Diary of a 49er, Part VII : Dec.  27th, 1849 Gold Mining on Curtis Creek

27th Dec.    After visiting all the mines, and finding but indifferent prospects at any of them, I located myself at Curtis's Creek, to labor in the winter diggings. I was without a companion, and had heard of a gentleman from New England who was desirous of sharing his tent and provisions with some one. He had been out of health, but was supposed to be improving. My name had been mentioned to him by a friend before I arrived, and he had expressed a desire to enter into such an arrangement as might be of mutual advantage. He was considered a man of great intelligence and worth; and it was partly with the hope of having him as a mining companion that I had visited Curtis's. His tent was a mile from the settlement. Taking my roll of blankets, I walked over to see him. Judge of my surprise, on reaching his tent, and raising the curtains at the entrance, and stepping in, to find myself standing before a corpse laid out upon a hammock! I learned from a colored man, who soon came in, that Mr. H. had died half an hour before. He was alone, and seemed to have just been reaching from his bed for something. The last sentiment to which he gave utterance was, "I believe I left home a moral and a religious man; I have brought morality and religion with me, and, with God's assistance, I will keep them to the last." Neither he nor others supposed that he was dangerously sick. With the black man, I went out, and we selected a spot beneath a large tree, and there we dug his grave. The noon of the next day was the time named for the funeral, and notice accordingly was sent to the various mines near by. It being impracticable to provide a coffin, the body was wrapped in several blankets, and a quantity of pine boughs spread at the bottom of the grave. At the time appointed for the burial, most of the miners might be seen leaving their various employments, and slowly walking in small groups toward the grave. Another group the bearers and friends - met them, and all proceeded together on the way. How solemn and impressive, under those circumstances, "the burial service" of the Church, which was then performed. An appropriate hymn was sung, and the body laid in its last repose, then covered with pine boughs, and the grave was filled up. Having purchased the tent and a part of the provisions, I spent the two following days, assisted by a friend - young Dr. R., of New Jersey - in removing the tent, and preparing for the labors of mining.



The 30th Dec.   On the Sunday following – I was requested to go over to Woods's diggings and attend the funeral of a young man from Philadelphia. We had formerly both listened together to the faithful preaching of the Rev. Mr. Fowles. Could it have been anticipated, as I fixed my eye upon that healthy, intelligent countenance at the close of the services, that in the wilds of California I should so soon be called to pronounce over him the solemn sentence - in this case sadly solemn – “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. The brother of young man was with him at the mines, but he died alone.  The next morning, the last of the year, Dr. R. and myself started upon a prospecting excursion; and we returned at night as wise, as rich, and a little more tired than we were when we left in the morning. 

Jan. 1st, 1850.   It has rained hard all day. Engaged in washing and mending clothes, cooking, writing, and reading. Before we separated for the night, my friend. Dr. R., requested me to conduct "family worship." It was a simple request and a simple act, like every act of faith, and appropriate to our situation and to the day, being the first of the year. Only those who have experienced it, especially in a situation like ours, know of the refreshing fountain of comfort which springs up in the soul while kneeling before the throne of "our Father in heaven." It was family prayer ; and we realized the delightful import of this expression. The Being to whom we addressed our prayers was at that moment looking with an eye of love upon each member of our dear families at home, and our prayers would bring peace, protection, and blessings to them. It was family prayer; and at that moment we felt the privilege of being united with the great and happy family that worship the glorious and good Being who loves and cares for all.

Jan. 2rd. During the last night there was a robbery in the settlement, which caused great excitement. A miner, formerly from Ohio, but who had been many years in Oregon, where he had a pleasant home, had been induced, by the hope of making a rapid fortune, to sell his valuable property, and, taking his large family, to remove to the mines. There, by hard labor and trading, he had laid up about $84,000.  Most of this sum was in a trunk at the foot of the bed in their tent. During the night this trunk was taken, and the next morning was found at some distance, broken open, and the money gone. A boarder was immediately arrested on suspicion, but, after a well-conducted trial, was released. We have made 37 cents each.

Jan. 3rd. It has rained hard most of the day, and there was some thunder, a very unusual occurrence in California. Spent a part of the day and all the evening with Dr. R., singing, reading, &c. At the close of our pleasant interview, again we ''lifted the heart and bent the knee" in prayer to Almighty God. In our visits to each other on these rainy days, like the ladies at home, we often take our sewing with us. To-day I took a pair of stockings to darn, one of my shoes to mend, and the ''Democratic Review" to read. While we plied our needles, our tongues were equally busy speaking of mutual friends and hopes.

