Diary of a 49er, Part XI : July.  30th, 1850 River Mining at Harts Bar and Tuolumne

July 30th. "We have to-day commenced our labors.  So much has been said of the mining operations upon the rivers, especially upon the Tuolumne, which is believed to be very rich, that I am led, for the information of my readers, to go more into detail in describing this, the closing portion of my mining life. The gold is often found, in rich deposits, in the channels of these rivers. To be obtained, the river must first be turned by dam and canal. As this is an operation requiring the united labor of many individuals, it is customary to form companies, which elect their officers, form their laws, and mutually share the expense and labor of the preparatory work, and also divide equally the profits.

The Hart's Bar Draining and Mining Company was organized in May. The following Articles of Agreement were adopted in July, at a meeting of the company, when twenty-one entered their names as members, and elected their officers. It should be remarked that mining associations enjoy all the privileges and immunities of corporate bodies; their just claims and rights are sacredly regarded; and any violence done to these rights would be visited by the vengeance of all the miners for miles around. No code of laws or staff of police could more fully establish a miner in the possession of his ten feet square.



No well-drawn writing, from the royal charter down to the simple deed of conveyance, could be a surer guarantee. He would not be obliged to wait a tedious process at law, or pay his last dollar for a bill of adjustment. The work of restitution and retribution at the mines is speedy, summary, and effective. I have received into my arbor, as a camp-mate, my valued friend M. He is a young sailor - a man with a brave heart in danger, but with a kind heart to those he loves - rough or gentle, like the ocean he has navigated. He has today made a bed-frame, nailing some bags on the bottom for sacking; also, some campstools, while the company's carpenter has made me a table; so that our mining home presents an unusual air of comfort. We have sent to Stockton for a supply of provisions. M. is a first-rate cook, and many of the dishes he can furnish would be relished in any place where there are good appetites. The living at the mines is much better than it has been. We have more vegetables, better flour, and a greater variety of provisions  generally. Provisions are also cheaper than they have been at any time previous.

The work before us is truly an arduous one, made doubly so by the limited means we have of prosecuting it. The clay for the construction of our canal must be carried in hand-barrows, borne between two persons, from the side of the hill down a steep bank, then along over a stony path to the canal, a distance varying from one eighth to one sixth of a mile; and this must be done day after day for weeks. Then the lumber for the aqueduct is to be sawed by hand, from logs cut and rolled from the tops and sides of the mountains, with whip-saws. This part of the business is under the direction of a master architect from London.

Sept. 24th, 1851. We prosecuted both parts of our work at the same time. A part were employed in carrying the clay to the canal. An account was kept one day, and it was ascertained that each barrow was carried, during the day, fourteen miles. Since my last date I have carried such a barrow four hundred and twenty miles. The clay was put in large heaps, where we could easily obtain it when it should be wanted in the making of the canal. This was a most arduous undertaking. Sometimes it must pass through a solid ledge of hard asbestos rock, and then through deep holes in the river, where it has washed into the banks. In such a case, a heavy wall, filled with clay, must be made. When completed, the canal was six hundred and thirty-eight feet in length, and sixteen in width. Making the aqueduct to convey the water from the canal, which passed through Paine's Bar, above us, was the most difficult task.

The logs, which were cut upon the mountain, were rolled to the pits, and then sawed by hand. Piers were constructed by making crates of logs, which were firmly pinned together, then sunk in their places by being filled with large stones. Another large pier was made by rolling and carrying stones into the river a distance of thirty feet. The sleepers of the aqueduct were laid upon this and the laden crates. "When it was finished, it was a handsome piece of workmanship, of which we were justly proud. It was one hundred and two feet in length, and twelve wide. This kind of labor—yielding no remuneration, only being preparatory to the more exciting, though laborious process of gold-digging - was prosecuted from July the 30th to this date, Sept. 24th.

We were awakened at dawn by the second director, who came out before his tent, and sang, in a loud, clear voice, " Up in the morning early, boys !" That song, which often brought me out of my dreams, to this day I carry back into my dreams. After a short time allowed for taking breakfast, the roll was called, and we went to our daily labor. And oh! When night came again, how sweet, after a bath in the river, was "the rest of the laboring man!" On the 20th of September the pleasure was ours of seeing the whole channel of the river opposite our bar laid bare for our operations. It was ours after contending with difficulties, privations, and hardships innumerable, and of no ordinary kind, and which have deprived of health many of our company. It was all ours with the joyous anticipation of soon receiving the reward of our efforts, and returning home with at least a competence." About two weeks since – it  was the 6th instant—we were alarmed by a considerable rise of the river. While at breakfast upon that day, the water of the river became suddenly muddy. Soon after we perceived this, intelligence was brought down to us from the Jacksonville company that they were expecting to see their dam washed away. The river continued gradually to rise for an hour, when there was a sudden freshet, caused by the giving way of some dam above us.

We hastened, with the aid of other companies, to open the head of the canal, and to roll heavy stones into the aqueduct. The water came up to the floor, then a few inches above it. We looked on, expecting to see all our works, which we had spent weeks in completing, at once destroyed. But the water ceased to rise, then slowly subsided, showing behind it the wet ground and the line of foam, chips and dirt marking the limits of the encroachment. Soon we were able to return to our labor with lightened spirits, and some with other kinds. Many cradles, buckets, and other things floated past us in the river. The shares of the company immediately advanced several hundred dollars. One share was sold for $1200, while $2500 was refused for another.

