fast as they came. Our company have made upon the bar $65 each. I have been now three months in the mines, and have made $390. There is much sickness here. One half of the whole population are sick. I have to-day been informed of the mournful death of a merchant from Philadelphia, a fellow-voyager from Cape San Lucas. He was the object of anxious solicitude to his friends soon after his arrival at San Francisco. He had come on with bright hopes, which were sadly disappointed. To drown his sorrows and disappointments, he had given himself up to drink. Many times had they expostulated with him, but in vain. He died at San Francisco.

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



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