Rambles in California

an excerpt from Frank Leslie’s New Family Magazine, 1859

Land of the West--beneath the Heaven
There’s not a fairer, lovelier clime;
Nor one to which was ever given
A destiny more high, sublime!
And yet, with this great truth before us, there are those who are ever speaking of her immoralities, her vices, her improvidences, her recklessness, as without parallel in the history of the world. They would magnify her faults and her blemishes, but are careful never to speak of her comeliness, or her rapid progress along the pathway of prosperous nations; for California is a nation within herself. Nearly eight hundred miles in length, and an average breadth of two hundred and fifty miles, containing an area of nearly one hundred and eighty-seven thousand five hundred square miles, or nearly twice as large as the whole of Great Britain, and embracing within her limits a greater Babel of races, languages, manners, customs and pursuits than any other country of the same extent on earth, is it surprising that much of evil should exist with the good? Let wrong or outrage be heard of on the Gila, or on the summits of the Sierras, or on the nearly eight hundred miles of ocean shore, or on the confines of Oregon, and it is charged to the account of California.
And yet with all her faults, and now and then with a retrograde movement, she is still mighty in her efforts; and the aggregate of these efforts is her own and the world’s advancement. All ponderous engines are susceptible of a turn backwards, and though this movement may seem at times a positive necessity for the well-being and management of the great hulk that bears it, it does not become the established rule of its working.
California is a might engine, or rather she is our country’s great Pacific wheel, and is compelled, from her very position, to work and keep her side of the continent long, single handed and alone, as fast as all the older States, united, do the other. To do this, isolated as she is, she must run her own engine, a high pressure one at that, and under a heavy head of steam; it is not surprising, therefore, that now and then some part of her machinery should become overstrained and a little deranged. But if Captain Buchanan and a majority of the passengers are not satisfied with the eccentricities of her working, just run an iron shaft across the continent, and we’ll couple our wheel to yours.
But until the world can appreciate the lone condition of California, the multiplied difficulties she has to contend against and surmount, in bringing so much of barbarism to the light of civilization, and in so short a period, no one can consistently say that California is not at this hour all that could reasonably have been expected of her.
This is the observation of a Californian writer (Hutchings’ Cal Magazine), and all who have resided long enough in that State to be enabled to form an unbiased opinion on that subject, will coincide with his assertions.
I arrived at San Francisco in 1851, and was lost in wonder and astonishment at the unparalleled--and never in history of countries or nations recorded--rapidity of the rising of a city as by a magical wand, from the barren and unproductive sands, heretofore only trod by the children of the wilderness and a few missionaries.
But stranger still was the contemplation of the might cause of this unexampled change; the shining metal, the dross that is capable, with its imaginary value, or revolutionizing nations.
Nearly one-half of the city was built on the extensive wharfs, and still the sound of the falling weight of the pile-drivers, axe, hammer and saw, was heard everywhere employed by speculators in water-lots. Immediately after the completion of a few yards of wharf, a frame house was built on it, shaking and trembling in its foundation the piles, as the passing by of a vehicle or horse; and was as immediately occupied by provision and clothing dealers, and liquor vendors or gamblers. All the commercial business was contracted on the wharfs.
The hills, with their rocks and deep sands, on the rear and sides of the city were not appreciated, and partly covered with thick brush, amongst which were only found a stray tent of some new comer. The houses were composed of wood, erected in a light and fragile style--food for the numerous conflagrations--and refinement and convenience had to give room, at least for the time, to money-making.
Uncouth men, with long beards, battered hats, enormous water-boots and red woollen shirts, invariably armed with bowie-knife and revolver, filled the streets--most of which were miners, who came on a visit from the mountains, for the purpose of having a “burst” in the houses of prostitution and gambling hells. But many of them were also citizens, as lawyers, doctors, merchants, who did not then disdain to appear in the miner’s costume, luxury in dress being then entirely disregarded.
I remained only a few days in San Francisco, and took passage on a river steamer to Sacramento city, and having but a few dollars left when I arrived there, I hired myself out as a cook in a hotel. The number and quality of the dishes on the hotel tables in these times being very limited, I acquitted myself tolerably well of my new function of chef de cuisine, having a New York lawyer for a dishwasher, another for a knife-cleaner, while two of the waiters had flourished in the pill-box and lancet line. Having come to California with the expectation of picking up pills of gold from the streets, they had provided themselves with plenty of kid gloves to avoid soiling their hands; but found, to their inconceivable disgust and mortification, that they had been victimised by steamer agents and others with exaggerated tales, like many other greenhorns of that ilk. They only regretted not to have carried with them from New York a stout pair of water-boots, pick and shovel, which were valuable, instead of white kid gloves, which their neighbors, the rats, had declared a good prize, and built their nests with, and which were at a discount just then.
To Sacramento may be ascribed the honor of being the first to raise the flag of independence, and the spot where was formed the first nucleus of American power; for here was built the celebrated Sutter’s Fort, which owes its establishment to the enterprise and industry of Captain J. A. Sutter, a German, born in the Grand Duchy of Baden. The name and fame of this old pioneer of California will ever remain dear to the heart of every Californian. Little did he think, as he left his adopted home in Missouri, of the immortal destiny that awaited him as the first of a vanguard of millions who were to found the empire of the Pacific, and plant the flag of freedom in the Far West. Captain Sutter had early become interested in all kinds of information concerning the Pacific coast, and from the accounts of persons who had visited the country he became convinced of the inducements it held out for settlements; the mildness of the climate, productiveness of soil, and its geographical position rendered its future settlement by Americans certain. He left Missouri with a company under charge of Captain Tripps, of the American Fur Company, and passing through Santa Fe, he continued on with this company until he reached their camp at the Wind River Mountains. Here he formed a party of six men with the intention to proceed directly to California, but being informed that the route would be exceedingly difficult and dangerous, he finally concluded to go by way of Oregon.
