What I Saw in California
By Edwin Bryant

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Public Domain Books


The following are letters addressed to the Government at Washington, and other communications, all of which, it will be seen, are fully confirmatory of the accounts given in the preceding pages; with other details of interest relative to the state of the gold districts:

Extract from a Letter from Mr. Larkin, United States Consul at Monterey, to Mr. Buchanan, Secretary of State at Washington. “San Francisco (Upper California), June 1, 1848.

“Sir: * * * I have to report to the State Department one of the most astonishing excitements and state of affairs now existing in this country, that, perhaps, has ever been brought to the notice of the Government. On the American fork of the Sacramento and Feather River, another branch of the same, and the adjoining lands, there has been within the present year discovered a placer, a vast tract of land containing gold, in small particles. This gold, thus far, has been taken on the bank of the river, from the surface to eighteen inches in depth, and is supposed deeper, and to extend over the country.

“On account of the inconvenience of washing, the people have, up to this time, only gathered the metal on the banks, which is done simply with a shovel, filling a shallow dish, bowl, basket, or tin pan, with a quantity of black sand, similar to the class used on paper, and washing out the sand by movement of the vessel. It is now two or three weeks since the men employed in those washings have appeared in this town with gold, to exchange for merchandise and provisions. I presume nearly 20,000 dollars of this gold has as yet been so exchanged. Some 200 or 300 men have remained up the river, or are gone to their homes, for the purpose of returning to the Placer, and washing immediately with shovels, picks, and baskets; many of them, for the first few weeks, depending on borrowing from others. I have seen the written statement of the work of one man for sixteen days, which averaged 25 dollars per day; others have, with a shovel and pan, or wooden bowl, washed out 10 dollars to even 50 dollars in a day. There are now some men yet washing who have 500 dollars to 1,000 dollars. As they have to stand two feet deep in the river, they work but a few hours in the day, and not every day in the week.

“A few men have been down in boats to this port, spending twenty to thirty ounces of gold each–about 300 dollars. I am confident that this town (San Francisco) has one-half of its tenements empty, locked up with the furniture. The owners–storekeepers, lawyers, mechanics, and labourers–all gone to the Sacramento with their families. Small parties, of five to fifteen men, have sent to this town and offered cooks ten to fifteen dollars per day for a few weeks. Mechanics and teamsters, earning the year past five to eight dollars per day, have struck and gone. Several U.S. volunteers have deserted. U.S. barque Anita, belonging to the Army, now at anchor here, has but six men. One Sandwich Island vessel in port lost all her men; and was obliged to engaged another crew at 50 dollars for the run of fifteen days to the Islands.

“One American captain having his men shipped on this coast in such a manner that they could leave at any time, had them all on the eve of quitting, when he agreed to continue their pay and food; leaving one on board, he took a boat and carried them to the gold regions–furnishing tools and giving his men one-third. They have been gone a week. Common spades and shovels, one month ago worth 1 dollar, will now bring 10 dollars, at the gold regions. I am informed 50 dollars has been offered for one. Should this gold continue as represented, this town and others would be depopulated. Clerks’ wages have risen from 600 dollars to 1000 per annum, and board; cooks, 25 dollars to 30 dollars per month. This sum will not be any inducement a month longer, unless the fever and ague appears among the washers. The Californian, printed here, stopped this week. The Star newspaper office, where the new laws of Governor Mason, for this country, are printing, has but one man left. A merchant, lately from China, has even lost his China servants. Should the excitement continue through the year, and the whale-ships visit San Francisco, I think they will lose most all their crews. How Col. Mason can retain his men, unless he puts a force on the spot, I know not.

“I have seen several pounds of this gold, and consider it very pure, worth in New York 17 dollars to 18 dollars per ounce; 14 dollars to 16 dollars, in merchandise, is paid for it here. What good or bad effect this gold mania will have on California, I cannot foretell. It may end this year; but I am informed that it will continue many years. Mechanics now in this town are only wailing to finish some rude machinery, to enable them to obtain the gold more expeditiously, and free from working in the river. Up to this time, but few Californians have gone to the mines, being afraid the Americans will soon have trouble among themselves, and cause disturbance to all around. I have seen some of the black sand, as taken from the bottom of the river (I should think in the States it would bring 25 to 50 cents per pound), containing many pieces of gold; they are from the size of the head of a pin to the weight of the eighth of an ounce. I have seen some weighing one-quarter of an ounce (4 dollars). Although my statements are almost incredible, I believe I am within the statements believed by every one here. Ten days back, the excitement had not reached Monterey. I shall, within a few days, visit this gold mine, and will make another report to you. Inclosed you will have a specimen.

“I have the honour to be, very respectfully,

“Thomas O. Larkin.

