THE ARGONAUTS OF CALIFORNIA.
MINING SPECULATORS--THE LOST BROTHER—GAMBLING--A GENEROUS GAMBLER--AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY--BEGINNING OF FRUIT CULTURE AND WINE MANUFACTURE IN CALIFORNIA--THE FIRST CHURCH ORGANIZATION IN THE MINING REGIONS--“OLD NICK” AND HIS ANIMALS --“OLD SYD.
Many persons were now continually coming into the mines, and stupendous frauds were being perpetrated upon them in the sale of mining claims.
One very enterprising individual who had drifted into the low red hill or slide in the hope of finding a lead, being disappointed, loaded his shot-gun with gold dust, and discharged it into various places. Upon finding a newcomer who desired to purchase, he was requested to take a pan and prospect for himself, which the victim would often do with remarkable success. He, however, saw the joke after he had bought the mine, and procuring a shot-gun played the same game on some other chap; and I’m not sure, but I think that their descendants have inherited the same habit, and are yet shooting and selling old claims. One sale of a mining claim is worth mentioning. It was a rich piece of ground in the lower part of Hangtown, and located on a rich lead. A chap who had been hard at work for nearly ten days stripping the top dirt from his claim, about fifteen feet square and ten feet deep, prospecting a pan of dirt in one corner and finding nothing, concluded to sell it, if possible. Presently along came three or four young men who had just arrived, and he proposed to sell it to them, explaining that there was good pay a little deeper. They paid him his price--one hundred and fifty dollars--and early next morning started in to work. By 3 P.M. they were down to bed rock in various places, and water being handy they washed a pan just for curiosity.
The seller of the claim, who lingered around to see how badly he had fooled them, was, when he saw them wash out pan after pan,
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containing from ten dollars, fifity dollars, and one hundred dollars to a pan, the most disgusted man in California. He tried to buy it back, and offered five hundred dollars for it. They took out in about five days nearly $7,000, and this was their first mining venture.
The winter of ’50-51 as before stated was a very dry one, and there was hardly water enough to run a tom. Consequently the summer of ’51 was very dry, and the dry diggings throughout the country were almost deserted. This season saw large amounts of gold dust taken from the river beds of the Yuba, Feather and Bear Rivers, as well as in the various forks of the American, and also in the streams in the central and lower portions of the State. Small towns were now being started in the various mining districts. School-houses and churches were consipicuous (sic) among all, and the country was now, more than ever, assuming the appearance of civilization, to the great disgust of the border-ruffian element, one of whom was heard to remark:
“That ef these Yanks didn’t stop with that ar’ nonsense of fooling away their time with school an’ prayin’ shebangs, the whole country would go to h-l.” But time has since proved that he lied.
The emigration of this fall was larger than that of the year previous and was that of a better class, consisting principally of families, many of whom were from States east of the Mississippi.
A bulletin board, or, rather, a book for registering the names of the newly-arrived emigrants in order that friends and acquaintances could learn of their destination and location, was put up. Many amusing incidents occurred in the search for those who had previously arrived. A young man, having just arrived, made inquiries among various barrooms and hotels for his brother, who had, as he was informed by the bulletin board, come across the plains this season. The young man was from Ohio, and his older brother had left home some twelve or fifteen years previous. The new arrival, therefore, was very anxious to find his brother. The train with which the young man had just arrived was under the control of a man from New Orleans called the Colonel, his real name not being known by any one upon the train. In making inquiries in one of the barrooms, with the hope of finding some one who could give him the required information in regard to his brother, a gentleman from New Orleans, who was present, remarked:
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“Why, the man you’re inquiring for, the Colonel, is here in town, and I saw him not ten minutes ago over there in the drug store.”
The young man went over and saw the Colonel, with whom he had crossed the plains, in the store, and of course mentioned the reasons for his coming in as directed.
“Well, said the Colonel, “what was your brothers name?”
“His name was William B. Richards.”
”Well, rejoined the Colonel, “this is my name.”
Sure enough, this Colonel with whom he had crossed the plains was the long-lost brother!
It was the habit, or custom rather, in early days to give to each man a certain nickname by which he was usually known, his real name being, as a general rule, unknown, or even unasked for. “Whar air you from?” was the main question and the information most desired, and usually decided his nickname.
Here were “Old Pike,” “Big and Little Pike,” “Old Kentuck,” “Texas Jack,” “Texas Jim,” “Old Arkansas,”; if Scotch, he was “Sandy,” or “Scotty,” ; if from the East, “Little or Big Yank,” and their mining locations would in some cases, also decide their names. There were “French Flat Pete,” Sandy Hill Mike,” “Poverty Point Jim,” ad infinitum.
