Discovery of Gold in California, by Gen. John Sutter
Capt. Sutter tells of the Gold Discovery
An Eyewitness to the Gold Discovery
A Rush to the Gold Washings From the California Star
Military Governor Masons Report on the Discovery of Gold
William T. Sherman and the Gold Rush
Dramatic Impact of the Gold Discovery, by Theo. H. Hittell
The Discovery as Viewed in New York and London
Gold Rush and Anti-Chinese Race Hatred
Other Museum Gold Rush Items
California Gold Rush Chronology 1846 - 1849
California Gold Rush Chronology 1850 - 1851
California Gold Rush Chronology 1852 - 1854
California Gold Rush Chronology 1855 - 1856
California Gold Rush Chronology 1857 - 1861
California Gold Rush Chronology 1862 - 1865
Steamer Day in the 1850s
Sam Brannan Opens New Bank - 1857
| THE GOLD DISCOVERY. |
By Theodore H. Hittell
THE gold discovery, which, by attracting the attention of the world to California made its name familiar among all civilized people and induced the greatest rush known in the history of the globe, took place on January , 1848. It was just two weeks before the signing of the articles of peace; but, as it took some time to realize the value and confront the reality of the discovery, it may be said in general terms to have been contemporaneous with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the tradition of California from Mexico to the United States.
John A. Sutter, the enterprising Swiss, who had settled New Helvetia and in various ways played an important part in the affairs of the country ever since his arrival in 1839, was a man of many projects. After the American occupation to which he was friendly, he had not added anything to his fort; but he had begun to spread in other directions. His establishment at, that time, with the exception of an adobe building to the east of the fort called the hospital, consisted of the fort alone. It was an inclosure of an acre or so, rectangular in form, surrounded by an adobe wall about twenty feet high. At two of the corners, diagonally opposite each other, were two-story block-houses. Inside the inclosure there was a large building, with a shingle roof, used as a store-house; and all around the walls on the inside were ranged houses or rooms which were used for residence purposes and as shops for blacksmiths, carpenters and other workmen. In some of the apartments Indian, women made course blankets, and in others Indian men attended to other indoor work. The entrance to the whole was by a large gate, open by day and closed at night, with two iron ships-guns near at hand. There Sutter lived, monarch of all he surveyed, with power under the Mexican rule, which he did not fail to exert, to inflict punishment even unto death.
After the advent in large numbers of American, settlers, and in view of the market which he saw they would afford, he conceived, among other projects, that of building a saw-mill at some point in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which would furnish pine timber and water-power and at the same time be easily accessible from the settlement and other places down the Sacramento river and the bay as far as San Francisco, where lumber was in great demand. He contemplated putting up a grist-mill near his fort and making various building improvements; and therefore the discovery of a spot, such as he wanted, was a matter of great importance for the furtherance of his manifold plans. With this end in view, he sent out parties at various times up the different streams towards the mountains. The upper Sacramento was thus explored. In June, 1846, John Bidwell was employed in examining the Feather river with the same object, but was drawn off by the advent of Fremont on his return from the Oregon line and the breaking out of hostilities, which for the time put a stop to private enterprises. In the summer of 1847, when affairs in the territory had settled down into something like normal condition the search for a saw-mill site was renewed; and this time with success.
Among the immigrants, who had drifted out into the new country, was a man named James W. Marshall from New Jersey. He was of a somewhat roving disposition, not calculated, make or at least to save money, without education, but ingenious, handy with tools and possessing various kinds of knowledge picked up from different quarters. Besides being a carpenter, he was also a millwright; and, having nothing else to do at the time, he proposed to Sutter, if the latter would furnish him an outfit, to hunt out a site and put up a mill to be run in partnership. Sutter, after some hesitation, consented and Marshall set off on his search. In about a month he returned with information that he had found a suitable spot on the north fork of the American river at the place now known as Coloma, about forty-five miles in a direct line and some sixty, by the road, or trail northeast of Sacramento. Articles of agreement were thereupon drawn up, by the terms of which Sutter was to furnish men and means, Marshall to build and run the mill, and the lumber sawed or its product to be shared. Though late in the autumn no time was lost. Men were employed and ox-teams, carts, and pack-animals engaged to carry machinery, tools and provisions.