“P.S. This placer, or gold region, is situated on public land.”

“Mr. Larkin to Mr. Buchanan. “Monterey, California, June 28, 1848.

“SIR: My last dispatch to the State Department was written in San Francisco, the 1st of this month. In that I had the honour to give some information respecting the new ’placer,’ or gold regions lately discovered on the branches of the Sacramento River. Since the writing of that dispatch I have visited a part of the gold region, and found it all I had heard, and much more than I anticipated. The part that I visited was upon a fork of the American River, a branch of the Sacramento, joining the main river at Sutter’s Fort. The place in which I found the people digging was about twenty-five miles from the fort by land.

“I have reason to believe that gold will be found on many branches of the Sacramento and the Joaquin rivers. People are already scattered over one hundred miles of land, and it is supposed that the ’placer’ extends from river to river. At present the workmen are employed within ten or twenty yards of the river, that they may be convenient to water. On Feather river there are several branches upon which the people are digging for gold. This is two or three days’ ride from the place I visited.

“At my camping place I found, on a surface of two or three miles on the banks of the river, some fifty tents, mostly owned by Americans. These had their families. There are no Californians who have taken their families as yet to the gold regions; but few or none will ever do it; some from New Mexico may do so next year, but no Californians.

“I was two nights at a tent occupied by eight Americans, viz., two sailors, one clerk, two carpenters, and three daily workmen. These men were in company; had two machines, each made from one hundred feet of boards (worth there 150 dollars, in Monterey 15 dollars–being one day’s work), made similar to a child’s cradle, ten feet long, without the ends.

“The two evenings I saw these eight men bring to their tents the labour of the day. I suppose they made each 50 dollars per day; their own calculation was two pounds of gold a-day–four ounces to a man–64 dollars. I saw two brothers that worked together, and only worked by washing the dirt in a tin pan, weigh the gold they obtained in one day; the result was 7 dollars to one, 82 dollars to the other. There were two reasons for this difference; one man worked less hours than the other, and by chance had ground less impregnated with gold. I give this statement as an extreme case. During my visit I was an interpreter for a native of Monterey, who was purchasing a machine or canoe. I first tried to purchase boards and hire a carpenter for him. There were but a few hundred feet of boards to be had; for these the owner asked me 50 dollars per hundred (500 dollars per thousand), and a carpenter washing gold dust demanded 50 dollars per day for working. I at last purchased a log dug out, with a riddle and sieve made of willow boughs on it, for 120 dollars, payable in gold dust at 14 dollars per ounce. The owner excused himself for the price, by saying he was two days making it, and even then demanded the use of it until sunset. My Californian has told me since, that himself, partner, and two Indians, obtained with this canoe eight ounces the first and five ounces the second day.

“I am of the opinion that on the American fork, Feather River, and Copimes River, there are near two thousand people, nine-tenths of them foreigners. Perhaps there are one hundred families, who have their teams, wagons, and tents. Many persons are waiting to see whether the months of July and August will be sickly, before they leave their present business to go to the ’Placer.’ The discovery of this gold was made by some Mormons, in January or February, who for a time kept it a secret; the majority of those who are working there began in May. In most every instance the men, after digging a few days, have been compelled to leave for the purpose of returning home to see their families, arrange their business, and purchase provisions. I feel confident in saying there are fifty men in this ’Placer’ who have on an average 1,000 dollars each, obtained in May and June. I have not met with any person who had been fully employed in washing gold one month; most, however, appear to have averaged an ounce per day. I think there must, by this time, be over 1,000 men at work upon the different branches of the Sacramento; putting their gains at 10,000 dollars per day, for six days in the week, appears to me not overrated.

“Should this news reach the emigration of California and Oregon, now on the road, connected with the Indian wars, now impoverishing the latter country, we should have a large addition to our population; and should the richness of the gold region continue, our emigration in 1849 will be many thousands, and in 1850 still more. If our countrymen in California, as clerks, mechanics, and workmen, will forsake employment at from 2 dollars to 6 dollars per day, how many more of the same class in the Atlantic States, earning much less, will leave for this country under such prospects? It is the opinion of many who have visited the gold regions the past and present months, that the ground will afford gold for many years, perhaps for a century. From my own examination of the rivers and their banks, I am of opinion that, at least for a few years, the golden products will equal the present year. However, as neither men of science, nor the labourers now at work, have made any explorations of consequence, it is a matter of impossibility to give any opinion as to the extent and richness of this part of California. Every Mexican who has seen the place says throughout their Republic there has never been any ’placer like this one.’

