Off to the Mines Again

McCloud and I now took his skiff, and for two days floated down the Wisconsin River till we reached the Mississippi, boarded the first steamboat we could hail, and let our own little craft adrift. In due time we reached St. Louis and boarded another steamer for New Orleans.

At a wood-yard, about dark, a lot of negroes, little and big, came on board to sell brooms. The boat’s clerk seemed to know negro character pretty well, so he got out his violin and played for them. For a while the young colored gentry listened in silence, but pretty soon he struck a tune that suited them, and they began to dance in their own wild style.

In seven days from St. Louis we landed in New Orleans, and found the government steamer, Falcon, advertised to sail in two days. We went together to one of the slave warehouses. Outside and in all was neat end clean, and any day you could see men, women and children standing under the shed as a sign of what they had within, and the painted signs “For Sale” displayed conspicuously. We were very civilly treated, and invited to examine the goods offered for sale. There were those of all ages and all colors, for some were nearly white and some intensely black, with all the shades between. All were to be sold, separately, or in families, or in groups as buyers might desire. All were made to keep themselves clean and neatly dressed, and to behave well, with a smile to all the visitors whether they felt like smiling or not. Some seemed really anxious to get a good master, and when a kind, pleasant looking man came along they would do their utmost to be agreeable to him and inquire if he did not want to buy them. We talked it over some between ourselves, and when we thought of the market and the human chattels for sale there, McCloud spoke up and said:–“I am almost persuaded to be an abolitionist.”

I now went on board the steamer Falcon, in command of a government officer, to try to learn something about the family of Capt. Culverwell who perished alone in Death Valley. He told me he had once belonged to the Navy and had his life insured, and as I was an important witness for his family I wanted to learn where they lived. The Captain looked over a list of officers, but Culverwell’s name was not there. I then wrote a letter to Washington stating the facts of his death, and my own address in Sacramento, California. I also stated that I would assist the widow if I could, but I never received an answer.

We soon started down the river, having on board about one hundred passengers, men going to work on the Panama Railroad. At Chagres we found a small stern wheeled river steamer and took passage on it for Gorgona, as far as the steamer could well go up the river. While going up we met a similar boat coming down, and being near a short bend they crashed together, breaking down our guards severely, but fortunately with no damage to our wheel. A few miles above this a dark passing cloud gave us rain in streams, and we had to drift in near shore to wait for the storm to pass. I never before saw water fall so fast, and yet in half an hour the sun was out and burning hot.

Before we reached Gorgona we got acquainted with a man named John Briggs from Wisconsin, and Lyman Ross from Rhode Island, and concluded to travel in company. Our fare thus far was ten dollars, and two horses to Panama for which we paid twelve dollars each. We now rode and walked turn about, and when we inquired about the road we were told that being once in it we could not possibly get out except at the other end, and would need no guide, and at the end of a very disagreeable day’s work we reached the big gate at Panama and entered the ancient city.

We waited but little here before taking the steamer Southerner, bound for San Francisco. Three days after we sailed away one of our passengers went overboard, a corpse, and three or four more died and were buried alongside before we reached Acapulco.

Here we took on water and coal and were soon at sea again. McCloud soon had to take his place in the sick ward, and I attended him most of the time, but was not allowed to give him anything without a permit from the doctor, and the long delays between the administrations of medicine made the sickness hard to endure. The sick could see the dead sewed up in blankets with a bucket of coal for a weight; then resting on a plank with sailors on each side, the mate would read the brief services appropriate to a burial at sea, the plank was tilted, and the lifeless body slid down into the depths. Such scenes were no benefit to the suffering, for each might think his turn was next, when a bright hope and prospect would be better for his recovery.

One forenoon the fire gong rang out sharply, and all was in confusion, supposing the ship to be on fire, but nothing could be seen but a dense fog, except as a gentle wind lifted it a little and there, dead ahead, was a rocky island, against which it seemed we must dash to destruction, for there was no beach and very little chance for any one to be saved. Ten minutes more in this direction and we were lost, but the officers quickly changed the course, and we passed the pile of rocks scarcely a rifle shot away. Whose fault it was, this danger so miraculously avoided, we did not know, the captain’s or the imperfect chart, and opinions were freely given both ways.