It took some time for the little, colony to establish itself in inhabitable quarters; but as soon as it had done so, the work of building the mill progressed. The structure was up by the middle of January, 1848. But when it was about ready to run, it was found that the ditch or race, which was to lead the water from the wheel, was not deep enough. Marshall conceived the idea of scouring it out with a swift current and opened the flood gates to their fullest capacity. The water was allowed to run all, night. In the morning Marshall shut his gates and went down to examine the race. He was alone at the time. The current had dug out the sides, and bottom and carried down and spread out at the end of the ditch a great mass of gravel and sand. While looking at it he observed several shiny particles lying in about six inches of water and reflecting a brilliant yellow light, He picked up one and examined it attentively. He knew of but two minerals that were like it: one was sulphuret of iron, which was bright and brittle, and the other gold, which was bright, heavy and malleable. The specimen he held was bright and heavy. He tried it between two stones and found he could hammer it into different shapes without breaking it. He immediately picked up several specimens and, returning to the mill, called out to William Scott, one of the carpenters who were at work on the wheel, Ive found it! What is it? asked Scott. Gold! said Marshall. Oh no, replied Scott, that cannot be. Marshall held out his specimens and rejoined, I know it to be nothing else.
It did not take long for every one connected with the mill to hear of the discovery and obtain specimens of the metal. But though Marshall was convinced that it was gold, there was much doubt in the minds of the others. A few days afterwards Marshall went down to New Helvetia and carried two or three ounces of the metal with him. Upon meeting Sutter, he said he had important news to communicate and asked to be taken to a place of privacy. Then he took a rag package from his pocket and, undoing it, showed a number of small yellow lumps, which he said he found in the mill-race and he was satisfied were gold, though the others at the mill had laughed at him and called him crazy. Sutter tried the metal with aqua-fortis, which He found among his apothecary store; he then took down the Encyclopedia Americana and read its article on gold; he also weighed the metal and compared it with silver dollars, and the result wasthe same as Marshall had arrived atthat the substance was gold and nothing else. Upon this Marshall became much excited and wanted to start back and have Sutter go with him immediately, though it was late in the afternoon and raining hard at the time, Sutter declined and asked Marshall to wait until morning when he would accompany him. But this Marshall refused to do; and, on Sutters promise to follow the next day, he posted off through the rain, without waiting for a bite to eat.
The next morning early, Sutter, with an Indian soldier and vaquero, started for Coloma. It was still raining. When about half way, he saw a man crawling out of the brushwood at the side of the trail some distance ahead, and, on getting nearer, found it to be Marshall, who had reached Coloma, taken a fresh horse and come thus far back to meet his partner. He had evidently not slept; and the excitement of his discovery was still strong upon him. The two then rode on to the mill and late in the afternoon, upon the weather clearing up, took a prospecting walk to the foot of the mill-race. That night the water was turned on again; and the next day further examination was made and Sutter picked up several specimens, which with other pieces handed him by others he afterwards had made into a massive ring, on the inside of which was inscribed The first gold, discovered in January, 1848. After looking around for a couple of days, he returned to New Helvetia; but before departing from the mill he begged and exacted a promise from all hands that they would keep the discovery a secret for six weeks. He had already commenced to build a large mill at Brighton near his fort, in which He had invested much money; and he said that, if the discovery became public before his mill was finished, the workmen would leave and he would be entirely ruined.
It was impossible to keep the secret. Among those at the mill were P. L. Wimmer, wife and, family. Mrs. Wimmer did the cooking. She told the story to a teamster, who had come up with a load of provisions from the fort. He carried a few specimens back and offered them at a store kept by Brannan & Smith in one of the out-houses of the fort in payment for a bottle of brandy. Smith was disposed to feel insulted at the offer; but the teamster said they were gold and he might ask Sutter if it were not so. Smith rushed over to Sutter; and Sutter could do nothing else, as he afterwards wrote, but confess the truth and tell all about the discovery. Smith reported at once to Brannan. Brannan immediately started for Coloma; looked around, returned; leased a larger store, and sent for greatly increased supplies of goods. The secret was out, and it soon spread. Every one that heard it prepared to go up and hunt for gold In a few days Sutters employees all left him. His unfinished mill remained as it was. His tannery was deserted and a large quantity of leather left to rot in the vats. He had piles of raw hides, hitherto the most valuable product of the country; but they had all at once become valueless. They could not be tanned nor could they be sold: no one wanted to be bothered with such trash, as they were now called. And so of other mechanical trades: they all stopped and all the work that was only partially completed was abandoned. Every one rushed for the gold-field; and Sutter himself was finally seized with the excitement and started for the mines with a number of wagons laden with provisions, a hundred Indians and fifty Sandwich Island Kanakas.