On reaching the Williamet valley his men deserted him, but he continued on his way, although being strongly urged by the gentlemen of the Hudson Bay Company to remain. A vessel belonging to this company was bout starting for the Sandwich Islands, and on this he took passage, presuming he would be the sooner able to reach his destination; but in this he was disappointed, as he found no vessel when he arrived there bound for California, and after a long delay he left the islands in a vessel bound for Sitka. At this place he was detained a month, when he assisted in discharging the cargo of the brig Clementina, which was then put in his charge for a coast voyage to San Francisco; after a rough passage down the coast he arrived in the port of San Francisco on the 2d of July, 1839. Here an office with fifteen soldiers came on board and ordered him to leave immediately, as Monterey was the pot of entry; but upon the captain’s assurance that they were in distress and required a little time to repair and procure supplies, forty-eight hours were allowed him for this purpose, at the expiration of which time he sailed for Monterey, where the vessel was entered according to custom-house regulations.
Captain Sutter here made known his wishes and intentions to Governor Alvarado, the interest he had long felt in the country, the difficulties he had experienced in reaching it, and the strong desire he had to make it the land of his adoption. He expressed his desire to settle with his men in the Sacramento valley. The Indians of the north had always been hostile to the settlement of the Mexicans, and as may be readily supposed the proposition of Captain Sutter to locate in this dangerous region was received with great favor. He was accorded full permission to explore the rivers and its tributaries, and to select and take possession of any locality that might please him, with the assurance that after the expiration of one year from settlement his title should be confirmed to him. Thus encouraged he immediately returned with his brig to Yerba Buena, now San Francisco, and having discharged his vessel sent her to the islands; he then purchased some small boats, and chartered the schooner Isabella for the exploration of the Sacramento river. He was eight days in discovering the main channel of this river, which, considering the many and intricate outlets, is not surprising. He then sailed up the river to within about ten miles of the present city, Sacramento. Here he was arrested by the appearance of about two hundred horribly painted Indians, armed and with hostile intentions. The captain, however, by his conciliating manner and through a couple of Indians who had a slight knowledge of the Spanish language, succeeded in satisfying them of his peaceable designs, and a treaty was made. He was allowed to proceed up the river, accompanied by the two Indians, from whom he obtained much useful information respecting the character and extent of the valley. Ascending as far as the mouth of the Feather river with his vessel, he here took some small boats and went up the river; the Indians manifested alarm at the appearance of the explorers, and retired as they approached. After exploring the country for some distance he returned to his vessel at the mouth of the river, where he found his men in a state of mutiny, who demanded that there should be an end to so foolhardy an expedition in this useless wilderness.
The old captain assumed an air of carelessness, hardly to be expected from one who had spent so much time, anxiety and means for the accomplishment of his great object. But he had an end in view, so he gave orders for the return of the expedition, and descended the river until he reached the mouth of the American river, which he entered on the 12th of August, 1839. He ascended the stream about three miles, where he commenced the discharging of the cargo; tents were pitched and cannons mounted, as the means of defence and intimidation to the Indians. Here he was in a position that enabled him to settle the spirit of insubordination that had interrupted his explorations on the Feather river; he called his followers about him and wished them to determine whether they would remain with him agreeable to contract, or leave him, assuring them he wished for none to remain who could not do so cheerfully, and if not contented to settle with him and his Kanakas they could return the next morning on the Isabella.
It was a moment of deep anxiety when he had to await the decision of these men, who were about to leave him amid a wild and extensive wilderness lone; and from whence, as a white man, it would have been impossible to retreat if assailed by the natives, whose faith is neve to be trusted. But the old pioneer has staked his honor and his all on the result of this enterprise--the settlement of the Sacramento valley. Nothing could induce him to abandon it, and with a calm and determined self-reliance one feels in the accomplishment of a great object, he was determined that, come what might in the dispensation of Providence, he would do all that human agency could do for the fulfillment of his mission. He had pledged himself to Governor Alvarado that he would settle the valley; and with the same inflexible courage that had carried him triumphant over all obstacles, he felt a sustaining faith that the immense plains which lay stretched before him should yet be his for an inheritance, and a full reward for all the perils he encountered.
Of the six white men who accompanied him three decided on returning, the others concluding to remain with their old guide and protector, and his Kanakas. The faint-hearted adventurers returned the next morning on the Isabella to Yerba Buena, and thus were the first settlers of the Sacramento left in a solitary exile, surrounded by prowling beasts and treacherous savages The Indians saw much in the property of the new comers that was desirable, and not understanding by what principle they could be excluded from an equal share in it began appropriating it to their own purposes, and the little band were under the necessity of placing themselves in opposition to the natives. A few experiments in gunpowder satisfied them, however, of the mysterious advantages the new comers possessed, and they adopted another course, professing great kindness and sharing in the toils and hardships of the colonists. In this manner the captain and his associates were lulled into a security that came near their entire destruction; and but for the vigilance and instinct of a large bulldog, belonging to the captain, their history would have ended, and we should have heard no more of the old pioneer of Sacramento.
The Indians, on satisfying themselves that they had secured the entire confidence of the settlers, and that no suspicions were entertained of their faith, determined to steal upon them at night and assassinate the entire company at a single blow; and so far had they succeeded in their plot against the captain and his friends, that the precaution of keeping a sentinel was neglected; but the dog was not forgetful of his duty, and true to the instinct of his noble nature, delivered them from death. Concealed by the darkness of the night, he silently watched the stealthy movements of the murderous wretches, until they had advanced within a few feet of their victims, and the foremost was bout to crawl into the tent, when he sprung upon him and fastened his teeth in his prostrate body, thus putting an end to the attempt. The piteous yells of the ringleader was sufficient to arouse the camp, and cause his accomplices to beat a precipitate retreat. The Indian, however, succeeded in throwing away his knife, and feigning innocence, escaped the punishment that was his due; and it was not until some time afterwards that the captain learned from his civilized Indians the true character of this affair. Similar attempts were afterwards made, but defeated through the vigilance of their noble animal.