About those days the air felt cooler the fog less dense, and the foggy rain-bows we had seen so much when the sun tried to shine, were scarce, while a more northern wind created a coolness that made sick folks feel refreshed and hopeful. It gave me a chance to cheer up my sick friend who was still in bed, and tell him it would continue to be cooler as we went.

On the Fourth of July the officers produced the ship’s full supply of flags, and the sailors climbed high and low, fastening them to every rope till we had a very gay Independence day appearance. In this gay dress we steamed into San Diego harbor to leave the mail for a few soldiers stationed there, and get their letters in return.

I could see no town in San Diego, but a beautiful harbor, and some poor looking mustard wigwams some way off seemed to contain the good people of that place.

A boat with a small crew pulled out and came alongside to get the mail and deliver theirs, and then we turned to sea again. The country all around this beautiful little harbor looked mountainous and extremely barren, and no one wanted to go on shore.

About dark we had made sufficient offing and turned northward, plowing through large fields of kelp. The next morning the forward watch announced land ahead, which could dimly be seen as the fog rose. The officers rushed on deck and could see not far ahead a sandy beach, and a moment more showed that we were headed directly for it, and that it was not more than a quarter of a mile away. Quickly the helmsman was given orders to steer almost west instead of the north course he had been following. He was asked why he kept on his north course when he saw danger ahead, and answered:–“It is my business to steer according to orders, even if the ship goes ashore, and I can not change course unless ordered to.” The Captain now examined his chart and decided he was in San Pedro harbor, off Los Angeles.

The sun came out bright and clear a little later, and I got McCloud out of his bed and gave him a seat at the ship’s side where he could see the green grassy hills near the beach, and larger hills and mountains farther back. We could see cattle feeding in the nearest pastures, and the whole scene was a pleasant one; and as we sat on the eastern side of the ship and snuffed the cool breeze which came from the north, we thought we were comparatively happy people, and hoped that, if no accident befell, we would soon be at the end of our voyage.

On the seventh day of July, 1851, we entered the Golden Gate, this being my second arrival in California. On our trip from Panama seven or more had died and been buried at sea, but the remainder of us were quite safe and sound. We found the heart of the city still smoking, for a fire had broken out on July fourth and burned extensively, and these broad, blackened ruins were the result. Some said the work had been done by the Sidney “ducks” and their numerous helpers, who were really the rulers of the city. The place now looked much worse than it did when I left in November before. These Sidney “ducks” were English convicts from Australia, and other thieves and robbers joined them as agreeable companion, making a large class that seemed to glory in destruction and a chance for booty.

I walked around over the hills where I could see the burned district and the destruction of so much valuable property, and when I thought the civil law was not strong enough to govern, it seemed to me it would be a good place for such men as the Helms brothers of Georgetown to come down and do a little hanging business, for they could here find plenty to do, and they could carry out their plan of letting no guilty man escape.

About four o’clock one afternoon we went aboard the Sacramento steamer, Antelope, paying our passage with half an ounce apiece, and were soon on our way past the islands and up the bay. When we were beyond Benicia, where the river banks were close, McCloud sat watching the shore, and remarked that the boat ran like a greyhound, and it seemed to him, beat the old ocean steamer pretty bad.

He seemed to be nearly well again, and complimented me as the best doctor he ever saw. Since he had been sick I had paid him all the attention I could, and he gave me all the praise I deserved, now that he was getting to feel himself again.

At Sacramento we changed to another boat bound for Marysville, which place we reached without special incident. Here we invested in a four-ounce donkey, that is, we paid four ounces of gold for him, just an ounce apiece for four of us–W.L. Manley, Robert McCloud, Lyman Ross and John Briggs. We piled our blankets in a pack upon the gentle, four-ounce donkey, and added a little tea and coffee, dried beef and bread, then started for the Yuba River, ourselves on foot. We crossed the river at Park’s Bar, then went up the ridge by way of Nigger Tent, came down to the river again at Goodyear Bar, then up the stream to Downieville. This town was named after John Downie, a worthless drunkard. I remember that he once reformed, but again back-slid and died a drunkard’s death.