In the latter part of February, William Bennett, one of the carpenters employed by Sutter and Marshall, carried some of the gold to San Francisco. He showed it to Isaac Humphrey, who had been a gold-miner in Georgia. From the size and character of the specimens exhibited, Humphrey pronounced the mines much richer than the gold-fields of Georgia. But there was still much incredulity. Very few at first felt like investing in a trip to Coloma. Humphrey, however, accompanied Bennett on his return; and upon arriving, at the spot, after prospecting for a short time with a pan and satisfying himself of the richness of the deposits, built a rocker and went into the business of washing gold with great success. Others, observing how he worked, imitated his example and with equal success. Further investigations showed that the mines were not confined to one locality; but that the whole region was richly auriferous. Meanwhile. the news spread and belief grew. On March 25 the California Star newspaper stated that gold-dust had become an article of traffic at Sutters fort. This fact made the matter, for a live newspaper, worth investigating; and E. C. Kemble, the. editor, started off on a tour of inspection. At New Helvetia he was joined, by Sutter, who was at that time principally concerned on account of the neglect of his interests by his employees and the loss of his investments. They journeyed together to Coloma; but during their stay, Sutters employees appeared, to have given up the hunt for gold and to be attending to their lumbering in compliance with their contract. The successful miners had moved off in search of still wider fields. Kemble looked around but saw nothing remarkable; and supposing he had seen all that was to be seen, he returned to San Francisco, and published an article in his paper, giving it as his deliberate opinion from personal observation that the gold mines were a sham.
Scarcely however, was the ink of Kembles editorial dry, when by new arrivals from the mines more of the metal came in. Jewelers examined it and experts tested it. There could be no doubt that it was gold genuine gold. Every new arrival brought more of it and information of new discoveries. A parcel, consisting of about half a pound, was offered in payment for provisions at a store and was accepted at the rate of eight dollars per ounce. As soon as this was known, people congregated at the store to look at the precious grains. The news, and its confirmation in the shape of something that could be seen and handled and weighed and sold at such rates, spread rapidly. The excitement became extreme; and almost the entire population of San Francisco prepared to follow after Humphrey and Bennett, who by that time were washing out wealth in large quantities.
In August, 1847, Lieutenant Edward Gilbert of Stevensons regiment, under instructions from Governor Mason, took a census of San Francisco and found the population, exclusive of officers and soldiers and not including the Mission Dolores, to consist of four hundred and fifty-nine persons, over half of whom were Americans. Since the beginning of 1846 one hundred and fifty-seven new houses had been erected, previous to which there had been only about thirty. Gilbert went on to say that it was without doubt destined to become the great commercial emporium of the coast. This had been frequently said before; but there were many persons who were of opinion that Monterey would outstrip it. One of the best indications, however, of the comparative standing and prospects of the two rivals was the fact that in May of 1847 the Californian newspaper of Monterey closed out its business at that place and moved to San Francisco, which then had two newspapersthe only ones in the territory. But towards the latter end of 1847, as the war had to a great extent put an end to business enterprise and for the same reason immigration was substantially stopped, the prospects of the town looked gloomy. Though Monterey and other places were still duller, there was little solace in this for the men who had laid out their money and depended upon the advance of the place to bring returns for their investments. The leading spirits met and consulted; and it was determined, in the hope of stimulating renewed immigration to send out and circulate broadcast, particularly in Missouri, a full account of California and, the advantages offered in its climate and soil to the husbandman, stock-raiser and artisan. Dr. Victor J. Fourgeaud was engaged to write a long article on the subject, which he entitled, The Prospects of California, setting forth its attractions and resources. This was printed in six columns of an extra number of the California Star in the latter part of March; and on April 1, 1848, the day on which the issue bore date, a courier was dispatched with two thousand copies overland on a contract to reach Missouri in sixty days and spread the document. It was arranged that a second extra, to be prepared with still greater care and to contain much fuller information upon the same subject, would be printed on the following June 1. The paper of April 1 had merely mentioned the rumored gold discovery and treated it as of no importance. But before the time arrived for the second extra to appear, nearly everybody had gone off to the mines; the towns were all substantially deserted; and no one cared anything more about stimulating immigration. The immense wealth of the gold-fields and the almost fabulous returns for labor were sufficient attractions to soon fill the country; and the promised second extra not only never appeared, but the newspaper itself was obliged to stop its publication for want of hands to get it out.