“Could Mr. Polk and yourself see California as we now see it, you would think that a few thousand people, on 100 miles square of the Sacramento valley, would yearly turn out of this river the whole price our country pays for the acquired territory. When I finished my first letter I doubted my own writing, and, to be better satisfied, showed it to one of the principal merchants of San Francisco, and to Captain Fulsom, of the Quartermaster’s Department, who decided at once I was far below the reality. You certainly will suppose, from my two letters, that I am, like others, led away by the excitement of the day. I think I am not. In my last I inclosed a small sample of the gold dust, and I find my only error was in putting a value to the sand. At that time I was not aware how the gold was found; I now can describe the mode of collecting it.

“A person without a machine, after digging off one or two feet of the upper ground, near the water (in some cases they take the top earth), throws into a tin pan or wooden bowl a shovel full of loose dirt and stones; then placing the basin an inch or two under water, continues to stir up the dirt with his hand in such a manner that the running water will carry off the light earths, occasionally, with his hand, throwing out the stones; after an operation of this kind for twenty or thirty minutes, a spoonful of small black sand remains; this is on a handkerchief or cloth dried in the sun, the emerge is blown off, leaving the pure gold. I have the pleasure of inclosing a paper of this sand and gold, which I from a bucket of dirt and stones, in half-an-hour, standing at the edge of the water, washed out myself. The value of it may be 2 dollars or 3 dollars.

“The size of the gold depends in some measure upon the river from which it is taken; the banks of one river having larger grains of gold than another. I presume more than one half of the gold put into pans or machines is washed out and goes down the stream; this is of no consequence to the washers, who care only for the present time. Some have formed companies of four or five men, and have a rough-made machine put together in a day, which worked to much advantage, yet many prefer to work alone, with a wooden bowl or tin pan, worth fifteen or twenty cents in the States, but eight to sixteen dollars at the gold region. As the workmen continue, and materials can be obtained, improvements will take place in the mode of obtaining gold; at present it is obtained by standing in the water, and with much severe labour, or such as is called here severe labour.

“How long this gathering of gold by the handful will continue here, or the future effect it will have on California, I cannot say. Three-fourths of the houses in the town on the bay of San Francisco are deserted. Houses are sold at the price of the ground lots. The effects are this week showing themselves in Monterey. Almost every house I had hired out is given up. Every blacksmith, carpenter, and lawyer is leaving; brick-yards, saw-mills and ranches are left perfectly alone. A large number of the volunteers at San Francisco and Sonoma have deserted; some have been retaken and brought back; public and private vessels are losing their crews; my clerks have had 100 per cent. advance offered them on their wages to accept employment. A complete revolution in the ordinary state of affairs is taking place; both of our newspapers are discontinued from want of workmen and the loss of their agencies; the Alcaldes have left San Francisco, and I believe Sonoma likewise; the former place has not a Justice of the Peace left.

“The second Alcalde of Monterey to-day joins the keepers of our principal hotel, who have closed their office and house, and will leave to-morrow for the golden rivers. I saw on the ground a lawyer who was last year Attorney-General of the King of the Sandwich Islands, digging and washing out his ounce and a half per day; near him can be found most all his brethren of the long robe, working in the same occupation.

“To conclude; my letter is long, but I could not well describe what I have seen in less words, and I now can believe that my account may be doubted. If the affair proves a bubble, a mere excitement, I know not how we can all be deceived, as we are situated. Governor Mason and his staff have left Monterey to visit the place in question, and will, I suppose, soon forward to his department his views and opinions on this subject. Most of the land, where gold has been discovered, is public land; there are on different rivers some private grants. I have three such purchased in 1846 and 1847, but have not learned that any private lands have produced gold, though they may hereafter do so. I have the honour, dear sir, to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

“Thomas O. Larkin.”

DESERTION FROM THE SHIPS.–We collate from other sources several other interesting letters and documents, and which will be found well worth perusal.

“Monterey, Sept. 15, 1848.

“Messrs. Grinnell, Minturn, and Co.:

“Sirs–I embrace this opportunity to inform you of my new situation, which is bad enough. All hands have left me but two; they will stay till the cargo is landed and ballast in, then they will go. Both mates will leave in a few days, and then I will have only the two boys, and I am fearful that they will run. I have got all landed but 900 barrels; on Monday I shall get off ballast if the weather is good. There’s no help to be got at any price. The store-ship that sailed from here ten days ago took three of my men at 100 dollars per month; there is nothing that anchors here but what loses their men. I have had a hard time in landing the cargo; I go in the boat every load. If I can get it on shore I shall save the freight. As for the ship she will lay here for a long time, for there’s not the least chance of getting a crew. The coasters are giving 100 dollars per month. All the ships at San Francisco have stripped and laid up. The Flora, of New London, is at San Francisco; all left. You probably have heard of the situation of things here. A sailor will be up at the mines for two months, work on his own account, and come down with from two to three thousand dollars, and those that go in parties do much better. I have been offered 20 dollars per day to go, by one of the first men here, and work one year. It is impossible for me to give you any idea of the gold that is got here. Yours respectfully,

“CHRISTOPHER ALLEN, Captain of the ship Isaac Walton.”