Two days since we commenced making a ditch under the wall of the canal, to carry off the water which leaked through its embankments. Two cradles were set, and the dirt from the bed of the ditch was washed through, and in three hours there was deposited in the treasury $176. Yesterday we continued to work upon the ditch, adding two more cradles, and during the day made $415.75. At midnight, and in the rain, we were called out to repair the walls of the canal, and stop several leaks. The river was very high, and slowly rising. After several hours' night-labor, we succeeded in stopping every leak but one. In one place the water rushed through in a torrent. This morning, Sept. 24th - the water was rising in its might. Notwithstanding our aqueduct and canal, the bed of the river was nearly full. We hastened to remove all our mining implements. Slowly, but surely, the freshet came, till the destruction of all our works seemed inevitable. We thought not of hunger, though we had been laboring hard much of the night and all the morning. About ten o'clock there was a pause of fearful suspense. The rising seemed arrested—might it not be on the turn? For a short time there was hope; the pendulum vibrated each moment between our hopes and our fears. We hastened up the hill side – after all had been done which could be - to a spot commanding a view of the whole, to see our hopes or our fears realized. We perceived at once that the existence of all our works depended upon the Paine's Bar dam above us. Would that stand the torrent? Should that maintain its position, we were safe; let that go, all would be swept away! As we kept our eyes fixed upon this - it was a quarter of a mile above us - the black line of wall was suddenly broken, and the torrent poured through a small opening forced in the dam, and in a few seconds the river ran foaming over the entire length of the wall, which bowed and sank before the irresistible force. Then and there was heard a sound new and strangely startling to me. It was caused by large stones rushing and grinding under water, borne on by the tremendous power of the current. It might be imagined that the thousand submerged chariots and cars of Pharaoh's host were driving impetuously over that river channel. As soon as the dam above us gave way, the water rose with great rapidity—two, three, four, six, eight feet —till it poured over the top of the aqueduct. Still it nobly stood, held in its place by the immense weight of the water which poured through it from the canal above. It was indeed surprising to see a thing so light resisting that mad and mighty force. It was but a moment! Gently and gracefully it yielded, swayed forward, and moved away with the ease and rapidity of a thing of life. Thus, in one moment, we saw the work of one thousand and twenty - nine days done by the company swept away and rendered useless. Within five minutes of the time when the aqueduct disappeared around the bend of the river, a meeting of the company was called, and a resolution presented to proceed with our work by means of wing-dams.



Oct. 8th ... $50.00;
"      9th ........ $26.00
"      10th. Work upon the wing-dam.
"      11th …$155.25
"      12th …$1,280.00
"      13th, Sunday ..$302.00
"      14th. Work upon the wing-dam.
"      15th. Work upon the wing-dam.
"      16th. Work upon the wing-dam.
“      17th ….$1,404.00
"      18th ….$4,198.00
"      19th ….$ 894.00
"      20th, Sunday.
"      21st …$1,449.00
"      22d ….$ 688.00
"      23d …..$1,102.00
"      24th …..$1,034.00
"      25th …..$701.00
"      26th …..$ 27.50
"      27th, Sunday.
Oct. 28th ….$179.00
''      29th. Work upon the wing-dam.
"      30th ……$6.00
''      31st. Work upon the wing-dam.
Nov. 1st …..$297.25
''       2d ……..$437.25
"       3d, Sunday.
"       4th ….$949.10
"      5th ….$809.60
''      6th ….$168.00
"      7th …..$547.00
''      8th ….$380.00
''      9th . . ..$40.00
Total $17,123.95

Deduct company expenses, viz., implements, labor, and incidentals, leaving in the treasury . . $13,595.90. Dividend to each of twenty-one members of the company, $647.42. Average per day, from July 30th to Nov. 9th, 1850, $7.28. A large amount of gold came into the treasury, the care of which was somewhat burdensome. It puzzled me to know what to do with it. There was no lock and key in the place. My arbor was upon the hill, retired from the rest of the settlement. There were many Mexicans and strangers constantly upon the bar, and it was dangerous to have a large amount of gold in possession. As a means of security for myself, I changed my quarters every night ; and to secure the gold, I tied the various packages into one bundle, to which I attached one end of a string, tying the other end about my wrist. The bundle, so secured, I folded within my coat, placing the whole beneath my head as a pillow. Any attempt to take this from me would have been instantly detected. It will be seen, by reference to the dates, that the company labored at mining on one Sabbath. When it was decided, at a meeting on Saturday, the 12th of October, to work the next day, I was allowed to enter my protest, which still remains upon the records; and I was also excused from manual labor. By noon of that Sunday, all had left work, and it was never even proposed again.

Nov. 26th, 1850. We set sail in the French ship Chateaubriand, "homeward bound."  On January 8th, 1851, reached Panama. After spending twenty days upon the Isthmus, on January 28th weighed anchor ; had a rapid run, the Georgia putting into Havana for coal, and to part with a portion of her six hundred and fifty passengers ; and on Saturday, February 8th, arrived at New York, and the same night at Philadelphia, after an absence of two years and eight days.

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Early Day Wing Dam River Mining

Early Day Wing Dam River Mining




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