Michael Kane is an old and retired citizen of Alameda, California. In the fall of 1848 he formed a company of young men in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania—sons of wealthy men, organized with much ceremony as the Pittsburg & California Enterprise Company, for the purpose of coming to California and mining for gold; and also organized as a military company for self-protection. Mr. Kane, although then quite a young man, was elected president. Chartering a steamer, they left Pittsburg, March 16, and arrived at St. Joseph, Missouri, two weeks later, where a committee had arrived previously to purchase mules. They left St. Joseph May 4, some crossing the river at that point, and some further up; and, bidding adieu to civilization, they started across the almost interminable wilds by what was known as the Fremont route, namely, the North Platte, Sublette’s cut-off, etc., camping at Green river on the Fourth of July, which day they celebrated in company with the United States Dragoons in camp near by.
The only white settler they saw between St. Joseph and Hangtown (Placerville), was a lame man called “Peg-Leg” Smith, who married a squaw and was engaged in hunting and trapping on Green river.
The mess under the supervision of Mr. Kane reached Hangtown August 22, 1849. The company had been divided into messes from the start, on account of its large number (310 members), and having the care of so many mules, they arrived somewhat scatter-tering [sic]. For protection against Indians on the route, and for the sake of forage and provisions, they were obliged to co-operate in crossing the plains and deserts. Although their primary intention was to remain together after their arrival in California, they immediately found it more convenient to separate.
On the trip they once saw approaching them a band of Sioux Indians, who were apparently returning from a battle, as they had their squaws with them and were carrying several wounded braves on litters. These litters consisted of two long poles fastened at one end to the sides of the ponies, while the other ends dragged upon the ground; and over these, hides were stretched. On approaching a small portion of the emigrant party they stopped and indicated by motions toward their mouth that they desired something to eat. Mr. Kane ordered bread, sugar and tobacco to be given them, and they rode peacefully away.
On reaching the Forty-mile desert, the animals of the emigrant party were greatly reduced in strength, and were scarcely able to get across. One mule, indeed, had to be staid up by men walking on each side of him. When within a few miles of Carson river, the animals seemed to smell the water, pricking up their ears and making a direct line for it. The mules on arriving at the bank plunged in full up to their eyes. A rest of three days was enjoyed there.
The party reached Hangtown August 22, but they had virtually disbanded on leaving St. Joseph, Missouri, dividing up into fifty-two messes on account of their having different routes. In crossing the plains, however, they met frequently and exchanged salutations. In Mr. Kane’s mess—No. 11—were six persons. He had furnished their outfit on condition that they should pay him in work on shared for two years; but on arriving here he released them from their obligations, as it appeared that each one would make more money by working independently for himself; and he said they might pay him when they could. One man indeed did pay him,—about $100,—which was all Mr. Kane ever received on those contracts. The outfit for the whole mess has cost him $2,500.
The first winter in California Mr. Kane mined at Mud Springs. Early that season he went to San Francisco for his mail and goods, which had been shipped by sea; but the storage on the goods was so high that he told the warehouse man that he might keep the goods for the storage charges, as he could get the same in Sacramento at the same prices.
Meeting his old friend, Colonel Geary, Alcalde of the city, he was advised to select and accept a lot in San Francisco. After examination, he returned to his friend, disgusted with the appearance of the place, saying he would not pay even the charges for recording the claim to the best 160 acres he could find in the city. Colonel Geary replied that he would regret it some day.
Mr. Kane returned to the mines. It had then commenced to rain, thus introducing one of the wettest winters ever witnessed in California. During a beautiful interval of the weather in February, Mr. Kane started for Downieville. At Marysville, on his way, he bought a half interest in four yoke of oxen, and he with his partner proceeded toward Downieville. On approaching Yuba river, a terrible snow-storm delayed them about two weeks. After the storm had ceased they moved upon a bar in the river where the road to Downieville crossed it; and, as there was no wagon road leading further, they sold their oxen to a butcher for considerably more than they had paid for them. Storing their provisions at the bar, they proceeded on foot, camping in the deep snow at the top of the ridge the first night.
On waking the next morning, Mr. Kane was horrified to find an Indian lying along side of him. Finding the snow too deep for further progress by way of the ridge, they returned and took the river road to Downieville. On arrival there, they found that this village then consisted of only two or three log cabins and a few occupants, and provisions becoming scarce; but soon a pack train came in loaded with provisions, arriving by the only road open through the snow.
After a time they started out prospecting, turning by a dam the Yuba river above Downieville out of its channel, but did not find gold in paying quantities. The remainder of the winter season they spent at Rough and Ready, near Grass Valley. At that place they made about $10 a day, in the dry diggings.
The next summer (1851) Mr. Kane returned to “the States.”
In the spring of 1853 he again came to California, by way of Panama, having been appointed United States Mail Agent for the trip. Afterward he was appointed by Major Richard P. Hammond, Collector of the Port of San Francisco, to be one of the Inspectors of Customs, which position he held for a term. He was then promoted to the position of Government Storekeeper. These two positions he held under the administration of President Pierce. Under Buchanan he was appointed United States Appraiser, and this post he held four years. Next Mr. Kane was a member of the firm of Hunter, Wand & Co., wholesale liquor dealers. After Mr. Hunter died the firm bought his interest and their name changed to Wand, Kane & Co., subsequently Wand sold out to Fergus O’Leary, and the firm style became Kane, O’Leary & Co. Five years after that, January 1, 1882, they sold out to Newmark, Greenburg & Co., and since that time Mr. Kane has been comparatively out of business, though he is interested in various enterprises.
In the fall of 1884, he made a trip to Europe, and on his return visited the World’s Fair at New Orleans. He is a life member of the Pioneer Society of San Francisco, and has served the same as Director for several terms of one year each.
Mr. Kane was born in county Derry, Ireland, in March, 1817, and in 1830 the family emigrated to America, locating at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in which city he learned the cabinet-making trade; and afterward he carried on the business in partnership with a cousin also named Michael Kane. In the great fire in 1845, he was burned out, losing his dwelling-house, ware-rooms and factory. After that he formed a partnership in business with William B. Roberts, who was soon afterwards elected Colonel of the Second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, which proceeded to Mexico. Colonel Roberts having died at the close of the war with Mexico, in the city of Mexico, his remains were brought to Pittsburg by Mr. Kane’s brother, James, Lieutenant of the Hibernia Greens, a a [sic] company of the Second Regiment, where-upon Mr. Kane closed out the business of the firm.
The gold excitement of 1849 determined him to organize a company to come to California. He has a fine, comfortable home in Alameda, toward the end of Railroad avenue, where he is surrounded with a happy family and all the comforts of a quiet life.
Transcribed by Donna L. Becker.
Source: "The Bay of San Francisco," Vol. 2, pages 76-78, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.
© 2005 Donna L. Becker.