On May 29, the Californian announced that it was compelled to suspend as all its employees even down to the printers devil had struck work and gone off to the diggings. The whole country, it said, from San Francisco to Los Angeles resounded with gold! gold!! gold!!! The field was left half planted; the house half built; everything was neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes and the procurement of means of transportation to the auriferous hills where one man alone had made a hundred and twenty-eight dollars worth of the real stuff in one days washing and the average for all concerned was twenty dollars a day. On June 14 the California Star also suspended, and for the same reasons. Nearly everybody had left the town. The prices of real estate and all other species of property, except mining tools and provisions, fell to exceedingly low figures; and great sacrifices were made, wherever any one was found willing to invest, to procure means to reach the mines.
On June 1, Thomas O. Larkin wrote from San, Francisco to James Buchanan, secretary of state at Washington, an account of the discovery. It was then several weeks since the gold had commenced to come in, and by that time about twenty thousand dollars worth had been exchanged for merchandise and provisions. Two or three hundred men had gone from there to the mines. Some, after a short stay, had returned, but only to procure more complete outfits, Miners were working out for from ten to fifty dollars per dayone man averaged twenty-five dollars per day for sixteen days. Returned miners were spending from twenty to thirty ounces each. One-half the tenements in the town were locked up, furniture and all, and the owners, storekeepers, lawyers, mechanics and laborers all gone up the Sacramento. Offers had been made by small companies of from five to fifteen men to pay from ten to fifteen dollars a day for a cook. Many United States soldiers had deserted.
The United States bark Anita had but six men left. An American captain, finding himself about to be abandoned, had made a bargain with his crew to continue their pay; leave one man on board ship; take the others to the mines in the boats, and furnish provisions and tools for two-thirds the product of their labors. Spades and shovels, which were worth about a dollar apiece a month before, were selling for ten dollars in the mines; and even as much as fifty dollars had been offered for one. How the governor was going to retain soldiers, he did not know; nor could he undertake to foretell what good or bad effect the discovery was going to have upon the country. The excitement might end in a year, but he had been informed that it would last many years, He himself had seen several pounds of the gold and considered it very pureworth from seventeen to eighteen dollars an ounce. His statements might appear almost incredible; but they contained nothing that was not believed by every one in San Francisco; and, as he was about to visit the mines personally, he would in a short time make a further report.
According to promise, Larkin afterwards wrote a second letter to Buchanan. It was dated Monterey, June 28, 1848. He had been to the mines and found them to be all he had heard and much more than he had anticipated. He believed gold was to be found in many different branches of both the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. Miners were already scattered over a hundred miles of country and the placers were supposed to extend from river to river. He had camped two nights at a tent occupied by eight Americans, of whom two were sailors, one a clerk, two carpenters and three laborers. They had two rockers, each ten feet long and made like a childs cradle but without the handles, and consisting of about a hundred feet of lumber costing on the spot one hundred and fifty dollars or a dollar and a half a foot, These eight men brought in every evening as the product of their days labor about two pounds of gold or four ounces, equal- to sixty-four dollars, for each man.
