Of the many Illustrations of this new Gold Field which the obliging intelligence of Correspondents has enabled us, from time to time, to present to the readers of the ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS, the large View upon the preceding page presents the most practical picture. It has been sketched by Mr. John Borthwick, a clever water-colour painter, who first visited the locality as a goldseeker, but is now settled in the neighbourhood, and is actively engaged in his profession, by taking portraits of successful adventurers, chiefly to be sent to their friends at a distance. It will be seen that, besides presenting us with a picture, our ingenious Correspondent has sketched with equal minuteness the industrial economy of this extraordinary scene.
The place which this Sketch represents, is situated on the South Fork of the American River, about 18 miles below Caloma, where gold was first discovered. The View shows a company of miners at work in the bed of the river, having turned the water by means of a dam from their natural channel into a wooden flume or aqueduct laid on the rocks at the side of the river. The operation of working the bed of the river requires such an outlay of capital and labour before any of the precious metal can be extracted, that it is always undertaken by companies of from ten to twenty men. They begin by posting a notice on any conspicuous part of the claim, intimating how far such claim extends each way, and their intention of working it at the proper season. If they neglect to work it, however, the first summer after posting this notice, other parties may step in and "jump the claim," as the saying is, when a man works grounds already claimed by another.
The river is generally drained off a claim by means of a race cut through the bank; but where the nature of the ground will not permit that—as in the present claim, where the mountains rise abruptly from the river, and the banks of the river are but a confused pile of huge rocks—the method here represented, called flumeracing, is resorted to.
At the cost of a great deal of labour and money in moving and blasting rocks, a place has been levelled off sufficiently to admit of the flume being built on it, which is made entirely of wood, and laid on sleepers, supported in some places on the rocks, in others resting. The dimensions of the flume are about 15 feet wide by 3 feet deep, just of sufficient capacity to contain the waters of the river during the summer months.
This company numbers 15 members, and have about 15 hired hands employed. They were two months engaged in building their flume, the timber for which cost them 130 dollars per 10000 feet laid down there. The sleepers and uprights are pine logs, which in most places it would cost but little trouble to obtain; but in the immediate neighbourhood of this claim there are few trees, and the mountains are so precipitous and rocky as to add greatly to the difficulty of the work.
The miners are here represented at work, digging under the large rocks in the bed of the river. While some are moving rocks, picking and shovelling dirt into buckets, others are bailing water out of the hole, for, though the river is turned, there is always a great deal of water to contend against, and consequently the ground is worked in small holes, which are filled up with stones when worked out. One man is employed carrying buckets full of dirt to the sluice, where it is washed, and the gold extracted. This method of washing dirt is the most expeditious yet discovered. The sluice is a long wooden trough, about one foot wide by seven or eight inches deep. It is place at an inclination, and a full stream of water is kept running through it. About twelve feet from the head of the sluice is what is called a ripple-bar, or bar of wood about an inch high; at an equal distance below is another ripple-bar, and the last two feet of the floor of the sluice is a sieve, under which is a shallow wooden box, called a ripple-box, also slightly inclined. A man is stationed at the head of the sluice; and when the dirt is cast in he stirs it up with a four-pronged fork, with which he throws out when washed all the stones it will take up. The rest of the dirt is all washed down by the water; by the time it reaches the first ripple-bar, the gold has got separated; and, settling to the bottom, is held by it along with the heavier particles of dirt. Should any gold escape over the first, it is caught by the second; but if not saved by that it finds its way into the box under the sieve, where it works its way down through the lighter dirt which the stream of water keeps constantly washing out. The work is carried on steadily till the close, when the dirt collected by the first ripple-bar is washed out in a pan, leaving nothing but the gold, and some find black sand, which is blown out when the gold is dry. In the second bar, a little gold may be found, but not much; while in the ripple-box there is so little that it is not though worth while to wash it out oftener than once a week. The company and the hands they employ, whom they also board, live on the side of the river, as seen in the Sketch. A chasm between two immense rocks is covered in with branches of trees, forming a sort of shanty, the end of which is constructed of an old ten, stitched on two or three uprights. Here there is a long table, with very primitive-looking benches; a cooking-stove; and a pile of provisions, consisting principally of hams and flour, the staple article of food in the mines. Here the miners take their meals. The little canvas shanty at the right of this is the residence of one of the company, whose wife has accompanied him to the scene of his labours.
At daybreak may be seen among the rocks, wherever a soft piece of ground offers a tempting resting-place, "quite a smart sprinklin," as a Yankee would say, of divers-coloured blankets—blue, red, and green—and, here and there, a buffalo-rug. Presently, the cook comes out and beats a reveillee on his frying-pan with a carving-knife. The blankets immediately begin to move, shaggy heads appear from under them, and, getting up, and rubbing their eyes, the miners go down to the flume, where they go through their ablutions, and very frequently complete the toilet with the aid of a pocket-comb. By this time the cook is again beating furiously on the frying-pan to summon them to breakfast. Not much time is devoted to this ceremony; the day’s work begins by baling out the holes, and is continued steadily till sunset, with the exception of an interval of about an hour at noon for dinner.
The miners working on the bar or convex side of the bend in the river are either working alone, or with one or two partners. They have their tents pitched on the side from which the Sketch is taken, wherever a level spot can be found, but most of them are pitched on little platforms built up with rocks. This place is extremely difficult of access. A waggon-road comes to within a quarter of a mile of the base of the mountain, but is so steep that a teamster in any other country would never think of attempting it. From where the waggon-road stops, to the river bank, you have to climb down over the rocks the best way you can. Some of the claims in the beds of the river pay very well, while others do not pay the expense of cutting a race. This company were at an outlay of 3500 dollars, besides their individual labour, for two months before they were able to work their claim. They have already taken out enough to pay all expenses, and expect the claim to yield a handsome sum to each member of the company before the rainy season comes on which will probably be in a month or so. Should they not be able to work it out this year, they will break up the flume, and remove the lumber out of reach of the river till next season, when nearly as much labour will be gone through again.