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Bushey Bar North fork of the Middle fork of the American River
September 4th, 1850
My Dear Brother William,
I wrote a few lines to Ashley by last mail. I had not then time to go into any details as it was only by a mere chance that I had an opportunity of sending to Sacramento City in time for the mail and I had very little time to write. As I gave him my reasons for maintaining so long a silence I shall say nothing more about that but proceed to give you a sketch of my life here and of the country as I have found it.
I remained at San Francisco but a few days after I wrote from that place I made a wrong move however when I left it, for had I remained I could have done well, as from letters of introductions which I brought from New York I could have procured a situation at a good salary or goods to have commenced business with. Merchandise of all kinds at that time were selling at or below New York prices. Flour was then worth from 3 to $500 a [Bbl] Pork from 6 @ 8. In [less] than six months Pork was worth from 40 @ $60.00. and Flour accordingly. In fact there was no article in the provision line but what I could have realized from 3 @ 500 per cent on, in less than six months. But [vessels] were arriving in numbers daily [glutting] the already overstocked market and no one could tell how long this might last. A reaction was sure to take place, but in the then uncertain state of things it was impossible to form any calculations as to the time that it would occur or to what extent it would reach.
This being the case and seeing many coming from the mines who had done well others who had made fortunes, I decided that there would be [less] risk in mining than in speculating, so one bright morning found me on board the fine little Schooner Anthem bound for Sacramento city with a party of six. There to decide what part of the El Dorado should be the scene of our mining operations. We were not long abroad before the merry little Anthem spread her sails and we were soon scampering away over the billows up the Bay at the rate of ten knots an hour. Surrounded by the most magnificent scenery that that the world can produce. There land locked by those lofty hills and amid those beautiful Islands could lay the worlds shipping, such is the extent of the Bay. However the Anthem coquetting with the brightness around her soon left the Bay behind. The first place we touched at was Benecia. A City consisting then of two shanties, three or four tents, and three [wharf] planks for a wharf. It has since become a place of some importance being a military station and having considerable trade. After a short stop we sailed on up the river without seeing anything worthy of notion excepting the noble river and the gay little Anthem until the City of New York on the Pacific[a] burst on our astonished vision with all the grandour [grandeur] of the pickets with a piece of red flannel attached to each. And one shanty. Aristocaties [Aristocracies] New York on the Atlantic has had a goodeal to say about her sister of the Pacifica, but I am fearful that were she once to see her, she would cut the connections as Aristoracy [Aristocracy] does not like to acknowledge plebeians relations unless they are likely to be of some credit to them.
Leaving New York we proceeded onwards until the merry little Anthem found herself (as many [ ] coquettes have before) stuck in the mud. This delayed us about three hours and so all hands [went] (the passengers) went a fishing. We caught no fish however, but were nearly devoured by the mosquitoes, who gave us the only bite that we received. It is here that one should come to see that insect in perfection, for here it becomes an animal. And a very ferocious one too I have no doubt however but they might be made very useful tamed, to supply the place of [leeches]. At length our little Anthem got afloat, and all smiles as before sped up the river until we came to a farm 10 miles below the city owned by a German named Schwartz being the first cultivated ground I had seen in the country. He has been settled there for some four or five years. We stoped [stopped] a short time to take in vegitables [vegetables], the most of us went ashore where we found splendid melons of different species for sale at from 2 @ $5.00 apiece. Onions at $2.00 per lb Potatoes the same and other vegitables [vegetables] accordingly. We got into conversation with Mr. S. and made some inquiries about the mines as he had been a long time in the country, he said that he had never been to the mines and advised us not to go although he said that he knew a good many who had done well, probably as well as he [he] had faring. Yet farming was the surest and enumerating the profits that he had already received and those which he was sure to receive from that years crop amounting in all to some $10,000 he concluded by saying, Now Shenttemen ish not dat better ash golt [dickin]. We then left Mr. S. and soon the voyage of the Anthem was over and she was moored to a large tree
Forming a part of the great city of the Sacramento.
This city was then consisting of six or eight houses built of wood. Twenty or thirty more of frames [covered] with canvass and tents [innumerably]. We remained here a week, suffering much from the heat, the thermometer standing in the middle of the day, at 115 in the shade.