He saw two brothers, who worked with a single tin pan between them, weigh the gold they had washed out in a dayone had seven dollars, the other eighty-two, The latter had struck a richer spot and worked more steadily than the former. Larkin tried to employ a carpenter to make a rocker for a Californian; but the carpenter was washing gold and demanded fifty dollars a day for his labor. There were then according to the best estimate he could make, about two thousand people at the mines, nine-tenths of whom were foreigners. There were about one hundred families, mostly Americans, with teams, wagons and tents. Many others were merely waiting to see whether the summer weather would bring sickness or not before leaving their homes. Should the mines hold out as they promised, as soon as the news should spread, the immigration of 1849 would be many thousands and that of 1850 still greater. Many thought the gold would last a number of years, perhaps a century: he himself believed the product would continue for several years at least. In the absence of scientists, it was impossible to give any reliable opinion as to the extent and richness of the deposits; but the Mexicans, supposed to be familiar with gold mines in their own country, said there were no placers in Mexico like those of California. He was inclined to believe that a few thousand people in a hundred miles square of the Sacramento valley would yearly turn out the whole price the United States was to pay Mexico for all its newly acquired territory. When he had written his first letter, having had some doubt about forwarding such statements, he had shown it to one of the principal merchants of San Francisco and also to Captain Joseph L. Folsom of the quartermasters department; and they had both assured him that he was far below the reality in his estimates. It might, perhaps, be supposed that he like others was led away by the prevailing excitement. But he thought he was not. When he last wrote, half the houses in San Francisco were abandoned: now three-fourths of them were empty. Houses and lots were now sold at the cost price of the lots. Monterey too had caught the infection. Nearly every house he had hired out had been given up, Every blacksmith, carpenter and lawyer was brick-yards, saw-mills and ranches were left entirely alone. While he was at the mines, he had seen a late attorney-general of the king of the Sandwich Islands digging and washing out his ounce and a half per day; and near by were to be found most all his brethren of the long robe in the country, engaged at the same honest occupation.
Under the circumstances, hearing so much about the mines and seeing such proofs as daily reached him of their exceeding richness and extent, Governor Mason resolved to visit them. Accordingly, accompanied by Lieutenant William T. Sherman, he started from Monterey on June 17. Three days afterwards he reached San Francisco and found that all or nearly all its male inhabitants had gone. The towna few months before so busy and thrivingwas almost entirely deserted. From there he and his escort crossed in a launch to Saucelito and thence proceeded by the way of Bodega and Sonoma to Sutters fort or, New Helvetia, where he arrived on July 2. Along the whole route mills were idle fields of wheat lying open to horses and cattle; houses vacant, and farms going to waste. At Sutters fort there was more life and business. Launches were discharging their cargoes and carts hauling goods to the stores, Sutter had only two mechanics in his employ, to each of whom he was paying ten dollars per day. Store-keepers were paying him a hundred dollars per month for a single room; and he had leased a two-story house in the fort enclosure for a hotel at five hundred dollars per month, From Sutters, Mason proceeded twenty-five miles up the American river to what were known as the Lower Mines or Mormon Diggings, where there were about two hundred men at work and a store had been started. Thence he went to Coloma, twenty-five miles further up, the river, and spent several days in examining the neighboring mines in company with Marshall and Captain Charles M. Weber. By that timeonly a little more than three months from the discoverythere were upwards of four thousand people employed in mining. In one place a trench was pointed out, about a hundred yards long by four feet wide and two or three feet deep, from which two men with their employees had in a weeks time extracted seventeen thousand dollars and, after paying off their men had left it with ten thousand dollars net profits. Another small ravine was shown, Which yielded twelve thousand dollars; and there were hundreds of ravines, to all appearances similar, yet untouched. Gold-dust was abundant in the hands of everybody. An incident occurred in his presence at Webers storea sort of brush booth so-called on Weber creekillustrating the plentifulness of gold-dust and the manner in which it was regarded by those who skimmed over the gulches for the first time. A man came in, picked up a box of Seidlitz powders and asked its price. Weber answered that it was not for sale. The man offered an ounce of gold, when Weber again replied that it had cost him only fifty cents but he did not wish to sell it. The man then offered an ounce and a half, equal to twenty-four dollars; and Weber felt himself obliged to make the trade. The prices of everything were exorbitant; and yet there was no lack of purchasers. . Even the Indians, who had hardly known what a decent breech-cloth was, could afford to buy the most gaudy dresses. And still, notwithstanding the thousands of ounces carried away, the gold-fields, had as yet been barely scratched. The whole region was rich; every day was developing newer and newer deposits; and the only apprehension seemed to be that the abundance of the gold would seriously depreciate its value.