Another letter dated St. Francisco, September 1st, contains the following:–

“A day or two ago the Flora, Captain Potter, of New London, anchored in Whaleman’s Harbour, on the opposite side of the Bay. Yesterday the captain, fearing he would lose all his men, weighed anchor, intending to go to sea. After getting under weigh, the crew, finding the ship was heading out, refused to do duty, and the captain was forced to return and anchor here. Last night nine of the crew gagged the watch, lowered one of the boats, and rowed off. They have not been heard of since, and are now probably half way to the gold region. The Flora is twenty-six months out, with only 750 bbls. of oil. Every vessel that comes in here now is sure to lose her crew, and this state of things must continue until the squadron arrives, when, if the men-o’-war-men do not run off too, merchant-men may retain their crews.

“The whale-ship Euphrates, of New Bedford, left here a few weeks since, for the United States, to touch on the coast of Chili to recruit. The Minerva, Captain Perry, of New Bedford, has abandoned the whaling business, and is now on his way hence to Valparaiso for a cargo of merchandise. Although two large ships, four barks, and eight or ten brigs and schooners have arrived here since my return from the mineral country, about four weeks since, with large cargoes of merchandise, their entire invoices have been sold. Vessels are daily arriving from the islands and ports upon the coast, laden with goods and passengers, the latter destined for the gold-washings.

“Much sickness prevails among the gold-diggers; many have left the ground sick, and many more have discontinued their labours for the present, and gone into more healthy portions of the country, intending to return after the sickly season has passed. From the best information I can obtain, there are from two to three thousand persons at work at the gold-washings with the same success as heretofore.”

THE DIGGINGS.–Extract of a letter from Monterey, Aug. 29.

“At present the people are running over the country and picking it out of the earth here and there, just as a thousand hogs, let loose in a forest, would root up ground-nuts. Some get eight or ten ounces a-day, and the least active one or two. They make the most who employ the wild Indians to hunt it for them. There is one man who has sixty Indians in his employ; his profits are a dollar a-minute. The wild Indians know nothing of its value, and wonder what the pale-faces want to do with it; they will give an ounce of it for the same weight of coined silver, or a thimbleful of glass beads, or a glass of grog. And white men themselves often give an ounce of it, which is worth at our mint 18 dollars, or more, for a bottle of brandy, a bottle of soda-powders, or a plug of tobacco.

“As to the quantity which the diggers get, take a few facts as evidence. I know seven men who worked seven weeks and two days, Sundays excepted, on Feather River; they employed on an average fifty Indians, and got out in these seven weeks and two days 275 pounds of pure gold. I know the men, and have seen the gold, and know what they state to be a fact–so stick a pin there. I know ten other men who worked ten days in company, employed no Indians, and averaged in these ten days 1500 dollars each; so stick another pin there. I know another man who got out of a basin in a rock, not larger than a wash-bowl, two pounds and a half of gold in fifteen minutes; so stick another pin there! Not one of these statements would I believe, did I not know the men personally, and know them to be plain matter-of-fact men–men who open a vein of gold just as coolly as you would a potato-hill.”

ASSAY OF THE GOLD.–Lieutenant Loeser having arrived at Washington with specimens of the gold from the diggings, the following account of its quality appeared in the “Washington Union,” the government organ:–

“Understanding last evening that the lieutenant had arrived in this city, and had deposited in the War Office the precious specimens he had brought with him, we called to see them, and to free our mind from all hesitation as to the genuineness of the metal. We had seen doubts expressed in some of our exchange papers; and we readily admit that the accounts so nearly approached the miraculous, that we were relieved by the evidence of our own senses on the subject. The specimens have all the appearance of the native gold we had seen from the mines of North Carolina and Virginia, and we are informed that the Secretary would send the small chest, called a caddy, containing about 3,000 dollars’ worth of gold, in lumps and scales, to the mint, to be melted into coins and bars. The specimens have come to Washington as they were extracted from the materials of the placer. The heaviest piece brought by Lieutenant Loeser weighs a little more than two ounces; but the varied contents of the casket (as described in Colonel Mason’s schedule) will be sent off to-day, by special messenger, to the mint at Philadelphia for assay, and early next week we hope to have the pleasure of laying the result before our readers.” The assay was subsequently made, and the result officially announced. The gold is declared to be from 3 to 8 per cent. purer than American standard gold coin.