Trade seemed to be brisk as nearly all going to the northern mines bought their provisions there. [We] having selected a good camping ground in the heart of the city that we might see all that was going on without any inconvenience, began to look about us and I [assure] you that the sight was more than one generally sees in one life time. Flaming advertisements got up with the latest style of type were pegged on to the trees, which were standing where nature had planted them with their branches filled with goods and merchandise of all kinds, which were put there for storage. Auctioneers (and everybody was one who had anything to sell) were riding about on asses, mules, horses, and oxen, bawling at the top of their lungs the [ ] and the good qualities of what they have for sale. Gambling was going on in tents & [Boothes] as well as in the open air in every direction. Horse and mule [racing] also enjoyed considerable popularity. After a week’s sojourn here, we packed up tents and baggage and started for the town of Coloma, formerly called Sutter’s Mill. And the place where gold was first discovered. We engaged a teamster to take our baggage. And we footed it alongside the wagon. It was about four in the afternoon when we left the city and after walking 15 miles, we pitched our tents. [Fatigued] enough to eat a hardy supper & enjoy a good night’s rest. Although sleeping on the ground. That night our teamster had two of his mules
mules stolen and we were forced to remain where we were for a day and a half when other mules were procured. We amused ourselves by shooting & fishing during our delay. Our tent being pitched on the bank of the American river. And the forrist [forest] on each side of it filled with game. We shot several hares of a most astonishing size. The first one I saw I took to be a fawn as it founded a way among the trees, I soon brought it down and on approaching it found I had either killed a large hare or a small [Jackass]. The former however it proved to be. We also shot a species of the wolf. Something between the dog & the wolf. Called a kioty [coyote]. There are great numbers of them in the country. They are perfectly [harmless], but, a great nuisance, as they gather around your tent at night and keep up a most dismal howling and steal anything that they happen to take a fancy to. At length other mules being procured, we were en route plodding through the dust under scorching sun and having to go 18 miles before coming to water as we had left the river & the whole country was in a [parched] state having been three months without rain. We got over twenty five miles that day & laid ourselves down at night pretty well fagged out. We took an early start the next morning having to go ten miles without water. We at length came to it at a place called Green Springs. And a beautiful spot it was too. Consisting of a vally [valley] about [two] miles long, a half & a mile wide perfectly green, so well is it irrigated by several springs of the [purest] purest water I have found in the country. We found a Ranch there where we got a poor breakfast by paying $2.00 apiece. After breakfast we pushed on and reached that night the town of Coloma having walked 20 miles, the most of it being through a very hilly and rough country. Coloma I found to be a very pretty location in a vally [valley] on the
the south fork of the American river about 20 miles above its junction with that stream. The town then consisted of two or three canvass houses and some twenty or thirty tents.
I went next morning to the Sutter Mill and saw the race in which the gold was first discovered. While there I heard the race, the gold, and the men who discovered it. Most bitterly cursed by a poor wretch, who said, that he had given up a business at home that supported himself & family comfortably, and sacrificed property to raise enough to support the family while here, and a thousand dollars to bring out with him. His thousand dollars were gone, and his health lost. [Sickly] and destitute as he was, he knew not what to do. I gave him a trifle for but a small sum, I had, thinking that soon, I might be in the same situation.
This, my dear brother, is only one out of many cases of the same that I have witnessed. After looking about a few days (which is here called prospecting) we commenced digging for gold, and we soon found that, although, in imagination it might be agreeable work, yet in reality, it was the most laborious and in the majority of cases the most unsatisfactory [occupation] that men could be engaged in. This no doubt may seem strange to you, for I am well aware what kind of reports go home from this country. In many instances, the most unblushing false-hoods might be traced to vile speculations. In others, (and rarely it is that they occur) where a man is fortunate enough during the mining season, (which is from 6 [to] 8 months, to take out from 20 to [$50000] it is trumpeted abroad in such a manner as to give reason to suppose that all in the region where that raise was made, are doing about or equally as well. Thus these reports go home, and people come out here [assured], that they, are certain of doing the same.