Captain Sutter, although satisfied as to the bad faith of the natives, did not despair of making them of some assistance to him in the accomplishment of his designs. The Indians were scattered over the country in clans or tribes, and located their ranchos at various points in the valley and along the courses of the streams. At the time of Captain Sutter’s arrival, one of the most powerful ribes were the Nemshous, who ranged between the Bear river and American Fork. A year or two previous, in the vicinity of Nicolas, they were very numerous, but the small-pox made fearful havoc amongst them, and they were swept away like chaff before the whirlwind. Commodore Wilkes estimated that one-half of the Indians of the country died of the small-pox in the few years previous to his visit.
Across the Sacramento were the Yolos, and on the north side of the American the Bashonees. Ten miles above the Sacramento were the Veshanaks, and at Vernon were the Tousulemnies, and above the Youcoolumnie Hook and below the mouth of the American were Walacumnies; located at Sutterville were the Cosumnie, Omuchumnie, Solumnie, Mockelumnie, Suramninie, Yousumnie, and others; on the American Fork were the Lacomnie, Kieskie, Youlessumnie, and others. These Indians were a worthless and degraded race, whose virtues lived more in the fame of their ancestors than themselves. As a general thing, their contact with the whites had not improved them, particularly such as had the benefit of Spanish instruction. They were usually governed by a chief, and inhabited miserable mud-holes or adobe-huts and brush-houses. They subsisted principally on fish, acorns, roots, grass-seed, grass-hoppers, rabbits and small birds, they being too lazy and imbecile to pursue the wild elk, deer and grizzly bears, with which the country abounded.
These Indians, at the present day, have nearly disappeared, and many of them entirely extinct. Unlike the Indians on the east of the Rocky Mountains, they were no hunters, and lacked the bold and independent bearing of their eastern brethren; but their moral proclivities were not different. They were fully as thievish, brutal and deceitful. Split up into innumerable tribes, and devoid of all industry and ambition, they passed through a dull, monotonous existence, and it can only be said of them that here they have lived and here they died.
Captain Sutter thus found himself in no very pleasant neighborhood, and frequent difficulties occurred; but in every instance it only served to show the vast superiority which he possessed over the Indians, so that they became convinced of the uselessness of their attempts. An instance of this runs as follows: A rancho of the Ochahumnies was situated on the Sacramento, opposite the mouth of what is at present known as the Slough. These Indians, in their excursions, had stolen a mission Indian belonging to the mission of San Jose. Captain Sutter, learning this fact, took possession of the Indian and returned him to his home. This excited the ire of the Indians who had been deprived of their prisoner, and they determined on a plan of vengeance, with combining with other tribes, and attacking the fort; but the captain had no idea of awaiting the development of their plans. He immediately sallied out with five trusty followers to “conquer a peace;” he found a large number of the Omuchumnies, Mecosumnes and other Indians on an island of the Cosumne river. Embracing an opportunity, he attacked them by surprise and routed the entire camp, killing thirty-five of their number. After this they willingly concluded a peace, and many of this same number were made good soldiers for the old captain. This tribe subsequently moved near Sacramento.
As another instance: In 1842, L.W. Hastings, in coming into the country from Oregon, was attacked by the Indians on the present site of the town of Colusa. In this engagement twenty-two of the Indians were killed, and on the arrival of Hastings and his company at the fort, an expedition was formed by Captain Sutter to chastise them. Accordingly, with forty whites and one hundred and fifty Indians, he started in pursuit, and overtaking them, one hundred of their number were killed and one hundred taken prisoners.
When Captain Sutter first came up the river, he purchased from the rancho of Senor Martinez a large number of stock, and soon after selecting his location, he succeeded with great difficulty in removing and getting together about five hundred head of cattle and seventy-five head of horses, he then began to form some permanent design. The site formerly selected--what is now known as Stewart’s, on the American--did not prove satisfactory, and he began operations for building the fort in its present location. This was in 1840. In 1841 was built the adobe building, at the first landing, known as the Tanyard, and soon after was completed the fort. He first constructed a good-sized adobe house of two stories, with three smaller ones. These were afterwards enclosed with a wall, and comprised the fort. His Kanakas previously built themselves grass-housed, such as they were accustomed to at home. In this enterprise the captain had the advantage of the labor of some friendly Indians whom he had succeeded in partially civilising. He employed a portion of these in opening a road through the impenetrable chapparal to the Sacramento river, two miles distant. This was termed the Embarcadero, which name it retained until 1849, when it began to assume the present name and fame of Sacramento.
In the meantime the old pioneer proceeded with the development of his plans, which he carried forward with an energy and enterprise worthy of all praise. He enclosed a large tract of land with a ditch, and commenced the cultivation of the soil. With what a thrill of pleasure did the heart of the old man vibrate as he first turned the green sod of the Sacramento valley! The realization of his prophetic anticipations seemed about to dawn upon him, and the reward of unremitted exertion, which had stimulated him in so great an enterprise, was about to be his for ever. Situated as he was in his isolated position, with no neighbors on whose support and encouragement he could rely, all must admit the superior ability and energy which he had displayed, and which has enabled him to ride triumphantly through every storm of adversity until those events consequent of the discovery of gold, which no human knowledge could foresee.
His nearest neighbor was Old Man Yount, whom the captain had previously met at Santa Fe, while on his way to California, and who, coming here some months previous, had settled in Napa valley, but a few miles from the mission of San Francisco, Solano. This mission, located at Sonoma, was the last founded of the California missions, and the most northern of the Spanish settlements. This settlement was under the government of General Vallejo, who exercised over it a power similar to that of Captain Sutter at Nueva Helvetia. He built himself an extensive mansion in 1845, the dilapidated remains of which are still visible in the Petaluma valley.
In two years the old pioneer had established himself in power and authority, and was acquiring a reputation throughout the world. At this time he was visited by the United States exploring expedition under Lieutenant Wilkes, and we can give no better idea of the settlement of New Helvetia, as it has been termed, than is conveyed in his “Narrative.” Captain Ringgold, in the Vincennes, arrived at San Francisco on the 14th of August, 1841. He found two American vessels in port and the country in state of anarchy. Since 1836, to use his own words, it had undergone “such frequent changes that it was difficult to understand and describe them.” The party proceeded up the Sacramento, and on the 23d of August reached Captain Sutter’s, and encamped on the opposite bank. They met a hearty welcome from the old captain, who they describe as a person of great urbanity of manners, of considerable intelligence, and, withal, somewhat enthusiastic; and further says, he has even succeeded in winning the Indians, who are now laboring for him in building houses, a line of wall to protect him against the inroads and attacks that he apprehends more from the present authorities of the land than from the tribes about him, who are now working in his employ. He holds by appointment of the government the office of administrator, and had, according to his own belief, supreme power in his own district, condemning, acquitting and punishing, as well as marrying and burying those who are under him.
