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News & Tall Tales. 1800s.


San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

 

September 23, 1848, The Californian, San Francisco

In our paper of August 16, we devoted some considerable space to the subject of the gold mines, stating some facts in regard to their discovery, and the manner in which the ore was collected. So well was the article received by the public,—then on the qui vive for information about the mines— and consequently so great the demand for our paper, that in a few hours after publication the entire edition was disposed of.— Since then we have received many and urgent inquiries for that number of the "Californian," and this week, at the solicitation of a number of our patrons, we repeat the substance of the former article, with some additional particulars.

Silver and Gold. The Califodrnia Gold Rush. Images.

It appears that in the first part of February last, Messrs. Marshall & Bennett were engaged with a party in erecting a saw mill for Capt. J. A. Sutter, on the American Fork of the Sacramento river, about forty miles above its mouth. In excavating the tail race, they removed the rock during the day and let in the water after night, in order to wash out the loose dirt and sand. On the morning of the 10th, after shutting off the water, Mr. Marshall discovered the first gold, lying upon decomposed granite in the bottom of the race. It would seem that but little doubt was entertained of its being the real simon pure, for operations immediately ceased on the mill, and all hands commenced searching for gold. It was soon found that gold abounded along the American Fork for a distance of thirty miles. For a time the discoverers were the only ones aware of the fact, but the news finally spread through the settlements. But little credit however, was gained by the report, though occasionally a solitary "gold hunter" might be seen, stealing down to a launch with a pick and shovel, more than half ashamed of his credulity. Some time during the month of May, a number of credible persons arrived in town from the scene of operations, bringing specimens of the ore, and stating that those engaged in collecting the precious metal were making from $3 to $10 per day. Then commenced the grand rush! The inhabitants throughout the territory were in commotion. Large companies of men, women and children could be seen on every road leading to the mines, their wagons loaded down with tools for digging, provisions, &c. Launch after launch left the wharves of our city, crowded with passengers and freight for the Sacramento. Mechanical operations of every kind ceased, whole streets, that were but a short week before alive with a busy population, were entirely deserted, and the place wore the appearance of a city that had been suddenly visited by a devastating plague. To cap the climax, newspapers were obliged to stop printing for want of readers.

Meantime our mercantile friends were doing an unwonted "stroke" of business. Every arrival from the mining district brought more or less gold dust, the major part of which immediately passed into the hands of the merchants for goods, etc.— Immense quantities of merchandise were conveyed to the mines, until it became a matter of astonishment where so much could be disposed of. During the first eight weeks of the "golden times," the receipts at this place in gold dust amounted $250,000. For the eight weeks ending at this date, they were $600,000. The number of persons now engaged in gold hunting will probably exceed 6000, including Indians, and one ounce per day is the lowest average we can put for each person, while many collect their hundreds of dollars for a number of days in succession, and instances have been known where one individual has collected from 1500 to $1800 worth of pure gold in a day. Explorations have been progressing, and it is now fully ascertained that gold exists on both sides of the Sierra Nevada, from lat. 41 North to as far South as the head waters of the San Joaquin river, a distance of 400 miles in length and 100 in breadth. Farther than this has not been explored, but from the nature of the country beyond the sources of the San Joaquin, we doubt not gold will also be found there in equal abundance. The gold region already known is however sufficiently extensive to give profitable employment to 100,000 persons for generations to come. The ore is in a virgin state, disseminated in small doses, and is found in three distinct deposits—sand and gravel beds, on decomposed granite, and intermixed with a kind of slate.

Miners in early California.

For a long time subsequent to the discovery of the mines, the only implements used in washing the gold were large tin pans, or Indian baskets. Latterly, "machines " were used—at first a rough log hollowed out (in some instances) by burning, and scraping with a butcher knife; afterwards more finished ones made their appearance, built of red wood beards in the shape of an ordinary trough, "about ten feet long and two feet wide at the top, with a riddle or sieve at one end to catch the larger gravel, and three or four small bars across the bottom, about half an inch high to keep the gold from going out with the dirt and water at the lower end. This machine is set upon rockers, which gives a half rotary motion to the water and dirt inside." Four men are requisite to work one of these machines properly.

Within the past month many sick persons from the mines have arrived at this place, and scarcely a launch comes down the Sacramento without more or less sick persons on board, while some die on the river. The very natural inference drawn from this by those who have never been at the mines is that they lie in a sickly section of country, and those at work there are in daily expectation of being taken sick. In our opinion, however, nothing can be farther from the truth. As far as our experience goes, it is on the larger rivers only where disease prevails, and in passing up or down upon them the person not in perfect health is almost invariably the one to become sick. We have observed but few, very few cases of sickness in the immediate neighborhood of the mines but such as we believe would have occurred under similar circumstances in any other climate. Let the miner pass the Sacramento safely, (and we would almost insure any person's doing so that was perfectly regular and temperate in all his habits)—let him not when he arrives at the mines, work as though he was privileged to operate for a limited time only, but, poco poco, resting at proper intervals;—let him abstain from the free use of intoxicating drinks, living upon wholesome food—avoiding for instance, half baked hot bread;—let him sleep under the shelter of a tent, with warm bed clothing,—and if, after following our advice in all these particulars, the gold hunter becomes sick, why—we do not know any thing about the matter.

GOLD MINES IN RUSSIA.—The Emperor of Russia has astonished the powers of Europe by producing nearly five millions sterling in precious metals, which he invested in French and English stocks. It would seem that an immense gold mine has been worked for some time past in Siberia, and from the description of it in the Journal des Debats, it is very similar in extent to the gold mines of this country. In the year 1846, the amount obtained from the gold mines of Siberia was valued at over twenty-one millions of dollars. Let a few more similar mines be discovered, and a complete revolution will take place in the comparative value of gold and silver.

Rush for Gold

November 13, 1849, New York Tribune, New York, New York, U.S.A.

October 16, being the day for the sale of tickets for passage in the two new steamers, to be started from Panama to San Francisco by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the place of sale at Howland & Aspinwall's, was the scene of a strife for precedence unequaled even in the wondrous history of the Golden Crusade.

California Gold Rush Country. Sonora.

As early as 4 o'clock in the morning some twenty persons were sitting on the steps in most neighborly proximity to the door, ready, like hounds in the leash, for the race up stairs.

Before the doors opened hundreds had collected, and in a minute after the turn of the key every place where a man could hold on, even by the eyelids, was occupied. So great was the pressure that the balustrades and windows were broken, and each individual, on issuing from the office, gave woeful evidence of the density of the crowd in the shape of caved in hats and torn and disordered clothing. One of the very earliest of those on the steps in the morning and almost the first man inside, did not get out until noon!

Some 500 tickets for the two December steamers were run off as fast as the money could be paid over; but the crowd still clamored for more, and about 100 tickets for the steamer of the 1st of January were sold by way of dessert to the feast. The prices were $300 for the cabin and $150 for the steerage.

One of the crowd, and the first on the ground, took his post at the wrong door by accident as early as 11 o'clock at night. He found all quiet until about 2 o'clock, when one by one, neighbors happened along like strong drops before a shower. Our early friend made the most pertinacious exertions to get in first, but broader shoulders took precedence, and he was number 30 at the desk. The next day there was another small crowd, who took off all the steerage and a large portion of the cabin tickets for the January steamer.


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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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