On one occasion, a young miner returned to his Eastern home for a visit, and one day, while visiting at some family acquaintances with his parents at a distance, upon looking over some daguerro-types lying on the tables, he remarked that one of them resembled very much a young man with whom he had worked, and who was at present living in the same place, Mockl-e Hill, in a cabin near his. He could not tell the name, but he went by the name of Jack, and one day, being in his cabin, saw a book upon the table, and found upon looking at it, that it was the “Pilgrims Progress,” on the fly leaf of which was written the name of Elizabeth Andrews.
“Oh, Oh!” said a young lady present, “that is my brother, John Andrews, and we haven’t heard from him for nearly 15 years, and were afraid that some accident had happened to him somewhere.”
After the commencement of the rainy season, in the fall of ’51, the river miners flocked into the placer mining districts. Other arrivals from across the waters, soon swelled the population in all of the various mining camps. Gambling in all of its various forms became again the principal amusement. Barrooms and gambling-houses vied with each other in furnishing their patrons with the finest and loudest music, and bands could be heard playing in all of them during the greater portion of the evening, and until the wee sma’ hours of the morning. The professionals were as a general rule Southerners by birth, hailing from New Orleans, Louisville, Memphis, Richmond and St. Louis; whilst only occasionally would be found a sport claiming Boston or New York as his birthplace. Many of this class were men of good education and abilities, and many of them descendants of respectable families as well. They had been accustomed from childhood to associate with this class
in their native cities, and therefore inherited or acquired the gambling trail of character. It is of course well understood that all men who gamble for money are necessarily very bad characters; but the professional gambler of early days formed, in many instances, an exception to this general rule, and should not be confounded with the lower ten-cent ante poker gambler found bumming and loafing around the gambling places of to-day. Among this former class were as many good, honest and square-dealing men as could generally be found among those engaged in any other business, and they were, as a rule, more charitable, being always ready to contribute their share, and a little more too, towards assisting those who were in distress.
A lady with two daughters arrived in the mines late in the autumn of ’49, her husband died on the plains during the journey. They were in a very destitute condition and among strangers in a strange land, without a single acquaintance in the State, as far as they knew. Her great desire was to return to their Eastern home, and to enable them to do so newly-found friends used every effort, endeavoring, among the miners and business men of the town, to raise sufficient money for the purpose; but not enough money, however, could be collected. Some one mentioned the circumstances in one of the gambling houses, and one gambler, Lucky Bill, whose sad fate I have mentioned, who was present, remarked:
“Well, if Mrs. S. wishes to return East again with her daughters, she shall go.”
Taking his hat around among the gamblers in the various houses, he raised in one hour about $1,500, which was sent to her, and in a few days the family went on its way rejoicing.
The winter of ’51-’52 was a very damp one, mining throughout the entire region was carried on very extensively with toms, long and short, and towards spring sluices came into use, which enabled the miner to wash large quantities of dirt that would not pay by any other process. The greatest activity prevailed among all classes, and fortunes were realized by many. Among the arrivals during this year from the East, were many who had previously been in the mines and returned home; some to remain, while many had been to visit parents, wives and families as well, also in some few cases with the intention to return with a partner. Among the
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latter class was a young man from Philadelphia, who had been absent from his loved one nearly two years. During the first year after parting he had written to her by every steamer; but, for some reason, for several months previous to revisiting his home he had neglected to correspond, not dreaming of the effect which such neglect sometimes produces upon the female mind. Upon arriving in his native city he hastened at once to the home of his adored one, knocked upon the door, and the mother of his darling Maggie, answering the call, invite him in with greatest pleasure. Maggie is called; she enters the room, and the negligent miner goes for her, but hold! With a wave of the hand, she exclaims:
“Joseph, away, away! I thought you were dead, and I’m a married woman now.”
Joe’s advice to all young men upon his return to California was:
“Boys, write often! Write often !”
During the winter, many ditches had been dug, bringing water from the mountain streams into the various mining districts, thus enabling the miners to work ravines, slides and benches, which never before had been worked. This extended the area of mining ground, and from this time forth it was possible to work nearly all gold-bearing soil.