We found this a lively mining town about sixty miles above Marysville, on the north fork of the Yuba River, and only reached by a pack trail, but everything was flush here, even four aces. The location was a veritable Hole-in-the-Ground, for the mountains around were very high, and some of them wore their caps of snow all summer, particularly those on the east. The gold dust we found here was coarser than it was where I worked before, down south on the Merced River. Before I came to California I always supposed that gold dust was really dust, and about as fine as flour.

We went up the North Fork about a mile or two above town and camped on Wisconsin Flat to begin our mining operations. Our luck was poor at first, and all except myself were out of money, and more or less in debt to me. We made expenses, however, and a little more, and as soon as Mr. Ross got his small debt paid he said he was discouraged mining, and with blankets on his shoulders started up the trail towards Galloway’s ranch, on the summit south of town. Mr. Ross said the work was too hard for him, for he was not strong enough to handle pick and shovel, and he believed he could go down to Sacramento and make more by his wits than he could here. I went with him to town and saw him start off with a fair load on his back, and watched him as he toiled up the steep mountain trail for about two miles, when he went out of sight.

The rest of us kept on mining. Our luck was not very good, but we persevered, for there was nothing to be gained by fainting by the way. I went into an old abandoned shaft about ten feet deep and found the bottom filled with a big quartz boulder, and as I had been a lead miner in Wisconsin, I began drifting, and soon found bed rock, when I picked up a piece of pure gold that weighed four ounces. This was what I called a pretty big find, and not exactly what I called gold dust. It was quite a surprise to me, for the gravel on the bed rock was only about three or four inches thick.

We kept on drifting for some time, sometimes making good wages, and on the whole so satisfactory that we concluded to stay. We now located some claims back in the flat where the ground would be thirty feet deep, and would have to be drifted. These we managed to hold until winter, and in the meantime we worked along the river and could make something all the time.

We put in a flume between two falls on the Middle Fork, but made only wages, and I got my arm nearly broken, and had to work with one hand for nearly a month.

One afternoon I went crevicing up the river, and found a crevice at the water’s edge about half an inch wide, and the next day we worked it out getting forty ounces, and many of the pieces were about an inch long and as large around as a pipe-stem.

Winter was now near by, and we set to work to build a cabin and lay in a stock of grub, which cost quite a good deal, for the self-raising flour which we bought was worth twenty cents a pound, and all kinds of hog meat fifty cents, with other supplies in proportion. Our new claims now paid very well. Snow came down to the depth of about four feet around our cabin, but as our work was under ground, we had a comfortable place all winter.

In the spring McCloud and I went to Sacramento and sold our chunks of gold (it was all very coarse) to Page, Bacon & Co. who were themselves surprised at the coarseness of the whole lot. When our savings were weighed up we found we had made half an ounce a day, clear of all expenses, for the entire year.

We now took a little run down to San Francisco, also to Santa Clara where we staid a night or two with Mr. McCloud’s friend, Mr. Otterson, and then went back to our claims again. In taking care of our money we had to be our own bankers, and the usual way was to put the slugs we received for pay into a gallon pickle jar, and bury this in some place known only to our particular selves, and these vaults we considered perfectly safe. The slugs were fifty dollar pieces, coined for convenience, and were eight-sided, heavy pieces. In the western counties the people called them “Adobies,” but among the miners they were universally known as “Slugs.”

The winter proved a little lonesome, the miners mostly staid at home and worked. During the year we had been here I had not seen a respectable woman in this mining country. There were few females here, and they were said to be of very doubtful character. As a general thing people were very patient with their wickedness, but not always.

Twice only in the history of California were women made the victims of mob violence, once at Los Angeles and once at Downieville. The affair at the last-named place occurred in 1851, and the victim was a pretty little Spanish woman named Juanita. She and her husband, like many another couple at that time, kept a monte game for the delectation of the miners who had more money than sense, but beyond this fact absolutely nothing was said against her character.

There was an English miner named Cannon living in town, who was very popular among a large number of gamblers and others. He got drunk one night and about midnight went to the house occupied by the Spanish woman and her husband and kicked the door down. Early the following morning he told his comrades that he was going to apologize to the woman for what he had done. He went alone to the house, and, while talking with the husband and wife, the woman suddenly drew a knife and stabbed Cannon to the heart. What had been said that provoked the deed was never known, further than that Juanita claimed she had been grossly insulted.