But alas, how woefully are they disappointed, for I [tell] you that it is the truth for I know it to be the case. That not one in 500 make $50000 a year. And not more than one in a hundred, that makes more than his expenses. We were fortunate enough however to fall in with a party of men who had found very good diggings, they took us to the place and were very kind in giving us all necessary instructions. At first we could only make from 3 to $5.00 a day which would hardly board us but in a short time we improved so that we could make from 12 to 16 dollars a day. After working about a month I was taken sick with the fever & ague. It was then & not until then that I realized what I had sacrificed in coming here. Instead of the soft couch, with the hand of affection to arrange the pillow for my [your] burning head, it was a blanket or two spread upon the ground & the hands of strangers that ministered to my wants. Often in my troubled dreams was I at home receiving all those attentions which I so much needed and awoke to find myself alone in the tent burning with fever, parched with thirst and no one to give me a drink or to [m] relieve me in any way.
The poorest kind of medical attendance was all that could be procured, and all the alleviating necssaries [necessaries], and petits soins which a sick person needs were out of the question, they could not at that time be procured. After laying on my bed a month I got better and in strolling about got acquainted with a family from Missouri by the name of Hamilton. Mrs. H. was very kind to me. And to her & a kind of providence I woe my life. Having got somewhat better, the party that I was with having got out of diggings that would pay were obliged to go and look for others one offered to remain with me, but I did not think it necessary, I was so much better. They therefore left with the intention of
being two weeks absent. The next day after they left I was seized with a relaps [relapse] of the fever attended by inflamations [inflammations] of the kidneys, and for three days remained alone in my tent and probably would have died alone had it not been for Mrs. Hamilton. She thought of me and as she did not see me walking about, as I had been the week previous and knowing that I was alone she thought I was ill and came to see me. God only knows what my feeling were when I heard the voice of Mrs. H. outside of the tent, calling me, to know whether I was within or not. A visit from an Angel of Heaven could not have been more welcome. It quite unmaned [unmanned] me, for before she came my heart was full to overflowing with a sense of my lonely and wretched condition. This [drop] of kindness was too much, and it was only by my sobs that I could thank her. It was six weeks long long weeks that I lay up[p]on my bed burning with fever and racked with pain. I thought I should die and wrote a letter to Ashley to be sent by a friend in case that I did. But a mercifull God saw fit to spare me a while longer, and through Him and Mrs. H., I was once more restored to health, but alas poor in spirit, poor in body, and poor in purse.
The rainy season was then close at hand and I knew not what to do to enable me to lay in the provisions necessary to keep me through it. The party that I had come to the mines with had broken up and part had returned to San Francisco. After some trouble I succeeded in finding a trader amongst the miners who offered me something more than my board for my services during the rainy season. I had decided to accept it, when I came acrost [across] one of the party with whom, I had left San Francisco. He told me that he had enough to live upon during the rainy season for both of us, and that as I was not able to work, I should not work until I was.
But should winter with him. I thankfully accepted his offer and we have remained together ever since. He is a Frenchman by the name of Keenan. I first got acquainted with him in Mexico. We wintered in the mountains about ten miles from Coloma, where there were very good [ravine] diggings. I worked very little during the winter, although in the course a month or two, the mountain air had completely restored me to health, as I did not like to expose myself to a return of the chills & fever. I had, had enough of them.
Shortly after I had gone to the mountains with Keenan I was picking some 8 or 10 dollars out of a crevasse in the bed rock of a ravine, one day, when two or three men came along prospecting they sat down where I was working and asked me if I thought there was a right smart chance for gold in them diggings, I told them I thought there was a small sprinkling of it round there. Which they did not doubt as they said they had made up their minds that there was a heap of good diggings in that quarter from the show they had seen. After this interesting conversation had taken place one of them asked me what state I was from. I told him that unfortunately I was form no state, but from the province of Canada. They then told me that there was a man from that country camped near them that he was from Montreal and had come acrost [across] the plains. I asked them if they knew his name, they said that all they knew was that his company called him charley. I asked [didn’t] they think it was Perry, one of them after thinking awhile said he thought he had heard him called by that name.