Mason had intended to visit also the mines on the Feather, Yuba and Bear rivers; but, before he could do so, he was recalled to Monterey, where he returned after exactly a months absence. Upon putting his information together, he estimated that the total yield of the mines was from thirty thousand to fifty thousand dollars per day. As this wealth came from public lands belonging to the United States, he took into serious deliberation how he could secure for the government a reasonable rent or fee for the privilege of extracting it. But, after considering the large extent of country, the character of the people and the small force at his command, he resolved not to interfere but permit all to work freely, unless broils and crime should call for interposition. So far, crime was very infrequent in the mines; and though people lived in tents or brush houses or in the open air and frequently carried thousands of dollars worth of gold-dust upon their persons, thefts and robberies were almost unknown. The extent of the gold-bearing country was so great and the metal, so abundant that there was room and enough for all. It was difficult at first to believe the reports of, the great wealth; but, after his visit and seeing for himself, he had no hesitation in saying that there was more gold in the district drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers than would pay the cost of the war with Mexico a hundred times over. Nor did it require any capital to obtain it, as the miner wanted nothing but a pickaxe, shovel and tin pan to dig and wash the gravel; and many frequently picked the gold out of crevices in the rocks, in pieces of from one to six ounces weight, with their butcher-knives.
Gold was believed to exist on the eastern as well as on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, and it was, also said to have been found at Salt Lake. Nearly all the Mormons were leaving California for the purpose of going to that place; and it seemed unlikely that they would do so, unless they were sure of finding gold there in the same abundance as on the Sacramento. There was every reason to believe that the placers of California extended all along the Sierra from the Feather river as far south at least as Los Angeles, a distance of not less than five hundred miles; and it was not improbable that the whole country on both sides of the mountains was, full of rich deposits.
On his return homewards, Mason also visited the quicksilver mine of New Almaden, about twelve miles south of San Jose, and examined with great care the manner in which the ore was reduced. At that time, the proprietors were using for their furnaces large iron kettles, originally cast for the purpose of trying out oil on board whale-ships. Each furnace consisted of two of these, one inverted, bottom up, over the other, thus forming a close chamber. From a hole in each top kettle a small brick channel led to a condensing chamber at the bottom of which was a small iron reservoir. Every morning the furnace kettles were filled with ore, broken in small pieces and mixed with lime. Fire was then applied to the furnaces under the kettles and, kept up all day. The quicksilver, volitilized from the ore by the heat, passed in the form of vapor through the brick channels to the chamber, where it was condensed upon the walls and trickled down into the reservoir at the bottom, from which it was drawn off as merchantable metal. From four such ovens, operated during the two days of his visit, the yield was six hundred and fifty-six pounds, worth at that time one dollar and eighty cents per pound at Mazatlan. The metal was not yet used in California for collecting gold; but its value for that purpose was appreciated by Mason and others; and hence the more than ordinary importance attached to New Almaden and its apparently inexhaustible supply of ore, not only on account of its own merits but as a coadjutor in the development of the auriferous wealth of the country.
Upon reaching Monterey, Mason wrote to Commodore Jones. who was at Mazatlan, giving an account of his visit to the mines and stating that the discovery, which was then yielding from thirty to fifty thousand dollars worth of gold per day, had of course very much increased the value of California as a conquest; and that, treaty or no treaty, it had settled the destiny of the country. But long before the letter could have reached its destination, the news of the treaty had arrived; and the sovereignty of the country was known to have changed, beyond the possibility of recall, from Mexico to the United States. On August 17, ten days after the proclamation of the treaty at Monterey, Mason wrote to the adjutant-general a very full and circumstantial account of the mines, embracing all the facts he had gathered on his recent visit, which, together with numerous and valuable specimens of gold and cinnabar in proof or illustration of his statements, was transmitted by special messenger to Washington. It reached the government before the meeting of congress and President Polk in his annual message of December 5, 1848, laid it before the American people. In this authoritative form the news of the California gold spread; and, though there were not wanting newspapers and individuals who decried and tried to ridicule the discoveries, belief soon took hold of the people in general. The gold that had been received was assayed and found to be worth over eighteen dollars per ounce; fresher and fresher arrivals brought larger and larger quantities of the precious metal and newer and newer accounts of further and richer and more extensive discoveries.