She was given a mock trial, but the facts of the case were not brought out, as the men who were with Cannon were too drunk to remember what had happened the previous night. It was a foregone conclusion that the poor woman was to be hanged, and the leaders of the mob would brook no interference. A physician examined Juanita and announced to the mob that she was in a condition that demanded the highest sympathy of every man, but he was forced to flee from town to save his life. A prominent citizen made an appeal for mercy, but he was driven down the main street and across the river by a mob with drawn revolvers, and with threats of instant death. The well-known John B. Weller was in town at the time, and was asked to reason with the mob, but refused to do so.

The execution was promptly carried out. A plank was put across the supports of the bridge over the Yuba, and a rope fastened to a beam overhead. Juanita went calmly to her death. She wore a Panama hat, and after mounting the platform she removed it, tossed it to a friend in the crowd, whose nickname was “Oregon,” with the remark, “Adios amigo.” Then she adjusted the noose to her own neck, raising her long, loose tresses carefully in order to fix the rope firmly in its place, and then, with a smile and wave of her hand to the bloodthirsty crowd present, she stepped calmly from the plank into eternity. Singular enough, her body rests side by side, in the cemetery on the hill, with that of the man whose life she had taken.

On Sundays Downieville was full of men, none very old, and none very young, but almost every one of middle age. Nearly every man was coarsely dressed, with beard unshaved and many with long hair, but on any occasion of excitement it was not at all strange to see the coarsest, roughest looking one of all the party mount a stump and deliver as eloquent an address as one could wish to hear. On Sunday it was not at all unusual for some preacher to address the moving crowd, while a few feet behind him would be a saloon in full blast, and drinking, gambling, swearing and vulgar language could be plainly seen and heard at the same time, and this class of people seemed to respect the Sunday preacher very little. The big saloon was owned by John Craycroft, formerly a mate on a Mississippi River steamboat, who gained most of his money by marrying a Spanish woman and making her a silent partner.

One enterprising man who was anxious to make money easily, took a notion to try his luck in trade, so, as rats and mice were troublesome in shops and stores, he went down to the valley and brought up a cargo of cats which he disposed of at prices varying from fifty to one hundred dollars each, according to the buyer’s fancy.

During the summer Kelley the fiddler came up in the mines to make a raise, and Craycroft made him a pulpit about ten feet above the floor in his saloon, having him to play nights and Sundays at twenty dollars per day. He was a big uneducated Irishman, who could neither read nor write, but he played and sang and talked the rich Irish brogue, all of which brought many customers to the bar. In the saloon could be seen all sorts of people dealing different games, and some were said to be preachers. Kelley staid here as long as he could live on his salary, and left town much in debt, for whiskey and cards got all his money.

One of the grocers kept out a sign, “CHEAP JOHN, THE PACKER,” and kept a mule to deliver goods, which no other merchant did, and in this way gained many friends, and many now may praise the enterprise of Cheap John, the Packer. Prices were pretty high in those days. Sharpening picks cost fifty cents, a drink of whiskey one dollar, and all kinds of pork, fifty cents per pound. You could get meals at the McNutty house for one dollar. The faro and monte banks absorbed so much of the small change that on one occasion I had to pay five dollars for a two dollar pair of pants in order to get a fifty dollar slug changed.

No white shirts were worn by honest men, and if any man appeared in such a garment he was at once set down as a gambler, and with very little chance of a mistake. One Langdon had the only express office, and brought letters and packages from Sacramento. I paid one dollar simply to get my name on his letter list, and when a letter came I had to pay one dollar for bringing it up, as there was no Post Office at Downieville.

Newspapers were eagerly sought for, such was the hunger for reading. The Western folks bought the St. Louis papers, while Eastern people found the New York Tribune a favorite. One dollar each for such papers was the regular price. It may seem strange, but aside from the news we got from an occasional newspaper, I did not hear a word from the East during the two years I remained on Yuba river. Our evenings were spent in playing cards for amusement, for no reading could be got. The snow between Marysville and Downieville was deep and impassable in winter, but we could work our drifting claims very comfortably, having laid in a stock of provisions early in the season, before snowfall. The nights seemed tediously long and lonesome, for when the snow was deep no one came to visit us, and we could go nowhere, being completely hemmed in. All the miners who did not have claims they could work underground, went down below the winter snow-line to find work, and when the snow went off came back again and took possession of the old claims they had left.

