Fifty years have passed since James Meehan became a resident of California, the date of his arrival in the state being February, 1850. Probably no living resident of California has a more intimate knowledge of the mining interests and the history of the mining development of this state than he. Born in county Monaghan, Ireland, on the 1st of November, 1833, he is descended from one of the old families of the Emerald Isle. His father, George Meehan, was born in Ireland and there married Miss Mary McKenna, a native of his own town. They were honest and industrious farming people and devout members of the Catholic Church. The father lived to be seventy years of age and was twice married, his family numbering twelve children, seven by the first marriage and five by the second.
Mr. Meehan, of this review, was a lad of thirteen years when, with his older brother, Patrick, he arrived in New Orleans in the year 1846, and the country was engaged in war with Mexico. The Crescent city was then but a small town and he obtained work on a milk-ranch, peddling milk throughout New Orleans, receiving for his services nine dollars per month and his board. Later he was employed in a bakery, and in 1849 attracted by the discovery of gold in California, he sailed for San Francisco making the voyage around Cape Horn on the ship Ontario. The trip was a very long one, consuming nine months, but at length arrived safely in port in February, 1850. It was not until the 9th of September the following year that California was admitted to the Union. Mr. Meehan at once made his way to the mines, his first claim being on Poverty Hill, Tuolumne County. He was one of the first to secure a claim in that “digging,” but the property yielded to him a good return. With three companions he worked the claim, taking out thirty-six ounces of gold daily. When the water supply failed them he was one of the company that went to Downieville and sunk the first shaft on the old Durgan flat. They found plenty of gold there, but having no adequate means to pump the water they abandoned the work. The claim, however, has since been operated and has proved very rich.
From that place Mr. Meehan went to Goodyear’s Bar and was one of the party that built the tunnel to Slate Creek, but he continued there only a short time, going to Horse-shoe Bend, on the American River, where they began to turn the river. They whipsawed lumber and pulled it down the mountains by hand in order to build a flume; but even when this work was completed, at great expense, the water still leaked through and they were obliged to abandon the mine. Some men, however, determined to continue their labors there. Mr. Applegate was conducting a general merchandise store there and agreed to provide such miners as had no money with provisions and to be paid when they could secure gold, but the venture did not prove successful and Mr. Applegate therefore was a very heavy loser. Mr. Meehan and his partner, however, always had plenty of money to provide themselves with the necessaries of life, and moreover possessed a hopeful and courageous disposition which enabled them to press forward when many a man had grown discouraged.
He then returned to Tuolumne County and again engaged in placer mining on Poverty Hill, where he secured a good claim and met with excellent success. While here he took out a fine nugget weighing two pounds. Later he returned to New Orleans, leaving San Francisco in July, 1852. He arrived at the Crescent city at a time when the yellow fever epidemic was raging, but his strong constitution warded off the disease. When he once more reached Poverty Hill he found that his claims had been jumped and he accordingly made his way to Columbia, securing a claim on Chinaman Flat. There he also prospered; operating a claim on what is now the principal street in Sonora. After prosecuting mining operations in various places in that locality he removed to Calaveras County, where in company with Ben Thorn, he engaged in mining on San Antonio Creek.
In 1854 Mr. Meehan came to Amador County and purchased an interest in the old George claim at Volcano, where he successfully engaged in mining for thirteen years, getting out gold in lumps valued at from three to five dollars, and he also owned other mining interests there. In 1867 his fellow townsmen, recognizing his worth and ability, elected him as a nominee on the Democratic ticket to the position of county treasurer, after which he removed to Jackson, filling the position in a most acceptable manner for eleven years. On the expiration of that period he was appointed by President Cleveland postmaster of Jackson, and administered the affairs of the office for four years and two months, during all this time, however, being still interested in mining. He is now the sole owner of the quartz mine in Echo County, Nevada, which is being operated with good returns, and he also has a paying mine at Crown Point and valuable mining property in Amador County.
In 1857 Mr. Meehan was united in marriage to Miss Mary A. Rawle, a native of Pennsylvania and a daughter of Matthew Rawle, one of the early and brave California pioneers. Nine children were born to Mrs. and Mrs. Meehan, but two died from that dread disease, diphtheria, in early life, and one son, Emmet James, passed away when twenty-four years of age. John died at the age of fourteen, and one died in infancy. The four still living are George M., a mining engineer; Raymond, who also is connected with mining interests and resides in Jackson; Mrs. Nellie Fontenrose, also of Jackson; and Loretta, who is still with her parents.
Mr. Meehan and his wife have a very pleasant home situated on one of the beautiful hills. The spacious grounds are eleven acres in extent and form a pretty setting to their residence. Mr. Meehan belongs to the Ancient Order of United Workmen and the Chosen Friends, and both he and his wife are communicants of the Catholic Church. From the early age of fourteen years his life has been one of ceaseless activity and all that he has acquired is the reward of his own labors. He is a man of strong purpose and resolution who brooks no obstacles that can be overcome by earnest and honorable efforts, and it is this laudable quality that has led to his success.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.