He treats the Indians kindly, and pays them well for their services in trapping and working for him. His object is to attach them, so much as possible to his interest, so that in case of need he may rely on the chiefs for assistance.
Although Captain Sutter is, in general, in the habit of treating the Indians with kindness, yet he related to one gentleman an instance in which he had been obliged to fusilade nine of them; indeed, he does not seem to stand upon much ceremony with those who oppose him in any way. His buildings consist of extensive corrals, and dwelling-houses for himself and people, all built of adobe. Labor is paid for in goods. The extent of his stock amounts to about one thousand horses, two thousand five hundred cattle, and about one thousand sheep.
About forty Indians were at work for him, whom he had taught to make adobes. The agreement for their services is usually made with their chiefs, and in this way as many as are wanted are readily obtained. These chiefs have far more authority over their tribes than those of any other North American Indians. Connected with the establishment Captain Sutter has erected a distillery, in which he makes a kind of pisco from the wild grapes of the country.
The duties which I have already named might be thought enough for the supervision of one person; but to these must be added the direction of a large party of trappers and hunters, mostly Americans, who enter here in competition with the Hudson Bay Company and attention to the property of the Russian establishment at Ross and Bodega, which had just been transferred to him for the consideration of thirty thousand dollars.
The buildings of the two posts numbered from fifty to sixty, and they frequently contained a population of from four to five thousand souls. Since the breaking up of the establishment the majority of the Russians returned to Sitka, the rest have remained in the employ of the present owner.
The purchase of the Russian interests and the unexampled success and influence which the captain was obtaining seemed to excite the jealousy of the Sonoma settlement, but the old captain had rendered himself impregnable, and was almost daily extending his operations. He selected from the finest natives of the country a number of picked men, of whom he made effective soldiers. At the time of Fremont’s arrival he found forty Indians in uniform and on duty, besides thirty employed whites and twelve pieces of mounted artillery, a fort capable of holding one thousand men, and two vessels belonging to the captain at the Embarcadero. Everything presented the evidence of thrift and enterprise.
The captain had sown three hundred fanigas of wheat, and had demonstrated the remarkable agricultural capacity of the country, which has been so lately denied; a yield of thirty-five fanigas to one sown Fremont stated was a low average, and ad a remarkable yield General Vallejo had obtained eight hundred for eight sown. That the soil of California is unapproachable in this respect is not now denied. We have lately witnessed the bestowal of a premium at the late State fair, for a yield of eighty-three bushels to the acre, a thing unprecedented elsewhere; and it may be said from this fact, that California is now able, notwithstanding the high price of her labor, to compete with the world in supplying this important article.
A rebellion having broke out, headed by Alvarado and Castro against General Micheltorena, who had been sent from Mexico by Santa Anna to replace Alvarado, in 1844, Captain Sutter was called upon to aid in sustaining the government; He accordingly furnished some four hundred troops with arms and ammunition, and proceeded to the scene of action; but for want of co-operation and energy of the general, and disaffection of the Americans, they would effect nothing, and Captain Sutter and others were taken prisoners at San Fernando by Castro and Alvarado, and detained some time at Los Angelos. The result of the rebellion was that Pi Pico was made governor, and so remained till the war with the United States.
In 1845, a revolution broke out among the Americans, who took Sutter’s Fort and raised the first flag of independence. This movement was known as the Bear Flag Revolution, from the rudely painted banner they carried, representing a grizzly bear, but as nearly resembling a huge hog. The encounter took place between the Americans under Foard, and the Californians under General Vallejo, in which Vallejo and others were taken prisoners and confined for about three weeks at Sutter’s Fort.
Of the fort, nothing at the present time is remaining, but a two story adobe-house.
It was on the 2nd of November, 1852, when the sun had thrown his last golden beams on the happy homes and busy workshops of the flourishing young city, and rose in the morning on a blackened plain and a houseless multitude, grim with the dust of ruin, and wailing at their sad misfortune and desolation; like a blooming rose the fair city perished at the destroyer’s hand, and its shattered remnants lay smothered or scattered by the wind.
I was awakened at midnight by a great noise, caused by the wind that shook the frame building in which I was located. I heard a confusion of hoarse voices in the street, and a thunder-like roar as if proceeding from breakers on the sea-shore. Through the chinks of my shutters I perceived an extraordinary light, and the thought of fire entered my mind; knowing with what rapidity the flames are apt to spread and consume those fragile frame houses, I arose, my door being burst open at the same time, when the landlord appeared calling out, “Fire! fire! the house is burning.” I did not pay any more attention to dress, but precipitated myself down the staircase, which was already enveloped by a dense smoke. I rushed from the house and in less than twenty minutes it was reduced to a heap of ashes and smoking rafters.
The fire had broke out on F. street. A cold and violent north wind was sweeping through the city and fanning the rapidly devouring element, which spread with rapidity across the street, and fired the opposite buildings. The fire engines were early on the spot, but their limited power was rendered abortive and nearly ridiculous by the superiority of their destructive foe. The wind had now increased to a gale, and the rolling flames wheeled high in the heavens, bearing along in its mad career masses of inflamed material, that were carried by the breeze to distant portions of the city, where they communicated their destructive powers and served to heighten the universal terror, presenting a scene of wild and terrific grandeur that rivalled Pandemonium itself.
The loss by this calamity was variously estimated from four to five millions, and embraced the very heart of the city.
The wind, which had proved so powerful an auxiliary to the fire, prevailed through the night and the following day, raising the heated dust and ashes like a simoom--whilst families of houseless women and children sat heartstricken and comfortless in the midst of blasted homes, and their pitiless fortunes. Three persons are known to have perished in the flames.