After the snow went off three German sailors came up and took a river claim a short distance above us on a north fork of the north fork of the stream, where one side of the cañon was perpendicular and the other sloped back only slightly. Here they put logs across the river, laid stringers on these, and covered the bottom with fir boughs. Then they put stakes at the sides and rigged a canvas flume over their bridge through which they turned the whole current of the river, leaving a nearly dry bed beneath. This we called pretty good engineering and management on the part of the sailor boys, for no lumber was to be had, and they had made themselves masters of the situation with the material on hand.

They went to work under their log aqueduct, and found the claim very rich in coarse gold. They went to town every Saturday night with good big bags of dust, and as they were open-hearted fellows, believing that a sailor always has the best of luck, they played cards freely, always betting on the Jack and Queen, and spent their money more easily than they earned it. They were quite partial to the ladies, and patronizing the bar and card tables as liberally as they did, usually returned to camp on Monday or Tuesday with a mule load of grub and whiskey as all the visible proceeds of a week’s successful mining; but when Saturday night came around again we were pretty sure to see the jolly sailors going past with heavy bags of gold. They left one nearly pure piece of gold at Langdon’s Express office that weighed five pounds, and another as large as a man’s hand, of the shape of a prickly pear leaf.

They worked their claim with good success until the snow water came down and forced them out. I went one day to see them, and they took a pan of dirt from behind a big rock and washed it out, getting as much as two teacupfuls of nuggets, worth perhaps a thousand dollars. When they went away they said they would go to Germany to see their poor relatives and friends, and one of them really went home, but the other two had spent all their money before they were ready to leave San Francisco. These men were, without doubt, the inventors of the canvas flume which was afterward used so successfully in various places.

While I was still here the now famous Downieville Butte quartz mine was discovered, but there was no way then of working quartz successfully, and just at that time very little was done with it, but afterward, when it was learned how to work it, and the proper machinery introduced, it yielded large sums of bullion.

The miners had a queer way of calling every man by some nickname or other instead of his true name, and no one seemed offended at it, but answered to his new name as readily as to any.

It was nearly fall when we found we had worked our claims out, and there were no new ones we could locate here, so we concluded to go prospecting for a new locality. I bought a donkey in town of a Mr. Hawley, a merchant, for which I paid sixty dollars, and gave the little fellow his old master’s name. We now had two animals, and we packed on them our worldly goods, and started south up the mountain trail by way of the city of six, where some half dozen men had located claims, but the ground was dry and deep, so we went on.

We still went south, down toward the middle Yuba River and when about half way down the mountain side came to a sort of level bench where some miners were at work, but hardly any water could be had. They called this Minnesota. We stayed here a day or two, but as there seemed to be no possible further development of water, concluded to go on further. Across the river we could see a little flat, very similar to the one we were on, and a little prospecting seemed to have been done on the side of the mountain. We had a terribly steep cañon to cross, and a river also, with no trail to follow, but our donkeys were as good climbers as any of us, so we started down the mountain in the morning, and arrived at the river about noon. Here we rested an hour or two and then began climbing the brushy mountain side. The hill was very steep, and the sun beat down on us with all his heat, so that with our hard labor and the absence of any wind we found it a pretty hot place.

It was pretty risky traveling in some places, and we had to help the donkeys to keep them from rolling down the hill, pack and all. It took us four hours to make a mile and a half or two miles in that dense brush, and we were nearly choked when we reached the little flat. Here we found some water, but no one lived here. From here we could see a large flat across a deep cañon to the west, and made up our minds to try to go to it. We went around the head of the cañon, and worked through the brush and fallen timber, reaching our objective point just as night was coming on. This flat, like the one we had left, was quite level, and contained, perhaps, nearly one hundred acres. Here we found two men at work with a “long tom”–a Mr. Fernay and a Mr. Bloat. They had brought the water of a small spring to their claim and were making five or six dollars per day. We now prospected around the edge of this flat, and getting pretty fair prospects concluded we would locate here if we could get water.