Meanwhile the news ran through Oregon, Mexico, the Sandwich Islands and other points on the Pacific.
Before the end of the summer the greater part of the white inhabitants of California and also many Indians were at the mines; and in the, autumn adventurers began coming in from the other countries named and from Peru, Chili and, the South Sea Islands. Vessels from every direction, laden not only with human freight but with provisions and clothing and all descriptions of saleable merchandise, converged towards the Golden Gate. and San Franciscothe entrepot of all the trade and the nearest port to the gold-fieldssuddenly assumed a commanding position in the commercial world. Ships and barks and schooners flocked into the harbor; many of the old residents, who saw a better chance of making money in trade and speculation than by digging gold, returned; and many others followed; business revived; the Californian newspapers started again; there was employment in abundance and at the highest wages for every one who was willing to labor; real estate rose in value; and the town which had a few months before been nearly deserted, entered upon the unexampled career of progress that makes its early history read like a tale of enchantment.
The great increase of imports and the scarcity of coin for the payment of duties, while gold-dust was abundant and had a fixed merchantable value recognized by business men, induced Governor Mason, at the end of July, in response to a request by various citizens, to order that such gold in convenient shape should be received at the custom-house at its intrinsic value. But the order had scarcely been issued, when the governor, upon further investigation ascertained that however convenient it was unauthorized and illegal; and on August 8 he revoked it. Coin therefore had to be procured and became an article of merchandise, while the common money of the. country was gold-dust, the value of which after remaining for a time at twelve dollars, per ounce was fixed by a public meeting of merchants, held at San Francisco on September 9, 1848, at sixteen dollars per ounce.
The earliest important notice of the gold discovery, which appeared in the Atlantic States, was published in the Baltimore Sun newspaper on September 20, 1848. But by that time private letters from the Pacific coast, filled with the wonderful story, had commenced reaching their destinations. Those of the recipients, who had faith in their correspondents, believed; but for several months the general public heard with incredulity. The private letters urged relatives and friends to sell out at almost any sacrifice and start at once for California. Friends compared letters, which all gave the same account and the same advice. Doubt began to vanish and enterprising men to prepare for the grand exodus. Everybody began to talk about California. The people were in a ripe state for adventurous emigration. The Mexican war, besides stimulating enterprise, had thrown upon the country numbers of vigorous young men, inured to travel and hardships, without regular employments, and ready for new campaigns which promised unlimited rewards of wealth; while in every state there were numbers of all classes eager to better their condition and contemptuous, in the face of the accounts they received, of suggestions of doubt or difficulty or danger. Very soon after the first public notice appeared, all the newspapers from one end of the country to the other were full of the subject. It everywhere became the topic of conversation and discussion. The arrival of newer accounts and larger consignments of gold served to confirm and increase the feeling and it rapidly grew all absorbingfirst into an excitement and then into what was called a fever. It soon became certain that there would be a grand rush for the gold mines. Vessels of all kinds along the Atlantic sea-board were engaged and prepared for the long voyage, In the western states companies were formed and trains arranged for starting overland as soon as the spring should open and afford reasonably good roads for wagons and pasture for stock. Throughout the country, there was a sudden increase in the demand for ship-bread and all kinds of preserved meats and such other provisions as were suitable for a lengthy voyage or an extensive expedition overland; and factories of blankets, rubber-goods, coarse clothing and, particularly of rifles, pistols, ammunition and bowie-knives were strained to their utmost capacity of production. By the middle of winter, nearly a hundred vessels had sailed or were nearly ready to sail from the various Atlantic ports, carrying some seven or eight thousand people and supplies and merchandise of almost every conceivable kind, Thus long before the emigration of 1849 commenced, the rush by sea had started and a continuous line of vessels was making its way down the eastern side of two continents to double Cape Horn and run up the western side.