California has certainly a great attractive power. Its vast golden treasures, its fertile soil--unequalled in productiveness--and its beautiful climate, are the natural causes of its rapid settlement. Fully two-thirds of the passengers on board the Republic were only contemplating a visit to their former homes, after which they would return again to their adopted one. The other third were tired of California, and treated with contempt the idea of returning to a country where they had either amassed sufficient wealth or had been unsuccessful in their enterprises. Notwithstanding their invectives, launched against it, I met many of them afterwards again in California, having yielded to the powerful attraction which also influenced me to return.
When I landed again at San Francisco, in 1857, I was astounded at the second great change which time and circumstances had wrought on this prodigy of a city. Some of the wharves had broken down; others were in a fair way to share the same fate, becoming veritable mantraps by missing and broken planks, through which, nightly men were precipitated and engulfed by the black and muddy waters beneath. The piledrivers had lost their occupation, and might be seen perched on rocks in the rear of the city, which they endeavored, by crowbar and powder, to reduce to a level. Many of the houses erected on the wharves were unoccupied and tottering on their insecure foundation of piles, half demolished by the timberworm. Business had retreated to the centre of the city, where, on a solid foundation, handsome and fireproof buildings of granite and brick had been erected, thus rendering the merchant and the mechanic less apprehensive of the inimical elements. The gambling hells had ceased their music, their uproar and infernal machinations; and the sand-hills, which surround the city, were covered with houses; the change was wonderful, and was even perceptible in the inhabitants. The former simplicity and devil-may-careness in dress had given room to extravagance and dandyism, and the rough miner even, when coming from the mountains, sported patent leather boots and “a three story hat,” and only the chiffonier seemed to take no interest in the general dress parades, and plodded along, dirty and ragged, armed with hook and bag, amid the crowds who looked down upon him with supreme disdain and disgust, leaving him to wend his way, contemplating with mortified and downcast countenance the sad change of the glorious times, when these clean streets offered a rich field of enterprise, with heaps of rags, bottles, old iron and tin. The old clothes trade--the legitimate and monopolized trade of Jews and negroes--had only now raised a feeble claim. The wants of the legion of poor lawyers, doctors and broken-down politicians had been foreseen by the keen-scented followers of the law of Moses, and in their wake followed the oppressed African, to whom but little choice of pursuit is left.
Only two years ago cartloads of clothing of all kinds might be picked up from the streets, some in good condition, although dirty; thousands and tens of thousands of bottles were piled up everywhere, which all considered useless rubbish. Tin cans, which might load ships, were found in all thoroughfares to the annoyance of passengers, and were only used to apply to the tail of some unlucky dog; and who cared about iron in a country where gold might be had for the picking? The first ragpickers made small fortunes in few years; the clothes picked up in the streets were cleaned and sold to the old clothes dealer; the bottles were gathered carefully and sold to the many breweries that had sprung up; the tin cans were deprived of their solder, which was sold to tinmen, plumbers, &c.; the old iron was sold to marine stores, from which it was sold again to vessels homeward bound to serve as ballast. All had awoke from the trance which had formerly possession of them, and at the degree chances for making rapid fortunes decreased, the keenness and appetite for it was heightened; and many were compelled to adopt an occupation upon which they had looked down formerly with proud disdain.
In my perambulations through the city of San Francisco, I was struck by the great number of Oriental countenances which I met--the hooked nose seeking acquaintance with the chin, the ox eyes, thick lips, and black curly hair, the unmistakable mark of the children of Israel. Pass through the business part of the town and observe the signs, and you will observe names of jewish firms in every direction. Go to any other part of the town and you will find an abundance of jewish jewellers, old clothes dealers and cleaners; and you are certain to run against a Jew, who, loaded with coats, vest and pantaloons which he has gathered for cleaning, will inspect your coat collar to ascertain if it wants cleaning; “he will make it new and as petter as new;” but go to Commercial street and you will find a perfect Chatham street, monopolized by Hebrews, who do their utmost in obstructing the narrow sidewalk by abundant samples of all what their small holes of stores contain, from a small-tooth comb to a two hundred dollar watch, on all of which they keep, however, a watchful eye. Clothes dangle from poles, hooks, nails and lines, and the proprietor walks in front of it, with the kind intention of watching the approach of green-looking individuals, the study of which has been their occupation since childhood. Watch Mr. Moses there, with what benevolence he overhauls the wearing apparel of that rough-looking man with a long beard, and who might be a miner with a pocket full of gold dust perhaps. He has made his mind up to sell him something if he loses by it, as he always does; and watch Mr. Isaacs opposite, with what urbanity he invites a youth into his store to buy a beautiful ring of California gold, twenty carats, and not hollow nor filled with lead--all solid, you know--the very thing to send home for a present; but if your tympanum is in good condition, come here in the evening, and you will hear and see what foolish people call “nuisance,” and what makes “the ni ght hideous.” You will see Mr. Abraham’s auction sales, otherwise called “Cheap John,” and opposite to him Mr. Jacobs, a competitor in that line, and half-a-dozen more who delight in the names of Cheap Johns and Cheap Harrys.
Mr. Abrahams, surrounded by several adjutants, stands on a high scaffold behind a counter; he is dressed in a red woollen shirt, has a high white felt cap on his head resembling a sugarloaf, and sports a pair of shirtcollars twelve inches by eight. Round his body he had a string of bells, which have served for a sleigh-horse, and he shakes himself like a big Newfoundland dog, in order to attract the attention of the passers, by the sound of the bells; and although he imitates the fool in dress and gesture, he is a knave in his actions. Near him on the counter sits an old negro, who squeals “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia” on a fiddle, and is as ridiculously fitted out as his employer. It is nearly time for the buyers to drop in, and Mr. Abrahams takes up a banjo, which he plays to perfection, and accompanies his play with a comic song, roared out from stentorian lungs. The people outside begin to be attentive, and suddenly Mr. Abrahams jumps down from behind the counter and a regular break-down commences; the curious people now drop in, and Mr. Abrahams ascends his platform again, and the sale commences.
