News & Tall Tales. 1800s.


San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

Gold Rush Miners

The Unsuccessful Miner; The Successful Miner

December 1854, Wide West

THE UNSUCCESSFUL MINER

It is the firm, unalterable conviction of the Unsuccessful Miner that "California is a humbug!" He knows it to be so. Where are the big lumps that only needed labor to accomplish their transportation from the "pockets" of the mines to the pockets of the miners?

Where are the golden sands that might have been seen at the bottom of the rivers, from the boats that skimmed their surface? Where is the "Gold washing in the streets of San Francisco," with which the newspapers teemed; and where the famous "Gold Mountain near Los Angeles," which he suspects to have been a Riell invention rather than a real mountain? Where is the ounce a-day that "any man who works can make?" Where is Gold Bluff; Gold Lake? In a word, where are good diggins?"

It is his opinion that the journals of California publish these stories originated, he thinks, by contiguous storekeepers for the purpose of inducing immigration, and thereby increasing the population on whose support they depend; and that the Atlantic press copy them for the sole purpose of keeping up that news-excitement so essential to the prosperity of a daily paper. He cannot imagine any punishment sufficiently severe lor the man who indited the article from which he caught the California Fever. Every mode of torture known to civilized or barbaric nations is too good for him.

In the judgment of the Unsuccessful Miner, the mines must soon give out. He thinks that, had he been here in '49, his talents and energy might have secured him an ample fortune; but not in digging. Oh no! Speculations of various kinds, in real estate, etc., would have afforded the opportunity. In fact, he considers that head-work is what he was originally cut out for, and nothing but the organization of the social fabric has caused the substitution of muscle for brain as a means for his support. Nothing annoys the Unsuccessful Miner more than to be obliged to listen to stories of profitable mining. He may, sometimes, when thoroughly cornered, admit that occasionally there is some foundation for them; but, he never will believe that Tom Jones worked that claim on Feather River which he himself had deserted, and took out two thousand dollars in ten days; and the idea that Bill Brooks, his old partner, should keep on working in Greenhorn Gulch after their dissolution and the departure of the Unsuccessful Miner on a prospecting tour, till he came to that old stump again, wound which the Unsuccessful Miner had worked so faithfully, and on uprooting it, obtain his pile, is perfectly absurd!

Panning for Gold. Dewitt.

Why it was about that very thing that the quarrel occurred which led to their separation, and he knows that the story was manufactured by the aforesaid B. B. with a view to prove himself right. They can't fool him with their stones.

The Unsuccessful Miner would go home, but he is afraid to do so. What would Jim Standstill and Tom Slowmove say? Why, that "they knew just how it would be." Admit that they were right, and he wrong? Never. He will starve first. Why don't he go to work by the day for the "Rattle Gulch Water and Mining Company? " Because he likes to be his own master; and is opposed to monopolies. Besides, he has conscientious convictions, that no man should work more than eight hours a day; and a man of his intellectual calibre owes it to himself and species to devote the rest of his waking hours to thought and mental culture.

"Prospecting," the Unsuccessful Miner thinks, is the only way to "strike a lead." True, he has not yet made much at it, but, like the gentleman who devoted his entire time and energies to the search for mislaid silver spoons. he thinks it may pay in time, and should he give it up, now, he loses all chance of making it profitable in the future. Should some skeptic remind him of his leaving ten dollars a day in Mariposa county to gain a prospective claim of $2,000 a week on the banks of the Yuba, and his remaining six months in possession of said claim, waiting for the water to fall, and ask him the result; he will admit that the river never fell sufficiently to enable him to get at the gold, but that wasn't his fault. He will also admit, when hard-pressed, that Jim Thompson offered him $2,000 once for that claim; but he goes in for the "chances." But that two of his friends a little above him on the same river, made their expenses all that time by washing the dirt at the top of the bank, he indignantly denies. He knows better. And if they did, he don't care. He did come to California to make his living; he could do that at home. The "big strikes" are what he is after.

The Unsuccessful Miner once believed in dams. But that conviction and the dams have been gradually washed away, and he now considers no damming satisfactory in its result, except as applied to the eyes of the monte-dealers, with whom he has sometimes deposited small sums. Did he come down to San Francisco on a spree, and kindly afford a friend whose acquaintance he made on the wharf an opportunity of using the $500 he had in his pocket, by occupying the same room with him? Yes; but what is life good for without a little enjoyment once in a while?