ANOTHER ASSAY.–The following is the report of an assay of Californian gold dust, received by Mr. T.O. Larkin, United States consul at Monterey.

“New York, Dec. 8, 1848.

“Sir,–I have assayed the portion of gold dust, or metal, from California, which you sent me, and the result shows that it is fully equal to any found in our Southern gold mines. I return you 10-3/4 grains out of the 12 which I have tested, the value of which is 45 cents. It is 21-1/2 carats fine–within half a carat of the quality of English sovereigns or American eagles–and is almost ready to go to the mint. The finest gold metal we get is from Africa, which is 22-1/2 to 23 carats fine. In Virginia we have mines where the quality of the gold is much inferior–some of it so low as 19 carats–and in Georgia the mines produce it nearly 22 carats fine. The gold of California, which I have now assayed, is fully equal to that of any, and much superior to some produced from the mines in our Southern States.

“JOHN WARWICK, Smelter and refiner, 17, John-Street.”

INCONVENIENCES OF TOO MUCH GOLD.–The following letter (January 12) from Captain Fulsom, of the United States Service, writing from San Francisco, confirms the fact of the difficulty of procuring servants, or indeed manual assistance of any description:–

“All sorts of labour is got at enormous rates of compensation. Common clerks and salesmen in the stores about town often receive as high as 2500 dollars and their board. The principal waiter in the hotel where I board is paid 1700 dollars per year, and several others from 1200 to 1500 dollars! I fortunately have an Indian boy, or I should be forced to clean my own boots, for I could not employ a good body servant for the full amount of my salary as a government officer. I believe every army officer in California, with one or two exceptions, would have resigned last summer could they have done it, and been free at once to commence for themselves. But the war was not then terminated, and no one could hope to communicate with Washington correspondents, to get an answer in less than six, and perhaps ten, months. For some time last summer (August and July) the officers at Monterey were entirely without servants; and the governor (Colonel Mason) actually took his turn in cooking for his mess.”

EFFECTS OF THIS DISCOVERY ON THE UNITED STATES.–The following remarks upon the influence of this immense discovery, which appeared in a popular New York journal on the 23rd January, proves the extent of impression produced upon society in the States by the intelligence of this new source of natural wealth:–

“The news (February 12) from California will attract the observation of the whole community, A spirit is generated from those discoveries, which is more active, more intense, and more widely spread, than that which agitated Europe in the time of Columbus, Cortez, and Pizarro. There seems to be no doubt that, in a short time–probably less than two years–those mines can be made to produce 100,000,000 dollars per year. The region is the most extensive of the kind in the world, being 800 miles in length, and 100 in width, with every indication that gold exists in large native masses, in the rocks and mountains of the Sierra Nevada. But these vast gold mines are not the only mineral discoveries that have been made. The quicksilver in the same region seems to be as abundant as the gold, so that there are approximated to each other two metals, which will have a most important effect and utility in making the gold mines more valuable. Heretofore the gold and silver mines of Mexico and Peru have been valuable to Spain, because she possessed a monopoly of the quicksilver mines at Almaden in the Peninsula. This is surpassed by California. According to the last accounts now given to the public, emigrants were crowding in from every port in the Pacific to California–from Mexico, Peru, the Sandwich Islands, Oregon; and we have no doubt by this time the British possessions in the East, China, and everywhere else in that region, are furnishing emigrants to the wonderful regions of California. In less than a year there will probably be a population of 100,000 to 200,000 souls, all digging for gold, and capable of producing from 100,000,000 dollars to 300,000,000 dollars worth per annum of pure gold, to be thrown on the commerce of the world at one fell swoop.