“Now, boith, before I commence the sale, let me remind you that whatever yu buy here, ith the betht of goodth and ridiculouthyly cheap; I warrant them all, and if you don’t like them afterwards, come back and I will return the money. Of course I looth by selling tho cheap; but being a philanthropitht, and have pledged myself of doing good to mankind in gineral; don’t mind, therefore, those rathcally Chrith-killers opposite, who call themselves ‘Cheap Johnth’ and ‘Cheap Harryth,’ for if they thell as cheap as I do, their goodth are damaged or they have thtole them, and in fact I believe the latter. I am the original Cheap John, as you thee by my thign, and the others are all humbugth.
“Ah! my friend, I thought you were not quite as green as you look--take the plunder; you have never bought cheaper and better articleth in your life. Sold! If any of you boys want another lot of the thame kind and prith, speak up and don’t be bashful. No! well, we will path that and try something elthe; but firth I will give you a song; nigger, strike up:
A greenhorn from the mountain’h came
Who heard of Cheap John and his fame;
He thcratch’d his head and thcratch’d hith ear,
And bought comb, thoap and brusheth here;
He left well pleath’d, with hair tho thmooth,
Hith teeth free from tobacco juith--
He thpread the fame of Cheap John’th thtore,
And bleth’d Cheap John, and trcratch’d no more!”
All this is said and sung with an astonishing volubility, and in the loudest key, in order to drown similar efforts and sounds proceeding from the opposite side, by some “bogus Cheap John,” and is interlarded with obscene and coarse jests, very pleasing to the ears of the audience, which consists generally of miners fresh from the mountains, sailors, loafers and pick-pockets.

The Mines

We arived in the evening, and without anything worth relating at Coloma, the country town of El Dorado, and we stopped at a hotel, the name of which I have forgotten. Coloma is located on the south fork of the American river, and is a small, and at present rather dull town, the houses of which being built of wood, with a few exceptions, which are of brick All that is worth notice is its historical fame, of being the place where the first gold discovery was made by the American James W. Marshall, in the employ of Captain Sutter at that period.
In the winter of 1847-’48 Captain Sutter had contracted with marshall to erect a lumber saw-mill on the place where now Coloma stands, and in January of 1848, that great discovery was accidentally made which hastened the development of the country, far beyond what centuries of the unassisted progress of Nature could have effected. Marshall, one day having allowed the whole body of water to rush through the tail-race of the mill for the purpose of making some alterations in it, observed, while walking along the banks of the stream, early the next morning, numerous glistening particles among the sand and gravel, which had been carried off by the force of the increased body of water. For a while he paid no particular attention to them, but seeing one larger and brighter than the rest, he was induced to examine it, and found it to be a scale of gold. Collecting several, he immediately hurried to Sutter, and began his tale in such a hurried manner, and accompanied it with such extravagant promises of unbounded wealth, that the captain thought him demented, and looked to his rifle for protection; but when marshall threw his gold upon the table, he was forced into the delightful conviction. They determined to keep the discover a secret, but were observed while examining the rive, and soon had immense armies around them. Mr. Marshall has lived to see the world enriched by his discovery, while he himself wanders poor and homeless over a land that has too long neglected to repay her immense debt of gratitude to him who have her all her wealth, power and position. The unfinished saw-mill is still remaining.
The monotony of this town is only relieved by the miners, who come to town on Sundays, in order to make purchases of provisions, &c. for the coming week, as also to recreate themselves a little after a week’s hard toil. The fiddle strikes up and the houses of prostitution are in full blast, and the jolly miner is seen rattling off his hornpipe or swinging round in a waltz or gallop with one of the “gals,” after which the bar with its whiskey and brandy, &c., comes in requisition; fights follow of course, revolves and bowie-knives do their work, and the affair is frequently broke up in a general and bloody row.
Intending to proceed farther into the mountains, and to places where no stages were running, and besides wishing to travel at my leisure and look about me, I procured a mule, saddle and bridle, and left, well mounted, for Georgetown, which is about eight miles distant. I had to traverse in the commencement a number of steep but picturesque mountains, covered with pine and oak trees, and resembling a vast and beautiful garden, as a great variety of flowers were to be seen everywhere, many of which are peculiar to California. The laurel and manzanota trees also began to make their appearance, with their beautiful blossoms and sweet fragrance.
A great part of the eight miles which I had to travel bears evidence of extensive mining operations; deep excavations, races, flumes and tunnels I met everywhere, and in many parts even the road is dug up or crossed by deep ditches, over which a rude bridge is thrown. Miners were seen “washing dirt,” and now and then I met a “prospecting party” armed with pick, shovel and pan. Miners and others need not be told what prospecting means. There may be others, however, who do not fully comprehend the terms. “Prospecting for new diggings” implies an exploration of several days into unexplored regions to look for gold. It is generally made on foot, to avoid the trouble of looking after animals, for which there is often scant pasturage. The prospector carries his blankets strapped on his back, with mining tools, frying pan, coffee pot, tin cup and provisions enough to last a week. For defence against the bears and other “varmints” he takes a big revolver and butcher-knife, which he is very careful not to use, unless Bruin insists on a very close acquaintance, not allowing time to climb a tree.
Arriving at a place which looks as though “gold ought to be there,” he descends to a ravine, lays off his pack, digs a pan full of dirt, which he carries to the nearest water and washes carefully, narrowly scrutinizing the sediments for “color” or gold. If, after trying three or four times, he finds “nary a speck,” he rinses out his pan petulantly, lights his pipe, resumes his pack and trudges on, trying various places till night overtakes the party, when they camp under a tree, cook their frugal meal, spread their blankets on the ground, and lie down to dream of gold and home. If “a prospect is struck,” that is, if they find gold anywhere in quantities which they think will justify working, one of the party is started to the nearest settlement for provisions and more mining implements, while the rest build a “brush shanty” and otherwise improve the camp. In this manner began the settlement of most of the mountain towns, which are now populous with life and enterprise. The brush shanty was the nucleus round which wealth and industry gathered, until after a while the lonesome forest, whose stillness was first broken by the little company of prospectors, echoes with the grating of shovels and whipsaws, and the crash of falling trees.