In the spring of ’52, many who had succeeded in accumulating a sufficient amount of gold turned their attention to the cultivation of land, and to stock raising in other portions of the State; and throughout the summer, ranches were pre-empted and located in many of the lower counties, for the very important discovery had now been made that a portion of California, at least, contained land suitable for agriculture. Up to this time, however, but very few people came with the intention of remaining, the principal purpose being to acquire a sufficient amount of gold, and then to return as soon as possible to their Eastern homes. But to thousands this quick return home was a delusion and a snare; for just how to return, or how to acquire the necessary means for so doing, was a conundrum that they endeavored to solve, but in many instances were finally compelled to give up.
Many left wives and families in the East, expecting to meet them again in a short time; but from sickness, misfortune, and poor luck, as well as in consequence of bad habits, the years rolled on, and they became weaned from their loved ones at home, who
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were finally forgotten. In one instance, a man from an Eastern State, leaving a wife and several daughters to care for themselves, arrived here in ’50. He soon forgot his family in the East, but after a few years, being very unsuccessful in his mining and business matters, and hearing that his daughters had made wealthy marriages, concluded to surprise them with a visit. As the result proved, he was himself the most surprised man in that section of the country, for none of them knew him and would not even recognize him, a daughter saying that as he had never written nor sent them one dollar to assist them, therefore he could not be their father, and they kindly bade him farewell. He returned to California a sadder, but a more single man.
Previous to the discovery of the old river channels in the hills, it was the almost universal opinion, I think, that the mines would in a very few years be entirely worked out, and all would be compelled to return to their Eastern homes; but by the discovery of the hill gravel mining, the time necessary to accomplish this in was of course extended to a later day, and taken in connection, also, with the fact of the other very important discoveries, that good land was found in some of the other counties, it looked very reasonable to suppose that it would be possible to live here, and establish permanent homes in California. It was not until about three years later that this opinion became prevalent, and hundreds of families throughout the mining regions came to the conclusion that this might prove to be a pretty good country to live in after all.
Steamers were now making regular trips, bringing letters from home and friends semi-monthly. Besides, ships were continually arriving laden with all the necessaries of life, as well as its conveniences, and ladies could appear in the streets of the small, inferior mining towns sporting the latest styles of dress, hats and crinoline attachments, similar to those in the streets of New York or Boston, and what more could they desire? Wages were high in all of the towns and cities; provisions and groceries were reasonable in price, and the whole country assumed the air of a continuation of conditions of general prosperity of a more permanent character. The discovery was further made that, although malaria and mosquitoes were prevalent in certain portions of the country near the river margins, and also in the vicinity of certain flats covered by stagnant waters, and that fleas in swarms infested its chief city, yet the country in general was a very healthy one, the fleas being confined to their native soil and not allowed to scatter around over the State much.
The diverting of the water from mountain streams by means of flumes and ditches for mining purposes, changed entirely the character and general appearance of the mining regions, for the eye was soon greeted with the appearance of gardens scattered around among the hills, as well as in various camps. Cabbages raised their shaggy heads in their beds, adjacent to the bed of violets and daisies. Radishes, turnips, and horse-radish, etc., could be found profusely scattered here and there, surrounded with rose-bushes, dahlias and the high, lofty and aristocratic sunflower. Beautiful
cottages, surrounded with blooming gardens, could be seen dotting the sides and gentle slopes of the hills in the environments of the various mining towns, all denoting the fact of changed conditions, and telling in plain language that now we have come to stay. These changed conditions were not, however, confined to any one particular section of the country, but to all of the mineral regions that at this time were being worked, which included the central counties of the State, as well also as the chief towns and cities. All received the impulse of the change, and moved forward in their course toward a higher improvement of conditions.
With these change came, also, from the far East, many who had previously returned to their Eastern homes, under the impression when they left that a total collapse here of all mining and business interests generally was a question of but a few short years, and being formed of that material peculiar to the pioneer, too proud to beg their way, would, therefore, be compelled to remain and make their future dwelling places in company with the Indians, amid the ruins of the once thrifty but now deserted mining villages. Many of these men returned, bringing their families with them also, satisfied that they found at last a suitable spot upon the face of the earth for a home, safe from the freezing blizzard and the destructive cyclone; and a country, too, where at night, after the toil of the day is over and all have retired to rest, and sweet, refreshing sleep is desired, the mercury in the tube of the thermometer hanging by the doer, which has been through the day pretty well up towards the nineties, does not reverse the natural order of things as it does in the East, and continue climbing up during the night, forgetting to fall. On the contrary, here it conforms with the natural law, and gently descends from its lofty elevation of the day, evidencing a more agreeable temperature, necessary to sweet and refreshing slumber.