Does the Unsuccessful Miner write home? Well, he did at first; but now, he hasn't the heart to write. It's confounded hard, though, that they don't write to him. It may be the fault of the Post Office; he rather thinks it is, since he read the account of the new General Delivery established for the benefit of boatmen in San Francisco. He'll write the folks at home a tearing letter about this kind of thing, though, after he has sufficiently abused the Post Office Department through the public prints.

Does the Unsuccessful Miner believe in Luck? Of course he does. Doesn't his life prove it? Wouldn't he have been as well off as Bill Brooks, who went home in the last steamer, and who will, no doubt, circulate the story that the Unsuccessful Miner hasn't half worked if he had been as lucky? True, that personage worked very hard, but that was because he was avaricious. He wasn't much of a fellow, after all. No fun in him. Didn't enjoy life at all. Pretty good fellow to be around when one might be sick; but not good company. Was rather sorry when he went home, though. But that was because they came out together.

The Unsuccessful Miner would have gone to Lower California with the Filibusters; but by the time he got down here, the news from that quarter was not exactly encouraging. Thinks things would have been different had he gone with the first party. Is somewhat disappointed: or he thinks he has slaved it here about long enough.

The Unsuccessful Miner believes Australia to be exactly the place that California ought to be. Wishes he had gone there at first. Want of capital is the only reason why he does not go now. But if he does strike a small sum, persons addicted to wagers may "bet high" that he'll leave this place quicker than any one of expert articulation could enunciate "Jack Robinson!"

The Unsuccessful Miner thinks too many persons are allowed to come here. Would be glad if a law were passed, making immigration a capital offence. In his opinion, it is immigration which has ruined the mines. As it is rather improbable that any such act could be enacted during this deluded generation, he hopes that the price of passage from the Atlantic here may always cost double the price charged for the homeward trip. If he could only have had the knowledge of the gold deposits all to himself!

The Unsuccessful Miner has great confidence in quartz mining. That is, he believes the President and Directors of a quartz mining company can make a snug thing out of it. He would like to own stock in such a company ? for the purpose of selling it; and would not object to starting a new one, provided he could find purchasers for the stock.

Nothing can change the opinions of the Unsuccessful Miner but Good Luck; and that, he thinks, is for him an impossibility. Should such a thing occur, however, it will not be the Unsuccessful Miner's views that undergo a change, for he will then become

THE SUCCESSFUL MINER

The Successful Miner believes that he could go into the mines now, and do as well as he did in '49. The idea that the mines are worked out, is all stuff. That success in the mines is dependent to any great extent on Luck, he does not believe. His own good fortune he attributes to innate force of character. Believes that he would have got along anywhere; and thinks that anybody who works the mines can do well. Thinks California is the only place in the world for a working man to live in. Intends to bring his family out. Believes, in fact, everything in relation to California that the Unsuccessful Miner disbelieves. Is confident that the story which states that a miner on a prospecting tour once tied his horse to a tree at night, and went to sleep in his blankets, and, on waking in the morning, found that his horse had pawed down into "good diggings," from which the miner eventually took out his "pile," is true, every word of it. He has know miners to work in a claim six months without making anything, and then resign it to a greenhorn, who made $100 the first day.

Considers monte-banks unsafe opportunities for investment, and thinks Unsuccessful Miner made a confounded fool of himself. Never wearies of writing home about his good fortune to those friends who endeavored to persuade him not to come to California, but considers their letters, asking advice and pecuniary assistance to enable them to reach the El Dorado, quite a bore. Does not send much more money home than the Unsuccessful Miner, but invests it in property here. Considers a camp-fire the most pleasant locality in existence; and believes that sleeping in a tent is an enervating luxury. As for himself, a blanket, with a stone for a pillow, is enough. Never thought the Unsuccessful Miner would do much in the mines. Believes Fever and Ague to be a fable, invented at the instigation and for the benefit of doctors; and thinks that all sickness is Spring Fever. Admits that he once thought the mines a humbug, but that was before he struck a lead. Once believed in quartz mining, and used to boast of the number of shares he held in a quartz company, but has not been heard to make many remarks about it of late. Thinks some law should be passed to prevent "jumping claims." In fact, does not see what else the Legislature assemble for.

The Successful Miner never goes to San Francisco, except when he sees real estate advertised for sale, with a prospect of its "going low." Is of opinion that all decisions, by Land Commissioners or others, that militate against his titles to property, are obtained by bribery. Thinks that the beds of the rivers are just as full of gold as the flats which the receding waters lay bare. Did think that dredging machines were just the thing to get said gold, but has changed his opinion. Entertains pretty much the same views in regard to dams that are cherished by the Unsuccessful Miner. Believes in whisky to some extent, but confines it in a demijohn of his own, and carries on his sprees in his tent. Thinks the Unsuccessful Miner was rather green in his San Francisco losses, but considers that his own misfortunes in quartz mining and town lots were entirely unavoidable. Believes religiously that those claims which are left by their owners in the greatest disgust are the only most likely to pay.