Georgetown is a neat-looking place, and is built unlike all other mining towns, which are invariably located in deep ravines near rivers, or at least on a flat, on an elevation. The town once was in a ravine, but being destroyed by fire, the inhabitants came to an agreement of laying out their town on a more convenient spot. The streets are well laid out, and although most houses are built of wood, there are a few very substantial exceptions. There is much mining done in the vicinity, and a company has dug a canal of many miles length, for the purpose of supplying the miners with water, which is sold by the inch. Georgetown is smaller than Coloma. I remained here but a few hours and followed a trail that led to a mining locality, which is known as Spanish Dry Diggings, and traversed a mountainous country, covered with a forest, that bears a bad reputation on account of the bodies of murdered men having been found here at different times. I rived at the dry diggings when the sun was setting, and took my lodging at the house of a German, who kept a provision and liquor store.
From the ground about Spanish Dry Diggings a vast quantity of gold has been extracted, and numerous and deep excavations bear proof of the extensive work done here; but it came in discredit and was said to be dug out, till a few months ago a lead was struck by two American miners, which crowned their labors with a rich and unexpected reward. They had been only one month in California and had brought their claim, which was considered not to pay, and almost worthless, for a hundred dollars. While testing the quality of the dirt, and washing a panful of it in the presence of the two men, the former owner expertly dropped a few pieces of gold into it, which fraud is often resorted to, and is called “salting,” for an inducement to the green individual who wished to buy a claim. The bait was swallowed; the former owner vanished with the purchase money immediately after the bargain was struck and the money paid, and the new possessors of the claim quickly found that they had been victimized--at least thus it appeared to be. They had paid away their last dollar, for a week could hardly extract as much as would pay for their maintenance, and being disheartened by this unpromising commencement in mining, had formed the resolution to abandon it altogether and seek employment as laborers on some farm, when suddenly and to their unutterable delight and astonishment, they found themselves in possession of nearly half a bucket full of gold mixed with decomposed quartz. Although highly excited, they wisely put away the gold into a safe place and kept their own counsel. They continued digging a few days longer, and extracted on each, not as much as on the first, but still a considerable quantity, until there was no more appearance of gold. They then left for San Francisco with thirty thousand dollars’ worth of gold in their possession, and took passage on the first steamer that left San Francisco, after a sojourn in California of exactly three months.
Leaving Spanish Dry Diggings, I descended a very steep track, too steep to keep in the saddle, to the middle fork of the American river, which is about two miles distance. A private individual has built a bridge over the river, and levies toll from those who wish to pass. A few miles below this place is a mining settlement, called Poverty Bar, where the river has been flumed, of which are still traces remaining in the shape of flumes and waterwheels, &c. Much gold has been taken from the bed of the river at this place.
When I had crossed the bridge, I had to ascend again as steep as I had descended, and arrived after a few miles riding at a mining locality called Paradise.
The majority of the miners are German sailors, some of whom had been quite successful in their operations, and the gold which they dig here is of a coarse quality and generally in lumps of from two ounces upwards, and contrary to the general adopted theory of being only met with in ravines, gulches or the beds of rivers, or which had been so formerly, seems to be strewn about indiscriminately, regardless of any rule or theory. Some curious instances were narrated to me, in illustration of it: A miner had been digging for some time in his claim without success; his partner having already abandoned his share, ridiculing his companion on account of the perseverance with which he continued to toil without any encouragement or sign of success, which at last induced him also to give it up. He insisted, however, to work one more day in the claim, as a finish, and was accompanied this time by his partner. When the sun was setting and not having encountered a single specimen, he concluded to abandon the claim, and feeling excited and full of rancor against the very ground, lifted his pick high over his head in order to bury its point into the bowels of the ungrateful dirt, when--lo! his pick touched at that moment a high bank of earth behind him--some of it caved, and a lump of gold appeared, weighing seven pounds and a half. You may imagine their joy and astonishment at this unlooked-for good fortune. Another party found under the roots of a tree, which was left standing in a dug-out claim, a lump of gold weighing forty-four ounces.
Intending to go to Iowa Hill, a famous mining town and far up in the mountains, I left Paradise by a trail which struck into the main road, on which a stage line is running from Auburn to Yankee Jim’s. I arrived at this latter town after a ride of fifteen miles, through dark forests and high mountains, which, however, are made passable for stages, and took my lodging at one of the two hotels of that place.
Yankee Jim’s is a small mining town, and seeing a considerable number of liquor shops and prostitutes of all nations, I concluded that considerable mining must be done here. On the next morning I continued my road to Iowa Hill; the aspect of the country by degrees became wilder, the mountains steeper, and the forest darker. I had to pass a great number of ravines and deep canyons, the descent to which was very tiresome and dangerous, as well as the ascent. The two deepest and most extensive canyons were Indian Canyon and Shirt-tail Canyon, where some miners were at work. A bridge is thrown over the stream which rushes through the latter, and toll is levied by the proprietor.
I arrived at Iowa Hill in the evening after a hard day’s journey. Iowa Hill is a flourishing town, in the vicinity of which mining by means of shafts and tunnels is carried on to a great extent. Enormous quantities of gold have been and are still taken out from the three hundred or more tunnels now in operation.
Many readers have rather indefinite ideas about mining operations in California, by which a great proportion of the gold found now is taken from the hills, deep underground, by means of tunneling. The tunnel is a horizontal shaft about six feet square, dug in the hillside and pursued until the gold deposit is reached. As the shaft progresses a railroad is made, over which the dirt is conveyed in handcars. To prevent the sides and roof of the tunnel from caving in on the workmen, posts are set up on each side, with crosspieces overhead, which support a lining of puncheons or slabs; these are put up and wedged fast as the excavation progresses, and the process is called “timbering up.” Sometimes the shaft runs through solid rock or hard cement, and timbering is then unnecessary.