These things, and many other facts of a similar nature, brought to our State emigrants not only from the East, but from all other countries of the globe, who desired to live under such favorable conditions, and in a short time there could be found in the mining regions, as well as in the chief towns and cities, representatives from almost every nation. But a very small proportion, however, of those who came into the mountains in the year ’53 engaged in the business of mining, for previous to this time the very important discovery had been made that, by the use of water for irrigation, the soil
could be rendered highly productive, and all kinds of fruits could be raised in the red and apparently barren soil. The German population commenced the cultivation of the grape vine, and from this point in the history of California can be dated the inception of the fruit and wine industries of the Pacific Slope, which in a few years swelled to immense proportions. The little valleys and level places, suitable for orchards and vineyards, were readily located, and everything indicated the fact that all had become convinced that this was the promised land, for which they had so long been searching.
It must not be supposed that the gold seekers from the Eastern side of the Continent, in their earnest desire to improve their financial condition, should entirely overlook their spiritual welfare; and that they did not forget their early training was evident from the fact that in the spring of ’51 a church was organized, and a suitable building erected near the mouth of Cedar Ravine, where services were held upon the Sabbath. The Rev. Mr. Owens was the first minister to officiate, and it was stated that this was the first church organization in the mining regions. The discovery was soon made, that although we had a church and a very respectable congregation, containing quite a number of ladies and a few children, yet there was something else wanting, something that had been associated in our minds from infancy in connection with a church, and this was a bell. The question therefore at once suggested itself as to how we could reasonably expect success in spiritual matters without a bell. Upon the supposition that this would be an impossibility, a committee was appointed, and money raised for the purchase of one.
After much inquiry, the committee succeeded in purchasing in San Francisco an old ship’s bell. This upon its arrival was hailed with hearty cheers, and elevated in due time to its lofty perch upon the roof of the church. The sound of it could be heard for many miles around, reverberating among the ravines and cañons, telling to the miners far and near, in the plainest tones and in unmistakable language, that the holy Sabbath day had not only found its way across the barren desert and the mountain ranges, but had come to stay, and they must not forget it.
All persons are, perhaps, aware that the peculiar tone of a bell which we have often been accustomed to hear, and are therefore familiar with, can very easily be distinguished from the tones of another, even after the lapse of many years. Near the head of the
Big Cañon, about two miles from the town, was a cabin occupied by three or four men who had followed the sea, and upon the first Sabbath morning when the bell was rung the sound of it reached the ears of the sailor boys; and one of them rushing from the cabin door exclaimed;
“Blast me eyes, shipmates, if the taint ole Dick’s voice” (the name given to the bell on shipboard), “and I’ll jest bet a tar bucket agin an ole soldier, that the Capt’in of the ship has been on a spree, lost his bearin’s, and is a sailin’ up Hangtown Creek, and a comin’ to anchor off the town. We’ll scrub decks, trim sails, make all taut, me lads, and take a cruise down that way, and hev a talk with ole Dick.”
Jack was informed upon reaching town that the bell upon the church, sure enough, was formerly used upon the ship “Staffordshire.”
“Yas” says Jack; “I wud know that bell in any part o’ the world. For twelve years Dick and I sailed together the seas over, from the China Sea up through the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean; an’ we could all understan’ Dick’s language when he talked to us. It was Dick who tole us when the plum duff and ole horse was ready fur us to stow away in our lockers. When ‘twas our
watch below, an’ also late at night, when ‘twas our watch on deck, we wud hear ole Dick sing out, ‘Aye, below there, me hearties! Rouse out, ye lubbers, an’ come on deck,’ an’ we always obeyed his orders.’ Well, me lads, ‘tis quite a change fur ole Dick from the deck of a ship tossin’ about on the ocean, to the roof of a church up in Hangtown; but he’ll do his duty faithfully’ an’ if the land lubbers will be as quick to come on deck for prayers when he talks to ‘em on a Sunday mornin,’ as the lubbers in the ship’s fo’cas’le were, they’ll all sail through life in safety with a fair wind. An’ then, when their voyage is ended, and Dick tells them that tis their watch below, they can slip their cables from this world without fear, sail over to the other side, an’ find a safe harbor in the next.”
About thirty-eight years have now passed since the old ship’s bell first made its appearance in the mining regions. It served its purpose well for a short time upon the roof of the church, in calling together the miners for prayers on Sunday mornings; but an increase in number of the congregation demanded a larger edifice. A larger bell was therefore deemed necessary, and Dick was transferred to the roof of the school-house on the hill, from which his voice can yet be heard, with the same cheerful tone calling upon the children to come and prepare themselves to take a part in the active duties of life.