“What is to be the effect of such vast discoveries on the commerce of the world–on old communities, on New York, London, and other great commercial cities? Such a vast addition to the gold currency of the world will at once disturb the prices and value of all productions and merchandise to a similar extent to that which we see in Monterey and San Francisco. The prices of every commodity will therefore rise extravagantly during the next few years, according to the produce of gold from that region. Now, in a rising market everything prospers; every one gets rich, civilisation expands, industry increases, and all orders of society are benefited. As soon as the first crop of gold from California reaches New York, the impulse which it will give to commercial enterprise, and the advance in the price of everything which it will cause, will be tremendous. The bank currency will be expanded, for the basis will be abundant; real estate will increase in value, agricultural productions and agricultural labour will advance at once 10, 15, 20, 30, or 40 per cent., even to as great an extent, perhaps, as was witnessed when the demand came from Ireland for the food of this country to feed the starving Irish. New York and her sister cities will be the centre of all those revolutionary movements which are certain to spring from the gold productions of California, on the commerce of the whole civilized world. Ship-building will increase in value, steam-boats will be wanted, the railroads projected across the Isthmus in various places, in Mexico and Central America will be pushed to completion, and we should not be surprised to see an active attempt made, under the auspices of the Federal Government, to construct a railroad across the continent, through the South Pass, from St. Louis, or some other point on the Mississippi, to San Francisco. The discovery of these great gold mines will no doubt form the agent of the greatest revolution in the commercial centres of the world and on the civilisation of the human race that has ever taken place since the first dawn of history. New York will henceforth, from its position to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, probably in less than a quarter of a century, present a population greater than that of Paris, and display evidences of wealth, grandeur, magnificence, and industry, in an equal if not greater degree than what we see in London at this day. We expect that, in the next twenty-five years, we shall make as rapid a march in this metropolis, and in the neighbouring cities, as any city has done during the last twenty-five centuries. There is no necessity for all going to California. Those who remain, and will raise produce, manufacture goods, build ships, construct steam-engines, and advance the Fine Arts, will enjoy the benefits of those discoveries to as great an extent as those who go to the Sacramento to dig for gold. All the results of the labours of those diggers must come to this metropolis, swell its magnificence, and increase the intensity of its action in commercial affairs. Even in a political point of view the discovery of these wonderful gold mines in California, under the Government of the United States, will have a wonderful and astounding effect. We should not be surprised to see, in a short time, all the old provinces of Mexico, as far as the Isthmus of Darien, knocking for admission into this union; while, on the other side, the British provinces of Canada, and even the Spanish island of Cuba, may be begging and praying to be let in at the same time, and be permitted to enjoy some of the vast advantages, and participate a little in the energy, which this vast confederacy will exhibit to the astonished world.”

DISORDERS IN THE GOLD DISTRICT.–Up to the close of the year the accounts were with few exceptions favourable to the morals and habits of the masses of adventurers congregated on the banks of the San Francisco and the vicinity; subsequently the statements on these points began to change, and every letter noticed some robbery or murder, generally both, as of frequent occurrence, and at length they became so common that there was neither protection for life nor property. The following ominous intelligence, which appeared in the Washington Union (the organ of government), created an immense sensation. It was the substance of a letter from San Francisco, dated the end of December, addressed to Commodore Jones. “This letter (according to the Union) presents a desperate state of affairs as existing in California. Everything is getting worse as regards order and government. Murders and robberies were not only daily events, but occurring hourly. Within six days more than twenty murders had been perpetrated. The people were preparing to organise a provisional government in order to put a stop to these outrages. Within five days three men have been hung by Lynch Law. The United States revenue laws are now in force, and will yield 400,000 dollars the first year. The inhabitants are opposed to paying taxes.”

LATEST ACCOUNTS (from the New York Press.)–The desperate state of affairs in California is fully confirmed. Murders and robberies were occurring daily. The following are particulars supplied by Lieutenant Lanman, of the United States navy, who had returned to New York, after having acted for a year past as collector at Monterey:–

“Only about an hour before he left, he saw a man on board the flag-ship, just arrived from the mines, who confirmed the previous reports in regard to the discoveries on the river Staneslow, where he had seen a single lump of gold weighing nine pounds, and heard of one that weighed twenty pounds. The gold excitement in Monterey had entirely abated, the immense mineral wealth of the country being looked upon as an established fact. There was no disposition (except among the landholders) to exaggerate. For a year past Lieutenant Lanman has been performing the duties of collector at the port of Monterey; and, having seen every man who had returned from a visit to the mines, his opportunities for obtaining authentic information were better than if he had visited the mines in person. He informs us that no large amounts of gold dust or ore were selling at a sacrifice; he does not believe that one hundred ounces of the gold dust could have been purchased at the reported rate of eight dollars, the ordinary prices ranging from ten to twelve dollars per ounce. The weekly receipts of gold at San Francisco were estimated at from thirty to fifty thousand dollars, and Lieutenant Lanman knew of one individual who had in his possession thirty thousand dollars’ worth of pure ore and dust. The current value of gold in trade was sixteen dollars per ounce. There was a scarcity of coin throughout the country; but when Lieutenant Lanman arrived at Panama, he was informed that 600,000 dollars had just been shipped for California by certain Mexican gentlemen, and that the American consul at Paita (Mr. Ruden) had in charge coin of the value of 118,000 dollars, which he intends to exchange for ore and dust. Peru and Chili are not behind the United States in regard to the gold excitement, no less than twenty vessels having sailed from these two countries within a short time bound to San Francisco. They were all well laden with provisions and other necessaries of life, and their arrival would probably reduce the prices, which have heretofore been so exorbitant. The whole amount of gold collected at the washings since the excitement first broke out is variously estimated–some put it down as high as 4,000,000 of dollars, but this I think is a little too high.”