In March, 1847, while the Mexican war was still pending and hostilities active, congress passed an act providing for a semi-monthly mail between New York and Panama and authorizing a monthly mail between Panama and Oregon. The Pacific route was not sought after; and no responsible bidder offered until April, 1848, when the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was organized and undertook, for an annual subsidy of two hundred thousand dollars, to maintain three ocean steamers on the route between Panama and Astoria, by the way of San Francisco. For this line three steamships were prepared, named respectively the California, the Oregon and the Panama, each measuring about one thousand tons burden. The California was the first to leave New York. It carried no passengers around Cape Horn; but, upon arriving at Panama, it took on board a number, who had left New York for Chagres by steamer Falcon on December 1, also a number who had come from New Orleans. These persons, about three hundred and fifty in number, had crossed the isthmus and were impatiently waiting for passage to San Francisco. Among them were General Persifer F. Smith, who was to take command of the United States forces on the Pacific coast, Major E. R. S. Canby and various others who became more or less prominent in the history of California. The vessel left Panama on February 1; touched at several points on the way, and reached San Francisco on February 18, 1849; and, being the first steamer and the first of the line that was to connect California with the Atlantic states by regular communication its arrival was a great event and hailed with loud cheers and demonstrations of joy.
The Oregon, the second of the Pacific mail steamers, arrived at San Francisco on March 31, with about the same number of passengers as the California carried. Among them was John W. Geary, the first postmaster of San Francisco, who brought out the first regular mail. Captain Robert H. Pearson, who brought out this steamer, did a very smart thing on his arrival.
Instead of anchoring near the town and giving his men a chance to desert, as those of the California had done, he ran up alongside of the line-of-battle ship Ohio at Saucelito and obtained the privilege of leaving his crew as 11 prisoners until he was ready to return to sea again. The Panama was detained by an accident and did not reach California until August 18. On April 12 the United States transport ship Iowa arrived at Monterey with General Bennet Riley, who had been sent out from Washington to relieve Mason in the governorship of California, and three companies of United States infantry; and a few days previously the transport ship Rome had arrived at the same place with Major Heintzelman and two companies of infantry. In June the emigrant ships from the Atlantic sea-boardthat long line of argonauts which dotted the route down one side of the two continents and up the otherbegan reaching the Golden Gate and pouring their multitudes into the population of the golden land. In June eleven of them arrived; in July forty; in August forty-three; in September sixty-six; in October twenty-eight; in November twenty-three, and in December nineteen; or altogether, counting two vessels that arrived in April and one in May, a total of two hundred and thirty-three in nine months. Besides these vessels from United States ports, there arrived during the same nine months from other ports three hundred and sixteen, making a grand total of five hundred and forty-nine vessels or an average of two a day. A great number of them were unseaworthy and when they reached the bay of San Francisco, they remained there. Some were purposely abandoned as unfit for further service; others, on account of being deserted by their crews were carelessly left to become worm-eaten and useless; and others, by managing to get hands enough to work them at enormous wages, were used as coasters. Some were run on the mud flats in front of the town and converted into store-houses. But the most of them were left to tug at their anchors, out of the way of travelrespectable but neglected members of the large fleet of old hulks, that for many years afterwards added a picturesque grace to the appearance of the water front.
Meanwhile in the spring immense numbers of trains or caravans of emigrants, with covered wagons usually drawn, by oxen, started on their way from the western frontiers across the plains. There was a continuous stream of them, which, by the time the first ships from the Atlantic ports reached San Francisco, stretched across the continent and began pouring over the Sierra Nevada into the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. It presented a sight that had not been seen before and may not be seen again. There was something like it in the annual emigrations for a few years following. But the grand march of the heartiest adventurers, the great spectacle of the age, was the immigration of 1849. During that year the immigrants by sea, not including about three thousand deserting sailors, numbered thirty-five thousand, of whom twenty-three thousand, were Americans. During the same year the immigration overland as about forty-two thousand, of whom thirty-three thousand were Americans. This made a total of seventy-seven thousand, and at the end of the year the entire white population of California was estimated in round numbers at one hundred thousand persons, a large majority of whom were Americans, trained in American schools, imbued with American principles and included some of the choicest spirits from every section of the United States. It was these people, thus brought together from the north and the south, the east and the west, that amalgamated and combined to lay the foundations of and initiate on Its career of progresswhich is yet barely commencedthe state of California, pre-eminently in fact, as well as in name, the Golden State of the Union.
In: History of California, Vol. II, by Theodore H. Hittell.
San Francisco : N.J. Stone & Co., 1897.
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