Is an ultra believer in hydropathy, so far as it relates to the gold district, and wishes that the mines were filled with streams, about a mile apart. Entertains the same objections to immigrants as the Unsuccessful Miner, but does not so much mind, if they will stop in the city, and locate themselves on some of his unoccupied lots. Not as the squatters do, however, but after the slight preliminary payment of a monthly rent. Is much surprised that some of the recent arrivals should be discouraged. Wonders what they would have said or done had they arrived in '49. Considers '49 an infinitely more glorious and memorable year that '76. Was opposed to the war with Mexico before the gold discovery, but entertains different views now. Has an interest in one or two stores in different parts of the mines, and is very apt to mention those localities to the newcomers who may ask his opinion, as excellent opportunities for making a beginning. Never carries any coin with him, but prefers a buckskin bag full of dust. It has been asserted by his enemies that he shows it more frequently than is absolutely necessary; but that, of course, is slander.

Tunnel in a California Mine. c. 1850.
Tunnel in a California Mine, c.1850

The Successful Miner cannot see any other use for the mountain streams than to bring the gold down with the dirt and afford water to wash it out. Thinks it should have been so arranged as to have the springs full in the dry diggings at the same time that the bars on the river are bare. Likes to see rain, when the miners need it; but objects to having it last so long as to keep them idle, although it may be beneficial to the farmer. Considers San Francisco a very good place to invest money and buy goods in, and rather convenient for steamers to arrive at and depart from; but looks on the mines us the life-blood and back-bone of the State. Never can amuse himself tor more than a day at a time at the Bay. Entertains no fear of a pecuniary reverse, unless gold should depreciate in value, which is a contingency he does not like to consider. Thinks the price of labor too high; but considers his own services worth at least an ounce a day. Considers "prospecting" a very good thing; but as long us he has a claim affording an average yield, prefers that some one else should do it. Before he was interested in any stores, did not place much reliance on store-keepers' statements in regard to mining. Thinks now, however, that they have been unjustly suspected, and had as like take their word as that of any one else. Still has confidence in the Gold Bluff story, and believes that locality is being worked sub rosa. Is confident that he can wash a pan full of dirt quicker and get more gold out of it than any other man in the mines. Claims to be the original inventor of the "long-tom" and knew that a "sluice" was a first-rate medium for washing gold long before it was introduced.

The Successful Miner has made a good deal of his money by selling out claims which he had acquired. Has always preferred realizing the "bird in the hand" to waiting with a view of catching the "bird in the bush." Is very fond of telling his friends how much sagacity he evinced in selling out his claim on the same river where the Unsuccessful Miner wasted six months in waiting for it to fall.

Likes to compare him to the gentleman of whom tradition makes mention, who on one of his journeys, going to a stream, got off his horse and lay down, intending to cross after it had gone by. The Successful Miner is highly in in favor of the establishment of a mint here, and believes that nothing but the influence of the prominent bankers of San Francisco and the steamship companies has prevented its being established heretofore. Considers agriculture rather a useful pursuit, but not to be compared to mining. Thinks the Chinese should be driven out of the mines, and suggests that they be banished to San Francisco, by way of retribution for the flour speculation. Is surprised to find that mining is not the most prominent topic in the President's message. Thinks he could teach them a thing or two were he in Congress.

View of the town and harbor of early San Francisco. 1800s.
Town and Harbor of San Francisco

Does not believe in the necessity for fortifying the harbor of San Francisco. Thinks that were a hostile fleet to gain an entrance, the miners would forge down in any sort of vessels and totally annihilate the enemy. Is highly in favor of having soldiers quartered on the frontier, for the purpose of preventing Indian depredations. Believes that a miner is the happiest and most independent fellow in the world. Cannot see what there is hard about mining. Thinks it nothing more than play to a man not afraid of work. As for himself, he intends to follow it all his life, if he can get his wife to come out; but if not, he will go home and settle down.

After all; strange as it may seem, both the Unsuccessful Miner and the Successful Miner are right in their opinions to a certain extent. Mining is not the only question that presents a varied appearance from different points of view.

And we hold them both in that high esteem so justly due to the Sons of Toil, whether their labor be gold-seeking or grain-sowing. And may the day be far distant when the miner's labor shall bear less profit than it deserves. And may that dust which converts the Unsuccessful into the Successful Miner become more and more plentiful, till the former class is extinct.


The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year:

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