A private letter says the produce of a vineyard of 1,000 vines brought 1,200 dollars; the vegetables of a garden of one acre, near San Francisco, 1,500 dollars. A snow-storm had covered the gold-diggings, and the people were leaving, on account of sickness, intending to return in the spring, which is said to be the best season for the gold harvest. Labourers, according to one letter-writer, demanded a dollar an hour! Adventurers continued to arrive at San Francisco from all parts of the world; and several persons, who were reported to be laden down with gold, were anxious to return to the United States, but could not very readily find a conveyance, as the sailors deserted the ships immediately on their arrival in port.

CALIFORNIAN GOLD 250 YEARS AGO.–Pinkerton, in an account of Drake’s discovery of a part of California, to which he gave the name of New Albion, states:–"The country, too, if we can depend upon what Sir Francis Drake or his chaplain say, may appear worth the seeking and the keeping, since they assert that the land is so rich in gold and silver, that upon the slightest turning it up with a spade or pick-axe, these rich metals plainly appear mixed with the mould. It may be objected that this looks a little fabulous; but to this two satisfactory answers may be given: the first is, that later discoveries on the same coast confirm the truth of it, which for anything I can see ought to put the fact out of question; but if any doubts should remain, my second answer should overturn these. For I say next, that the country of New Mexico lies directly behind New Albion, on the other side of a narrow bay, and in that country are the mines of Santa Fé, which are allowed to be the richest in the world; here, then, is a valuable country, to which we have a very fair title.”

EFFECTS OF THE CALIFORNIAN NEWS IN ENGLAND.–A glance at the advertisements in the daily papers (says the Examiner) will show that the public appetite for California is likely to be promptly met. The burden of the various vessels already announced as ready for immediate departure amounts to about 5,000 tons, distributed in ships ranging from 190 to 700 tons, to say nothing of the West India mail-steamer, which leaves on the 17th, carrying goods and passengers to Chagres, or of a “short and pleasant passage” advertised to Galveston, in Texas, as a cheap route to the Pacific. The rates range from £25 upwards to suit all classes. Thus far, however, we have only the arrangements for those who are able to move. The opportunities provided for those who wish to share the advantages of the new region without its dangers are still more ample. Indeed, so imposing are the plans for an extensive investment of capital for carrying on the trade in shares of £5 each, that it would seem as if the first effect of the affair would be to cause a scarcity of money rather than an abundance. About a million and a quarter sterling is already wanted, and the promoters stipulate for the power of doubling the proposed amounts as occasion may offer. There is a “California Gold-Coast Trading Association;” a “California Gold Mining, Streaming, and Washing Company;” a “California Steam Trading Company,” a “California Gold and Trading Company;” and a “California Gold Mining, etc., Trading Company.” The last of these alone will require £600,000 for its objects, but as half the shares are “to be reserved for the United States of America,” the drain upon our resources will be lessened to that extent. Some of the concerns propose to limit their operations to trading on the coast, sending out at the same time “collecting and exploring parties” whenever the prospect may be tempting. Others intend at once to get a grant from the legislature at Washington of such lands “as they may deem necessary,” while others intend to trust to chance, simply sending out a “practical” manager, accompanied by an adequate number of men “accustomed to the extraction of gold in all its forms.” Along with these advertisements are some of a modified nature, to suit parties who may neither wish to go out with a batch of emigrants, nor to stay at home and wait the results of a public company. One “well-educated gentleman” seeks two others “to share expenses with him.” Another wishes for a companion who would advance £200, “one half to leave his wife, and the other half for outfit;” a third tells where “any respectable individuals with small capital” may find persons willing to join them; a fourth states that respectable persons having not less than £100 are wanted to complete a party; and a fifth, that a “seafaring man is ready to go equal shares in purchasing a schooner to sail on speculation.” What number may be found to answer those appeals it is impossible to conjecture. Common sense would say not one, but experience of what has been practised over and over again reminds us that the active parties on the present occasion are not calculating too largely upon the credulity of their countrymen. That the country will be a pandemonium long before any one can reach it from this side is hardly to be doubted, unless, indeed, the United States government shall have been able to establish a blockade and cordon, in which case the new arrivals will have to get back as well as they can.