I immediately threw down my pick. Sheathed my crevassing knife. Saddled the mule and started to find Perry. I was told that
[I] that he was camped about six miles from where I was working. [and] the trail & direction I was to take being pointed out to me I started about sunset. I rode on [on] the trail I had taken until I was satisfied that I had gone ten or twelve miles and the woods began to get so thick that it was with difiently [definitely] that I could follow it. When I took another which was more beaten but led in another direction thinking that I was out of my course, the turn I was taking might possibly be the right one. After riding about four hours it got very dark so that I was riding at random through the woods, it being impossible to follow any trail, when to complete my misfortunes, it began to rain (it had rained the night before for the first time since I was in the country) and I had just made up my mind to tie the mule to a tre, roll myself in my blanket, and make myself as comfortable as possible under a tree, when I heard the report of a gun. I immediately rode on in the direction of the sound, shouting at the top of my lungs and soon had the satisfaction of seeing a fire blazing up against the side of a large pine tree. And a tents occupied by two men. They had been absent and just returned to their tent. And had fired the gun in order to light a fire. I found from them that I was still two miles from the diggings, where Perry & his company were camped. They urged me to remain with them till morning, but as the trail was a direct one and my impatience to see Perry so great I mounted my [horse] mule and pushed on and in a short time arrived at the diggins. I soon found Perrys tent, but found that he & Mr. Roach had left that day to go and prospect other diggins about ten miles distant.
I went no farther that night, but was in the saddle again early the next morning. I had not proceeded far when I stated a
a grizzly bear out of a thicket about fifty yards from the trail. It was a middling sized one, and advanced towards me. The mule immediately gave a snort and wheeling round away she went into the opposite thicket. I soon turned her about and found the bear standing still, quietly looking at us. I had only a brace of pistols with me, so I contented myself with taking a good look at his Bearship and bidding him a good morning, much to the satisfaction of mule who galloped away in great glee for about a half mile when I came upon a party of Indians. There was some fifteen or twenty of them with their squaws and children. They were well armed with knives & Bows & arrow. I had heard that the Indians displayed a great deal of skill in an attack upon a grizzly, so I made up to them and exerted myself to the utmost to make them comprehend that there was one but a short distance from me. It was in vain that I gesticulated [grimaced], and made all sorts of signs, budge they would not. All that I could get for my eloquence was a few grunts, so I went on my way, and grizzly remained undisturbed in the land of the living. About half an hour ride brought me to Roach & Perry’s camp. And you may believe without any hesitation that the grip [o’] the hands which Perry and I took [abut] that time was one [o’] the grips. Experience only can tell what satisfaction, what pleasure, it is to meet, when thousands of miles separate you from home [&] those that are dearest to you, with a mutual friend. Words cannot. Perry had received two letters from home, while I had received none. So that he was able, to give me considerable Montreal news. I remained with him a day & he returned with me to the diggins where I was located and we spent several days looking about for a location for the winter.
Perry having selected one about three miles from where Keenan and myself were living, he and his company commenced building a log house. Theirs was the first one put up and one of their number being Kentuckian, he gave the pace the name of Louisville and in less than a month it numbered fifteen houses, the most of the setlers [settlers] being Kentuckians. In December Mr. Keenan and myself became residents of Louisville where we remained until March. Winter in this country is a very disagreeable season. The rain commences falling in torrents, about Christmas (although it commenced earlier last season) and continues until into Feby [February]. We managed however, to pass the time more agreeably than I expected we should. Being amongst Kentuckian we had some splendid sporting among the Deer. They being very plenty all around us. At our cabin, we killed some thirty, and sold all we had to spare, to the Indians at a dollar, and a dollar and a half a pound. There were three Ranches of Indians near us, numbering about 300. They belonged to a tribe called Diggers, on account of their living principaly [principally] upon roots. They were the most object and degraded specimens of humanity that I have ever seen, being scarcely more than one remove from the monkey. Before gold was discovered here, they lived upon roots and acorns, and all over the country large flat rocks are to be found with round holes in them, where they have ground their roots & acorns. The substance which they thus got they cooked in willow baskets made water tight by mixing the meal with water, and throwing in red hot stones.