Jan. 5th. It rained again ; but we could not afford to be idle, though we made a mere trifle by severe and exposing labor. To-night we have weighed our week's earnings, and find that they amount to $1.80. It is more trying to the miner to be compelled to spend a day in idleness than to engage in the most severe labor, even though that labor be unprofitable. I have often been driven out by my own anxious thoughts to work in a severe rain.

Jan. 7th. Prospected with Captain Wadsworth at the Chilian diggings. This is an open, level field, through which a stream formerly ran, but which now has so little water that many of the miners take the dirt to the river to be washed. Here was a large settlement of Chilinos, who have come from their own gold mines to try their fortune here. They often bring their families with them. I saw one family, the father of which, assisted by the older children, was "panning out" gold on a stream near his rude home made of hides. The mother was washing clothes, while the infant was swinging in a basket made fast to the branches overhead. An interesting girl of five years, with a tiny pick and spade, was digging in a hole, already sunk two feet, and putting the dirt in a pan, which she would take to the stream and wash, putting the scale or two of gold into a dipper a little larger than a thimble. A heavy rain drove us home, wet and cold. It continued to rain, with a few intervals, during the remainder of the week; but a trunk of valuable books, owned by Captain Wadsworth, served to occupy our minds. These employments, with the writing of letters, singing, roasting our coffee, cooking, visiting, 6cc., filled up the hours of these rainy days. We have made, the whole week, $3 each.

I must again remind my reader that, if these details are uninteresting, they are yet necessary as the filling up of a miner's life. The bright and glowing pictures presented to the public—the "news from California" - " $2,000,000 in gold-dust" - " rich discoveries" - "new diggings," &c., must all be filled up with a back-ground of cloudy days, of rainy weeks, broken hopes, privations, sickness, many a gloomy death-scene, and many a lonely grave. With how much surprise, and often indignation, do the miners read the " accounts from the mines," which come back to them in the newspapers from home ! And with how much satisfaction do they read the few truthful descriptions which they meet.

Jan. 14th. In company with Captain W. and Dr. R., selected a spot where a mountain ravine opens into the river, and a few yards below the place where a company of Frenchmen took out, a few months since, a large amount of gold. Our best prospect was in the channel of this mountain stream. We spent some hours in diverting the stream from its course by a dam and a canal on a small scale. Then, by bailing, we succeeded in opening the channel. Most of the upper soil, with the stones, must be removed, nearly to the primitive rock below, often a distance of some feet, always ankle or knee deep in the mud. We were greatly encouraged, in the present instance, by an indication of gold rarely presented. About four inches from the surface of the ground, and in the loose upper soil, I found a lump of gold weighing nearly three pennyweights. Greatly cheered by this circumstance, we worked away with spade and pick, with cradle and pan, hour after hour, and were rewarded by finding in our treasury at night a few bright scales of gold, amounting to 25 cents.



Jan. 15th. This morning, notwithstanding the rain, we were again at our work. We must work. In sunshine and rain, iii warm and cold, in sickness and health, successful or not successful, early and late, it is work, work, work! Work or perish! All around us, above and below, on mountain side and stream, the rain falling fast upon them, are the miners at work—not for gold, but for bread. Lawyers, doctors, clergymen, farmers, soldiers, deserters, good and bad, from England, from America, from China, from the Islands, from every country but Russia and Japan—all, at work at their cradles. From morning to night is heard the incessant rock, rock, rock! Over the whole mines, in streamlet, in creek, and in river, down torrent and through the valley, ever rushes on the muddy sediment from ten thousand busy rockers. Cheerful words are seldom heard, more seldom a boisterous shout and laugh which indicate success, and which, when heard, sink to a lower ebb the spirits of the unsuccessful. We have made 50 cents each.

Jan. 18th. It has continued to rain. There has been some excitement in a ravine near where we were at work. A company of six men found a place from which they have taken out $18 to each every day through the week. The place is now thronged. Every foot is taken up; and yet, of the hundreds there, not five have made more than their living. Some only made 12 cents. "We have worked there today, and made $2 each. This evening we have had a pleasant meeting of our choir.

Jan. 21st. The report of the success on the bar below on Saturday has gone abroad and done its work. Many miners, much excited by the rumors, greatly exaggerated by passing through the mouths of the traders, have begun to come in. New tents are springing up, and new faces are seen ; but success thorough the day has been confined to the one deposit, which proves to have run in a rich vein for some sixty feet, occasionally disappearing, but always coming up again in the same line. A company of six miners, from Illinois, made over four pounds of gold last week, then gave up their claim, supposing it exhausted, to some friends, who made three pounds more from it to-day.

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