Experience has taught the miners that the bedrock is usually high near the surface of the hill, and that it sinks lower as they penetrate, forming a basin where water settles from the melting snows. To draw this water off it is necessary to begin the shaft low enough to give sufficient fall to the drainage, and to pursue it at an even grade through whatever obstruction might intervene. The run of the rock to be dug through is sometimes exceedingly hard, and can be removed only by drilling and blasting, and when this occurs the progress is very slow, perhaps only a few inches a day. Two men are kept at work day and night, and in this manner the enterprise is forwarded, until they reach the gold deposit; sometimes six months or a year; and I have known companies work two years without finding a pennyweight of gold, and without the certainty of procuring any at all. This will give some idea of the miner’s hope, patience and industry. During this state of “glorious uncertainty,” the miners define their position as being “in bedrock,” which is equivalent to having no money, or being “dead broke”--a term which provision dealers fully comprehend.
After getting through the bedrock, the next important event is when they have “struck gravel,” or reached the sort of ground that usually contains gold. When this occurs, the company’s credit increases marvellously at the grocery stores, and they are regarded as being very hard on the wheels of fortune, and frequently the event is celebrated by a grand spree. After ascertaining that the ground will pay for working, the main tunnel is continued, from which branches, called “side drifts,” are started and pursued in whatever direction the “lead” runs; in each of these side drifts a railway is also laid, connecting with the main track; and after running the side drifts some distance they begin “breasting out”--that is, digging out the ground between the side drifts and the main tunnel--thus forming a large chamber, the roof being supported by stout posts and scaffolding o verhead. In some of these chambers, a thousand feet under ground, twenty or thirty men are kept at work night and day, relieved by a new set every ten hours, and so the work goes on. To the stranger who gropes his way along the passage, by the light of a candle, the sight is novel and animating. After his visual organs are adapted to the candlelight, and barring the fear of the upper world caving in on him, or having his brains knocked out by a loose rock from overhead, he will feel quite comfortable.
I have had always the fortune or misfortune, during my travels through California, to witness scenes of blood, which are, in fact, very frequent in this country. Iowa Hill is not the least on the list where acts of violence are recorded, and during my sojourn of a short week here, I had the opportunity of being an eye-witness of an atrocious murder and its consequences.
I have no doubt that Iowa Hill will always hold a high rank amongst the mining towns of California, and although the access to it is somewhat of the most difficult, on account of the high mountains and deep canyons by which it is surrounded, its golden resources are inexhaustible.
Leaving Iowa Hill with the purpose of visiting the city of Nevada, I took a trail which led over a most difficult road, and frequently I had to relieve my poor mule by dismounting and leading the same, when ascending some steep mountain.
After I had crossed the north fork of the American river, over a toll-bridge, I arrived at Illinoistown, a small settlement through which I passed, continuing my route to Bear rive, where I arrived in the evening, and took lodging for the night at a public-house near the road. Next morning I resumed my journey, and arrived at Nevada in the afternoon.
I had seen this town in 1851, and was astonished at my return to it at present, being six years afterwards, the changes and improvements which time and enterprise had wrought during that short period. I found Nevada at least twice as large as when I left it,, and some of the surrounding hills, where the miner formerly only washed the surface dirt (placer digging), were completely washed down. The quantities of gold extracted from it were enormous, and still the work was going on and bids fair to prove as advantageous as ever, if not even in a higher degree than formerly.
Where the simple cradle or rocker was used, or the “long tom,” hydraulic mining had superseded it, and immense quantities of diirt are dissolved and washed by this process in a short time.
Of late the application of hydraulic power has superseded the other modes of surface mining. As the richer placers are claimed and exhausted it becomes necessary for somebody to work the hillsides, where the gold is less plentiful, and where some more expeditious way must be devised to make it profitable. The machinery now used in hillside mining is simple, but amazingly powerful. A stream of water is diverted from its course, and conveyed in a ditch or flume to the top of the hill, which is to be dug down. Near the place of operation a small reservoir is built, fifty or sixty feed above where they begin to dig, and to this is attached a long hose, made of stout canvas or leather; to the lower end of the hose is fastened an iron pipe six feet long, and tapering down from the size of the hose to a nozzle of three quarters of an inch in diameter. The hose, suspended from the reservoir above and hanging down over the bank nearly perpendicular, is filled from the stream, and the weight of the column forces the water through the pipe with tremendous power; a miner holds the pipe and gives it the desired direction, and the stream tears away the bank. By playing near the bottom, the bank is undermined and falls down in great masses of many tons, and when one of these caves takes place the piper plies the water on the fallen earth until it is all washed away, the gold settling to the bottom; then he turns the pipe against the bank again to “cave down” more. In this manner they work a “deep cut” into the hill, until the perpendicular face of the bank is seventy-five or a hundred feet high; then operations become dangerous, and it is in such places that we hear of so many accidents, “killed by the caving of a bank.” The piper stands as far from the base as the projectile force of the hose will allow; but notwithstanding his watchfulness and precaution, he is sometimes injure by falling rocks of buried under a cave.
Mr. Laird, a citizen of Nevada, is, perhaps, one of the most extensive and successful placer miners in California. In taking a walk round his diggings, I was astonished at the immense quantity of earth which was washed down in a short time, by means of the hose. He has three sets of claims in different hills, and no less than half an acre of ground, varying in depth from fifty to eighty feet, was washed away during the last few weeks.
The placer diggings in Nevada county are inferior to none in the mining region, but the deposits of auriferous quartz are far richer and more extensive than any yet discovered or developed within the limits of California.
Leaving Nevada, I took the road that leads to Marysville, which city is forty-two miles distant, and I had to pass through Grass valley four miles from Nevada, a mining town, celebrated for its rich auriferous quartz mines and the number of quartz mills established there. This little town was the home of Lola Montez for several years, as also that of her once intimate acquaintance and friend, Mr. Delano of the long nose, viz. Old block, author of the “Chips of the Old Block,” which is known to every Californian.
Three miles father I passed through the small mining town of Rough and Ready, many of the houses of which I found undermined and standing on piles.

The narrative continues further north, but as it leaves the Gold Country, we will end this tale at Rough and Ready.