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California Gold

Sangamo Journal / Illinois State Journal, 27 December 1848

CALIFORNIA GOLD REGION.—Those of our readers who take an interest in the gold region, will read the subjoined letter with great pleasure. It was written by the Rev. WALTER COLTON, alcalde of Monterey, to the editors of the New York Journal of Commerce. There is no doubt that the Reverend gentleman believes what he has written. He fully corroborates the statements of others:

MONTEREY, California, Aug. 29, 1848.

The gold discoveries still continue—every day brings some deposit to light. It has been found in large quantities on the Sacramento, Feather river, Yerba river, the American Fork—north and south branches—the Cossamer, and in many dry ravines, and indeed on the top of high hills. The extent of country in which it is ascertained to exist extends some two hundred miles north and south and some sixty east and west, and these limits are everyday enlarging by new discoveries. On the streams where the gold has been subjected to the action of water and sand it exists in fine grains, on the hills and among the clefts of the rocks it is found in rough jagged pieces of a quarter or half an ounce in weight and sometimes two or three ounces.

At present the people are running over the country and picking it out of the earth here and there, just as a thousand hogs let loose in a forest would root up ground nuts. Some get eight or ten ounces a day, and the least active, one or two. They make the most who employ the wild indians to hunt it for them. There is one man who has in his employ some sixty Indians—his profits are a dollar a minute. The wild Indians know nothing of its value, and wonder what the pale faces want to do with it—they will give an ounce of it for the same weight of coined silver, or a thimbleful of glass beads, or a glass of grog. And white men themselves often give an ounce of it, which is worth at our mint eighteen dollars or more, for a bottle of brandy, a box of soda powders, or a plug of tobacco.

As to the quantity the diggers get, take a few facts as evidence. I know seven men who worked seven weeks and two days, Sundays excepted, on Feather river; they employed on an average fifty Indians, and got in these seven weeks and two days, two hundred and seventy five pounds of pure gold. I know the men and have seen the gold, and know what they state to be a fact—so stick a pin there. I know ten other men who worked ten days in company, employed no Indians, and averaged in these ten day fifteen hundred dollars each— so stick another pin there. I know another man who got out of a basin of a rock, not longer than a wash-bowl, two pounds and a half of gold in fifteen minutes—so stick another pin there ! No one of these statements would I believe, did I not know the men personally, and know them to be matter of fact men—men who open a vein of gold just as coolly as you would a potato hill.

The gold is obtained in a variety of ways; some wash it out of the sand with bowls, some with a machine made like a cradle, only longer and open at the foot, while at the other end, instead of a squalling infant, there is a grating upon which the earth is thrown, and then water: both pass through the grating—the cradle is rocked, and, being on an inclined plane, the water carries off the earth, and the gold is deposited in the bottom of the cradle. So the two things most prized in this world, gold and infant beauty, are both rocked out of their primitive state, one to pamper pride, and the other to pamper the worm. Some forego cradles and bowls as too tame an occupation, and mounted on horses, half wild, dash up the mountain gorges and over the steep hills, picking the gold from the clefts of these rocks with their bowie-knife—a much better use to make of these instruments than picking the life out of men's bodies, for what is a man with that article picked out of him?

A large party, well mounted, are following up the channel of the Sacramento, where this gold, found in its banks, comes from, and imagine that near the river's fount they will find the great yellow mass itself. By they might as well hunt the fleeting rainbow. The gold was thrown up from the bed of the ocean with the rocks and sands in which it is found, and still bears, where it has escaped the action of the elements, vivid traces of volcanic fire. It often encases a crystal of quartz; in which the pebble lies as if it had slumbered there from eternity; its beautiful repose sets human artifice at defiance. How strange that this ore should have lain here, scattered about in all directions, peeping everywhere out of the earth, and sparkling in the sun, and been trod upon for ages by white men and savages, and by the emissaries of every scientific association in the world, and never till now have been discovered? What an ass man is with all his learning! He stumbles over hills of gold to reach a rare pepper pod, or rifle a bird's nest !

The whole country is now moving on the mines. Monterey, San Francisco, Sonoma, San Jose, and Santa Cruz are emptied of their male population: A stranger coming here would suppose he had arrived among a race of women, who by some anomalous provision of nature, multiplied their images without the presence of the other sex. But not a few of the woman have gone too, especially those who had got out of tea—for what is a woman without her tea pot—a pythoness without her shaking tripod—an angel that has lost his lyre! Every bowl, tray, warming-pan and piggin, have gone to the mines. Every thing, in short, has a scoop in it that will hold sand and water. All the iron has been worked up into crow-bars, pick-axes and spades. And all these roll back upon us in the shape of gold. We have therefore, plenty of gold, but little to eat and still less to wear. Our supplies must come from Oregon, Chili and the United States. Our grain gold, in exchange for coin, sells for nine and ten dollars the ounce, though it is well known to be worth at the mint in Philadelphia, eighteen dollars the ounce at least. Such is the scarcity of coin here.

We want a mint. Let Congress send us one at once over the Isthmus; else this grain gold goes to Mazatlan, to Chili and Peru—where it is lost to our national currency. Over a million of gold, at the lowest computation, is taken from these mines every month—and this quantity will be more than double when the emigration from the states, from Oregon, the Sandwich Islands, and the Southern Republics, arrives. Send us a mint. I could give forty more illustrations of the extent and productiveness of these mines, but no one will believe what I have said without my name, and perhaps but few with it.

Source: "Illinois State Journal", Springfield; retrieved from the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection
Page created: 29-VII-2016
Last updated: 29-VII-2016