REMEMBERING THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH
Although everyone knows about Sutter's Mill, many of the stories of the California Gold Rush have been forgotten. Here are a few of those stories about the people and the gold they sought.
BULLS AND BEARS
Did you know that the phrases "bull market" and "bear market" came from the California gold fields? They were coined by famed journalist Horace Greeley, who wrote for the New York Tribune. While visiting the California gold fields he happened to attend a bull and bear fight in Columbia. He noticed that when the bull attacked, it was with an upper thrust of his head and horns. The bull attacked with a downward swipe of his claws. It was from this event that he began referring to fluctuating stock markets as bull and bear markets.
PRAYING FOR RAIN
A group of prospectors, who were heading out to California in 1850 were running out of water in the desert. At last one of the more religious members of the group fell on his knees and began to pray, "Lord, Almighty, send us just one drop of rain."
A few minutes later, to the prospectors' surprise, a cloud appeared on the horizon and raindrops began to drop out of the sky. The prospectors stopped and laid out a rubber sheet to collect the water. However, only ten drops fell on the blanket before the rain stopped.
"The damn fool," a member of the party said of the man who prayed for the rain. "I wish he had prayed for a barrel of rain instead of a drop because we got ten times as much as asked for."
Mining camps were tough places and shootings were frequent. Consequently, the first question asked was whether it was self defense or not because in the West, any evidence of self defense was enough to free the shooter.
One evening three men of dubious reputation were drinking in a private room in a saloon, when one of them collapsed dead from a heart attack. The others panicked because of their shady records and no proof of self defense. They could easily be charged with murder.
After a few moments, they calmed down and then walked casually into the main room which was empty except for the bartender. Knowing that the inventory of cigars was kept in the office, they asked the bartender to bring some of them. As soon as he was out of sight, they hustled the dead man out of the private room, seated him in a chair at a table and then laid his head on his arms as if he was sleeping off a drunk.
When the bartender returned, they motioned to the man at the table and said that he would pay for the cigars. Then they left the saloon never to return again.
As closing approached, the bartender went over to the man at the table, shook him by the shoulder, and asked payment for the cigars. To his surprise, the man fell off the chair and rolled on the floor. At that very moment, two lawmen entered the saloon. The bartender, realizing that he was standing over a dead man, immediately shouted to the lawmen. "Damn it, I did it in self defense!"
THE COUNTY SEAT
Gold mining towns often fought between themselves to become the county seat. Not only was prestige involved it also provided a boost to property values. Usually these fights were decided at the ballot box or in the territorial capital. However, boom town Jackson, CA had a better idea when it wanted to take the honor from Double Springs.
The Jackson city fathers invited all the big politicians from Double Springs to a big party at the largest saloon in town. While everyone was having a good time, several Jackson citizens rode over to Double Springs and loaded all the county records into a wagon and brought them back home. The next morning, when the sober Double Springs leaders learned what happened, it was too late and Jackson became the county seat.
Jackson's fame was short lived though. Several months later an election was held and the winner was Molilumne Hill. But it was later learned that Molilumne Hill also played a trick to win. In this case, they employed that old Chicago political strategy, "vote early and often." It seems that Molilumne Hill voters spent the day visiting voting places and voting more than once. Jackson did have more luck in mining. Jackson mines continued to produce gold for 80 years.
THE WATER LEAK THAT PAID OFF
One of the earliest gold mining sites was Auburn, CA, which had first come to the attention of gold prospectors thanks to Claude Chana, one of Sutter's workmen, who left his employ to find his fortune. Unfortunately, the placer deposits he found were too far from water, so he left them for better gold fields. The prospectors who followed him, however, continued to mine the gold by carrying the paydirt down to the river. In this manner, the average worker could earn $700 to $1,500 in gold a day.
However, as with many boom towns of the time, the placer deposits were soon exhausted and many left for the next discovery. One of those who remained was a man named Jenkins, who reasoned that he could bring in more gold if he brought water to the site rather than move the dirt to the water.
So, he built a flume from the river to his claim and began to rework it even though the results were marginal. One day, his water suddenly stopped. When he investigated, he found a break in the plank on the bottom of the flume, which allowed the water to pour out onto an abandoned claim and wash a large hole in the ground. At the bottom of the hole, Jenkins was the gleam of gold. The discovery caused him to change the location of his operation and in the next month he mined $40,000 in gold.