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 A family of emigrants entering the South Loup Valley

[Detail] A family of emigrants entering the South Loup Valley

Narrative Four

Excerpted from: "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900
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(Sixteen months) June 25th, 1849, we reached San Francisco, seventy-four days from San Blas, and one hundred and forty-five days from Philadelphia. This wonderful city is an uninviting spot. There is but a small strip of level land, crowded down to the bay, surrounded by high, sandy hills, covered with short bushes, while not a tree is to be seen. The city is composed chiefly of tents. Each day regularly, at about ten o'clock, there arrives in the city, coming down with a rush over the bleak and barren hills, a cold, chilling wind, which takes one at once from the summer to the winter solstice. Fires are comfortable, and cloaks or serapis are necessary. Gambling seems to be universal.

July 2d.
Walked from Sacramento to Mormon Island, a distance of twenty-nine miles; and the next day, each one having forty pounds of baggage upon his back, consisting of a cradle, tools for mining, provisions, blankets, &c., walked eight miles farther up the south fork of the American River to Salmon Falls, there to commence our mining operations.

July 6th.
We have to-day removed to the opposite side of the river. This, with pitching our tent, has occupied most of the day. Still, we have made $4 each. I have been seated for several hours by the river side, rocking a heavy cradle filled with dirt and stones. The working of a cradle requires from three to five persons, according to the character of the diggings. If there is much of the auriferous dirt, and it is easily obtained, three are sufficient; but if there is little soil, and this found in crevices, so as only to be obtained with the knife, five or more can be employed in keeping the cradle in operation. One of these gives his whole attention to working the cradle, and another takes the dirt to be washed, in pans or buckets, from the hole to the cradle, while one or two others supply the buckets. The cradle, so called from its general resemblance to that article of furniture, has two rockers, which move easily back and forth in two grooves of a frame, which is laid down firmly on the edge of or over the water, so that the person working it may at the same time dip up the water. It must be inclined a few degrees forward, that the dirt may be washed gradually out, and must be so placed that the mud may be carried off with the stream. Cleets are nailed across the bottom of the body, over which the loose dirt passes with the water, and behind which the magnetic sand and gold settle.

July 9th.
To-day we have made $20 each. One of the conclusions at which we are rapidly arriving is, that the chances of our making a fortune in the gold mines are about the same as those in favor of our drawing a prize in a lottery. No kind of work is so uncertain. A miner may happen upon a good location in his very first attempt, and in a very few days make his hundreds or thousands, while the old miners about him may do nothing. Two foreigners, who had been some time in the mines, began to work their respective claims, leaving a small space between them. The question arose to which of them this space belonged. As they could not amicably settle the dispute, they agreed to leave it to the decision of an American who happened by, and who had not yet done an hour's work in the mines. He measured off ten feet--which is allowed by custom--to each of the claimants, taking for his trouble the narrow strip of land lying between them. In a few hours, the larger claims, belonging to the old miners, were abandoned as useless, while the new miner discovered a deposit which yielded him $7435.