We then began our search for water and found a spring about three quarters of a mile away, to which we laid claim, and with a triangle level began to survey out a route for our ditch. The survey was satisfactory, and we found we could bring the water out high on the flat, so we set to work digging at it, and turned the water in. The ground was so very dry that all the water soaked up within two hundred yards of the spring.

By this time we were out of grub, and some one must go for a new supply, and as we knew the trail to Downieville was terribly rough, I was chosen as the one to try to find Nevada City, which we thought would be nearer and more easily reached. So I started south with the donkeys, up the mountain toward the ridge which lies between the middle and south Yuba Rivers, and when I got well on the ridge I found a trail used some by wagons, which I followed till I came to a place where the ridge was only wide enough for a wagon, and at the west end a faint trail turned off south into the rolling hills. I thought this went about the course I wanted to go, so I followed it, and after two or three miles came to the south Yuba river. This seemed to be an Indian trail, no other signs on it. I climbed the mountain here, and when I reached the top I found a large tent made of blue drilling, and here I found I was four or five miles from Nevada City with a good trail to follow. The rolling hills I then passed through are now called North Bloomfield, and at one time were known as “Humbug.”

I started along the trail and soon reached the city where I drove my donkeys up to a store which had out the sign “Davis & Co..” I entered and inquiring the prices of various sorts of provisions such as flour, bacon, beans, butter, etc., soon had selected enough for two donkey loads. They assisted me in putting them in pack, and when it was ready I asked the amount of my bill, which was one hundred and fifty dollars. This I paid at once, and they gave me some crackers and dried beef for lunch on the way. Davis said–“That is the quickest sale I ever made, and here the man is ready to go. I defy any one to beat it.” Before sun down I was two or three miles on my way back where I found some grass and camped for the night, picketed the animals, ate some of Mr. Davis’ grub for supper, and arranged a bed of saddle blankets. I arrived at camp the next day about sun down.

Next day I went on up the divide and found a house on the trail leading farther east, where two men lived, but they seemed to be doing nothing. There were no mines and miners near there, and there seemed to be very little travel on the trail. The fellows looked rough, and I suspected they might be bad characters. The stream they lived near was afterward called Bloody Run, and there were stories current that blood had been shed there.

Here was a section of comparatively level land, for the mountain divide, and a fine spring of good cold water, all surrounded by several hundred acres of the most magnificent sugar pines California ever raised, very large, straight as a candle, and one hundred feet or more to the lowest limbs. This place was afterward called Snow Tent, and S.W. Churchill built a sawmill at the spring, and had all this fine timber at the mercy of his ax and saw, without anyone to dispute his right. He furnished lumber to the miners at fifty dollars or more per thousand feet. Bloody Run no doubt well deserves its name, for there was much talk of killing done there.

I, however, went up and talked to the men and told them I wished to hire a cross cut saw for a few days to get out stuff for a cabin, and agreed to pay two dollars a day for the use of it till it came back.

We cut down a large sugar pine, cut off four six feet cuts, one twelve feet, and one sixteen feet cut, and from these we split out a lot of boards which we used to make a V-shaped flume which we placed in our ditch, and thus got the water through. We split the longer cuts into two inch plank for sluice boxes, and made a small reservoir, so that we succeeded in working the ground. We paid wages to the two men who worked, and two other men who were with us went and built a cabin.

I now went and got another load of provisions, and as the snow could be seen on the high mountains to the east, I thought the deer must be crowded down to our country, so I went out hunting and killed a big fat buck, and the next day three more, so fresh meat was plenty.

About this time a man came down the mountain with his oxen and wagon, wife and three or four children, the eldest a young lady of fifteen years. The man’s name was H. M. Moore. We had posted notices, according to custom, to make mining laws, and had quite a discussion about a name for the place. Some of the fellows wanted to name it after the young lady, “Minda’s Flat,” but we finally chose “Moore’s Flat” instead, which I believe is the name it still goes by. Our laws were soon completed, and a recorder chosen to record claims. We gave Mr. Moore the honor of having a prospecting town named after him because he was the first man to be on hand with a wife.

I became satisfied after a little that this place would be a very snowy place, and that from all appearances it would fall from two to four feet deep, and not a very pleasant place to winter in. An honest acquaintance of mine came along, Samuel Tyler and to him I let my claim to work on shares and made McCloud my agent, verbally, while I took my blankets and started for the valley.

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