PROBABLE EFFECT ON THE CURRENCY IN EUROPE.–In the description of gold mines, and rivers flowing over golden sands, we must be prepared for a little over-colouring. Such discoveries have always excited sanguine hopes, and dreams of exhaustless wealth; but if the accounts–and they really appear well authenticated–of the golden treasures of California be true, quantities of the most precious of all metals are found–not buried in mines, but scattered on the surface of the earth, and the fortunate adventurer may enrich himself beyond the dreams of avarice, almost without labour, without capital, and with no care but that which cupidity generates. The principle that the value of the precious metals, like other products of industry, is determined primarily by the cost of production, and then by scarcity, ideas of utility, and convenience, seems to be neutralized by this new discovery; and it becomes a curious question, how far it may affect the value of gold and silver in Europe. If the abundance of gold flowing from America be such as to exceed the demand, the value of gold will fall, and the price of all other commodities relatively rise, and the relative proportion between gold and silver be disturbed so as to affect the standards of value in each country and the par of exchange between one and another. The productiveness of the silver mines, there is no doubt, is greater and more regular than those of gold; but the enormous increase of the silver currency on the Continent, in the United States, and even in India, and our own colonies, has kept the price of silver a little below five shillings an ounce. On the other hand the English standard of value being gold only, the drain of gold is generally towards England, while that of silver is towards the Continent. We do not doubt that the English Mint price of gold, £3 17s. 10-1/2d. an ounce, and the price at which the Bank of England are compelled to purchase, £3 17s. 9d. an ounce, are causes which not only regulate, but, within certain limits, determine, the price of gold throughout the world. Suppose, for a moment, the circulation of England, exceeding thirty millions and the Bank store of fifteen millions, to be thrown on the markets of Europe, by an alteration of the standard of value–how material would be the fall in price! It is equally obvious that England would be first and most materially affected by any large and sudden production of her standard of value; for though America would be enriched by the discovery of the precious metals within her own territories, it is only because she would possess a larger fund to exchange for more useful and necessary products of labour. The value of silver would not fall, assuming the supply and demand to be equalised, but gold would fall in relation to silver, and the existing proportion (about 15 to 1) could no longer be maintained. Then prices would rise of all articles now estimated in our currency–i.e. an ounce of gold would exchange for less than at present. And, assuming the price of silver to keep up as heretofore, about 5s. an ounce, our sovereign would be valued less in other countries, and all exchange operations would be sensibly affected. The only countervailing influence in the reduction of gold to, say, only double the price of silver, would be an increased consumption in articles of taste and manufacture, which, however, can only be speculative and uncertain. It is said by accounts from California that five hundred miles lie open to the avarice of gold-hunters, and that some adventurers have collected from 1,200 to 1,800 dollars a-day; the probable average of each man’s earnings being from 8 to 10 dollars a-day, or, let us say, £2. The same authority avers there is room and verge enough for the profitable working, to that extent, of a hundred thousand persons. And it is likely enough before long that such a number may be tempted to seek their easily acquired fortune in the golden sands of El Sacramento and elsewhere. Now two pounds a-day for each man would amount to £200,000, which, multiplied by 300 working days, will give £60,000,000 a-year! That is, £600,000,000 in ten years! A fearful amount of gold dust, and far more than enough to disturb the equanimity of ten thousand political economists. The gold utensils found among the simple-minded and philosophic Peruvians (who wondered at the eager desire of Christians for what they scarcely valued), will be esteemed trifles with our golden palaces, and halls paved with gold, when California shall have poured this vast treasure into Europe. Assuming in round numbers each 2,000 lbs., or troy ton, to be equivalent to £100,000 sterling, the above amount in one year would represent six hundred tons, and in ten years six thousand tons of gold! The imagination of all-plodding industrious England is incapable of grasping so great an idea! Can there be any doubt, then, of a revolution in the value of the precious metals?

PROHIBITION FROM THE GOVERNMENT.–It would seem that the government have at length taken measures to preserve the gold districts from the bands of foreign adventurers who are daily pouring in from every quarter. Towards the end of January we learn that General Smith had been sent out by the United States government, with orders to enforce the laws against all persons, not citizens of the States, who should be found trespassing on the public lands. Official notice to this effect was issued to the American consul at Panama and other places, in order that emigrants on their way to California might be made aware of the determination of the government previous to their arrival. The punishment for illegal trespassing is fine and imprisonment. It was not known, at the date of the last intelligence from California how this notification, which makes such an important change in the prospects of the numerous bodies now on their way thither, has been received by the population assembled at the land of promise.


Chapter I.  •  Chapter II.  •  Chapter III.  •  Chapter IV.  •  Chapter V.  •  Chapter VI.  •  Chapter VII.  •  Chapter VIII.  •  Chapter IX.  •  Chapter X.  •  Chapter XI.  •  Chapter XII.  •  Chapter XIII.  •  Chapter XIV.  •  Chapter XV.  •  Chapter XVI.  •  Chapter XVII.  •  Chapter XVIII.  •  Appendix.  •  Journey From Arkansas to California.

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What I Saw in California
By Edwin Bryant
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