Those who have not retreated to the [ ] mountains but remain among the whites, now prefer to dig gold and buy
and buy their provisions. Their custom is very [profitable] if one can only get enough of it, for anything that they take a fancy to, they will have as soon as they have [dug] gold enough to pay for it. I saw one pay $8 for a red flannel petticote [petticoat] which he bothered a woman for until she sold it to him. He put it on, tying the upper part of it round his neck, and cutting holes in the sides for his arms to pass through. And went strutting about to the no small admiration of his two or three squaws. Who stood by, with scarcely rags enough to cover their nakedness.
This tribe of Indians burn their dead, others put theirs up into trees and some bury them. I have several times witnessed the burning of a corpse. And I assure you that it was a solemn melancholy sight, but at the same time laughable. When a body is to be burned, they [collect] a large pile of manseneta [manzanita] wood, it being very hard when dry, and making a very hot fire. The body is then taken to the burning ground decked with shell or beads or what ever ornaments the deseased [deceased] may have possessed. It is laid upon the ground & covered with wood. The males then seat themselves upon the ground forming a large circle around the pile. The females sitting in a group outside with a with a pile of bows and arrows, and wild flowers near them. The fire is set to the pile, and as the flames creep slowly round the corpse, they keep up a chorus of [the] most dismal howls & sobs as the fire burns fiercer they are changed to a wild chant, and the females each taking a bow & quiver of arrows, form an inner circle and dance around the fire. Singing & gesticulating violently. Flowers are brought every now & then and thrown upon the fire. The step that the squaws take in the dance is rather graceful, and on the whole one would think it rather a merry scene, were it not that they could see the crisping, frying corpse in the fire, and hear the lamentations & sobs of the relatives. At the head of the corpse stands an old man or squaw. Apparently recounting the virtues & good qualities of the deceased. This ritual is accomplished by very violent gesticulations sometimes very expressive and at others extremely ludicrous. As the fire burns, fresh fuel is added and coals heaped upon the corpse until it is intirely [entirely] consumed. I have examined the ashes after the burning was over. And could not discover a trace of the body. There was a young man died in the cabin adjoining ours, during the winter and I assisted in laying out the corpse. It was lying on a board outside of the house. While we thus engaged an old Indian who had apparently seen some seventy or eighty years, came up and stood looking at the corpse. The big tears rolled down his furrowed cheeks & he made signs to me that the deceased had gone far away. He then took his station by the head of the corpse & commenced the same chant & gesticulation that I had heard & witnessed at the burning, the tears still streaming down his face.
He continued chanting about ten minutes then after touching the forehead of the deceased he walked slowly away. The Indians who were about us were very peaceable and friendly, but in many parts of the country they have been very hostile to the miners, especially to the Origon [Oregon] men, many of whom have killed by them. In February Chs [Charles] Perry and I went down to see his brother George, Clarke, Kurezzin, and the rest of the Canada boys who [came] with him. We found them about 0 miles below Sacramento City. We footed it down to the city, a distance
of sixty miles. And then got a [jolly] boat and rowed down the Sacramento 40 miles. You can form an idea of the current of that river when I tell you that we rowed down in less than three hours. We found the boys all there except Clarke who had gone to San Francisco. They were all in good health and comfortably situated. As it was too late to go to the mines when they arrived in the country, they decided to select a [location] for gardening, build a house and prepare for winter. Intending in the spring to put in the seed for a large crop of vegitables [vegetables], and then the most of [them] to go to the mines until the fall. Their plan I believe have succeeded very well with the exception of mining as yet, they have had but poor success in that line. Perry and I remained three days with them and then started back for the mountains. It took us [three] two days after were back at our cabin in Louisville.
The winter being then over, we commenced making preparations to go farther into the mountains, and look for rich diggins. We started out from the cabins about the 15th of March to go to the head waters of the middle fork of the American river. At Louisville we had never had but from six to eight inches of snow upon the ground at any time during the winter, and then only for a day or two at a time. But after being two days out we got where there was five feet of snow upon an average upon the ground, and we were obliged to camp. We sent our mules back about 30 miles where there was plenty of grass and remained where we were 3 weeks before we were able to beat a trail through to the river. We got into the valley of the river about the middle of April, and found hundreds of people there before me. Many had wintered there, we went up the North branch of the fork about fifty miles. It runs through
a narrow gorge in the mountains it being from two to three miles to the top of the mountain on either side of the up as far as we went. We returned however and decided to [turn] the river from its bed by [rigging] a race through a bar about ¼ of a mile in length and daming [damming] the river.