The school was for a long time under the instruction of Mr. Cyrus Bartlett, of New Bedford, Mass.
In the fall of ’51, no little excitement was created in the town, by the entrance of a person whose name was Ben Nickerson, but who was generally known, however, as “Old Nick.” He brought into the mines with him a rather superannuated specimen of a grizzly, with a diminutive donkey as an accompaniment, and the posters upon the fences conveyed the valuable information that on the hill in the rear of the Court House, within an inclosure erected for the express purpose, at 2 P.M. daily, Sundays unexcepted, would be witnessed a most terrific combat between these two ferocious animals; tickets $1, to be had at the door; reserved seats for ladies and children at half price. To the credit of the ladies in the mining regions, it may be as well to mention that none ever visited old Nick, nor his inhuman exhibition. Occasionally the programme would be changed by the substitution of a wild Spanish bull, in place of the donkey. In a short time, however, public sentiment
Revolted against the inhuman exhibition, and the citizens, en masse, tore down the structure.
Many old timers will remember Syd Ketchum, of Hangtown. He was full of his jokes, and was rightly named, for it was his greatest delight to “ketch’um” (the boys) occasionally. One afternoon he took his station in the middle of the street in front of the Empire saloon, and casting his eyes upward seemed to be gazing
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at some extraordinary object in the heavens. In a few minutes he was surrounded by others who were anxious to see what he was gazing at so earnestly, and among these was Anderson, the actor, who took his station in front of Syd, and gazed intently and long in the same direction. Finally, he turned to Syd and asked what he saw.
“Oh, nothing,” was the answer as he walked away.
Anderson, with his hands jammed in his pockets, stood in the same spot and watched the joker until the latter was out of sight, and remarked, as he turned to enter the saloon again:
“Well, I’ll be durned.”
“It was but a few days after this that Syd, rushing into the Belle Union gaming house out of breath, exclaimed:
“Horrible, horrible. The Coloma stage, with a full load of passengers, has just run off the Coloma street bridge.”
“Of course there was a great rush on the part of the crowd to the corner below for the purpose of witnessing the horrible accident, and among them was Anderson, the actor, in the lead. Upon their arrival at the corner they saw the stage, with its load of passengers, on its way up Coloma street, and it at once occurred to them that the stage never could have gotten across the bridge without running off at the further end of it.
“Well,” says Anderson, “durned if I don’t get even with old Syd, if I have to live in Hangtown the rest of my life.”
He watched his opportunity and it soon came.
It was late in the fall and raining. In the large gambling house called the Trio Hall, sitting around a great sheet iron stove one afternoon were a number of men enjoying themselves, and among them was Syd.
All at once the front door was violently opened and in rushed Anderson, the actor. He was hatless, and, from all appearances, was in the full enjoyment of a full-fledged case of “jimjams.” He stepped to the stove and with his foot kicked open the door, at the same time drawing from under his coat a large powder horn, which he threw into the stove, exclaiming:
“Let’s all go together, boys.”
A few minutes afterwards Syd, with a few others, ventured to look into the door, and there stood the actor with his hat upon his head, who, with a pleasant smile, inquired of Syd if the stage had run off the bridge again.
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Some one asked Syd how he got out. He said that at times he was at the top, and sometimes they were five or six deep and he was at the bottom of the pile, but he managed, by rolling, tumbling and crawling occasionally, with a hop, skip and a jump, to get outside before the stove blew up, and acknowledged that Anderson had got even.
Soon after the hanging of Irish Dick in the fall of ’50, the question of hanging a culprit in that promiscuous manner was objected to by many, and Syd opposed it strongly upon the grounds that, as a general rule, the hardest characters in the camp would be the first to pull on the rope and cry “Hang him !” as was the case when Dick was hung, the majority of those who were the most eager to hang him being men of the lowest class.
Syd claimed that if a man were to run through the town, followed by others who cried “Hang him! Hang him!” this crowd of ignorant barroom loafers would join in the chase and hang the man, if they caught him, without asking any question, and simply upon general principles and from the excitement of the occasion. To prove this it was agreed that a young man present should run down the street, a few others should follow in his wake and cry “Hang him!” The young man started as agreed upon, and before he reached the corner of Coloma street a dozen barroom loafers had caught him, and with a rope around his neck were using him in a very rough manner. No doubt they would have injured him severely, even if they had not hung him, but for the interference of Syd and others, who explained the joke as well as the object in playing it.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Proofread by Betty Vickroy.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.