We commenced operations early in May and now after about  months hard work which paid us nothing we are just beginning reap the reward of our toil. The [Gold] we get is large, heavy, beautiful Gold we have taken out as high as seven hundred dollars in a day. Eleven men at work but I do not know whether we shall get paid for our toil, & labour or not. We have been to great expense over $30,000. And have had a great deal of dangerous, and difficult [work] to perform, such as blasting rocks, rolling among rocks [undermining] the [banks] of the rivers [& lake]. Several have had their hands badly jammed & crushed, myself among the number, and one poor fellow has had his left hand almost intirely [entirely] blown off by a premature blast. He was tamping with a steel tamper, and the rock he was loading was filled with pyrite of Iron. I have blasted considerable but have always taken the precaution to load with a [steel] wooden tamper, for I was [satisfied] that there was danger with a steel one. The young man who [who] was injured by the blast is from Ohio. He is the only one who has been seriously injured since we have been at work, and we have all enjoyed so far excellent health although there is a great deal of sickness on the river.
There are daming [damming] operations going on, upon all the rivers in the country, some of them are very expensive hundreds of thousand dollars being invested in them. I have seen one
place where the stream has been turned from its bed by tumbling through a ridge of the mountains, something over three hundred feet. It was done by blasting. The company get by it over two miles of the bed of the river to work, but from what o could learn, it will prove a ruinous operation. Indeed from what I have seen, I think that it is the last season that gold diggen will be carried on to any extent in the beds of the rivers. It is a pretty sight at present to see many of the rivers among these mountains, tearing away, roaring, & foaming down through acqueducs [aqueducts] made of planks and lined with canvass. These acqueducs [aqueducts] extend sometimes for miles by one company taking the water from the acqueducs [aqueducts] of another. There are a great many Imigrants [Immigrants] arriving daily. Many of them in a destitute, starving condition, principally those who have come the over land rout, some have been obliged to eat Horses & Mules, some have died of starvation, and others have cut their throats or blown out their brains. There has been and will be more suffering this year than California can ever atone for. I do not regret that I came out here, but when I see men who are well off at home, begging labour or bread suffering every thing but death itself, I think it a pitty [pity] that Gold was ever discovered here. California possesses advantages which few countries so [now] ever possessed and must in time become a powerful & wealthy State.
Things at the present time are too much under the control of the Speculator and are in an unnatural state. When people here are satisfied with less, they will make more, and every thing wil find its level. I was very sorry to hear the other day that [that] there had been a serious collisions
between a [class] of people called Squatters, from their having taken possession of, and refused to pay for lots in Sacto City [Sacramento], and the Speculators. The Sherrifff of the City was killed & the Mayor had his horse shot from under him. Mr. O’Dwyer was there at the time and wrote me an account of it. He thinks that there was not more than some eight or ten persons killed but report says more. There will very likely be more trouble soon in that quarter for both parties are resolute, well armed, and determined to settle the dispute by the knife or pistol.
I believe I can write nothing more at present that can prove very interesting. And I expect the person who is to take this to the City for me, along every moment. Do not fail to write on receipt of this and give me some Idea of what is going on in the good town of Montreal. Almost the only letters that I have received came by mail & told me that you had written other letters by same [persons] which contained all the news. Those letters I never got.
I wish you to give me some news about all of my friends in the country. I am very anxious to know if Mrs. W. G. Cook of Hatley is still living or not, also [Cadoret], the Lafleurs, & others. How my dear brother although this letter is a long one, it is a hurried one, written at intervals of labour, when I have been very much fatigued. I intend writing [writing] to Father & Mother next mail. Give my love to them and the rest of the family. Kind regards to all inquiring friends. Now my dear Brother good by. May the Almighty ruler of
Bushey Bar North fork of the Middle fork of the American River
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MSS2.H621 HIBBARD, AUGUSTIN GOLD RUSH LETTERS
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Hibbard, Augustin, "Letter from Augustin Hibbard to William [Hibbard] 1850 Sept. 4" (1850). Gold Rush Life. 2.