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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


CHAPTER XIII
EVENTFUL YEARS OF 1854 AND 1855

By 1854, Mariposa had progressed from a tent and tenement village to a city of several thousand inhabitants, with a number of hotels, livery stables, general merchandise stores, saloons, churches, a jewelry store, a brewery, a saw-mill and scores of comfortable homes dotting the hillsides. The quartz mines were bringing in men with families, resulting in the population becoming more permanent.

The two-story Court House, with a large court room on the second floor and offices on the first floor was built this year, with lumber whipsawed from the neighboring forests. The frame work was fitted together with mortise and tenon and held in place with wooden pegs. The finishing lumber was hand planed and square cut nails used.

The first newspaper, the Mariposa Chronicle, appeared on January 20, 1854, and was established by W. T. Whitacre and A. S. Gould. This was quite a gala occasion and the first copy was sought after by many. The whole town made merry, with flags, firebells, anvils, horns, fireworks and pistols, all adding to the joyousness of the occasion.

Within a few months, the Chronicle changed ownership to C. W. Blaisdell and John C. Hopper and subsequently, in the same year, it was purchased by L. A. Holmes, who changed the name, in June, 1855, to the Gazette, under which name, without the missing of a single issue, it is still being published in its own building. It is one of the oldest living newspapers of continuous publication in California.

Holmes was a Whig, a Connecticut Yankee, and had the happy faculty of entertaining his readers with no small degree of wit and

Galen Clark, famous Guardian of Yosemite
[click to enlarge]
Galen Clark,
famous Guardian of Yosemite.

humor and was a great favorite both as a man and as a journalist, throughout the County and State.

The press used was a Washington hand press, manufactured by H. Hoe & Co., of New York City, and brought around the Horn to San Francisco and then to Mariposa by Wells Fargo & Co. Express. The type was set by hand and the “printer’s devil” kept the type inked as the pressman worked the carriage. The paper was a weekly and the price $5 per year. It was only a four page paper, but it gave National, State and local news in rather a complete manner. Owing to limited space, the news articles were concise and to the point, which is quite different from our modern newspapers.

Herewith is L. A. Holmes, first editor of the Gazette, speaking in the issue of July 12, 1855:

“Upon the lower part of Mariposa Creek, the miners are doing well. Wherever there is a sufficiency of water for a sluice stream, good wages are made. The Chinese are abundant upon some parts of the creek; in fact, they own nearly one-half of it. Most of their claims have been bought of Americans and they paid for some as high as $800. Very little can be learned of their success, for John keeps dark on money matters, on account of collectors, of whom he has especial horror, especially of those greasers and white men, who collect without County authority; at these times the tax is generally heavy.

“Very little is doing at Bridgeport or Guadaloupe, for want of water; both of which places are as good mining localities as are in the vicinity. Agua Fria has dried up; Carson is ditto. A few may be seen ‘bobbing round’ puddles of water with cradles, making ‘grub’ or attempting to, but most of the white men have left for the rivers and Mexicans have taken their places. Carson is full of them; Dog-Town is populous. The use of a battaire, a few pans a day is sufficient to keep them in frijolias and aguadiente; these with a little harina supply their wants. Innocent amusements occupy their leisure time; and little diversions with Bowies and Colts serve to break the monotony of existence and render life pleasant and agreeable.

“Bear Valley is one of the best districts and one of large extent. It is thickly populated in winter, but since the rainy season of 1852-53, there has not been water enough to work but a few days at a time and for this reason, it has not been profitable to those who have mined there for the last two winters. In this section of the County, there are not ten dollars taken out where one hundred dollars would be, were there a moderate supply of water. “Little money has been made upon the Merced, as yet; miners have hardly got onto their claims. We expect a greater amount of money to be taken out of the river this year than ever before, for it will undoubtedly be very low and miners are thickly settled upon every part of it.

“We believe Sherlocks is the best mining region in this County; at least, the mines are more developed. The diggings are heavy and oftentimes deep and the gold coarse and worth more to the ounce. Michael Talbot & Co., at $17 per ounce, and we believe it to be worth more, took out $3220, with three men working three days. That’s not bad to take.”

These were lively times, especially during the winter season, when the placers could be worked to good advantage, although quartz mining was gaining ground and this was an all-year occupation. Optimism prevailed. People bet on anything. Gambling tables were frequently set out in the streets and on sidewalks, when weather permitted. Every miner had his buckskin bag, in which he carried his gold dust and from which he paid for his drinks or other purchases. Many times, it was measured by guesswork, with the miner always paying a high price for everything he bought, but what did he care, thinking these golden times would always last and that he could easily replenish his bag whenever he wished. Miners would give up diggings paying ten dollars a day to take a chance on other diggings which might pay fifteen dollars a day.

In 1854, Wells, Fargo & Co. built an Express office in Hornitos. They had purchased the business of Reynolds & Co., who had been conducting an Express business throughout the southern mines. Angevine Reynolds, Mariposa forty-niner, was one of the founders of this business and its main office was on a levee near the corner of Center Street in Stockton. The arrival every morning of a steamboat from San Francisco, loaded with passengers destined for points in the southern mines, made it a lively and exciting business. Everybody was anxious to get off to the gold fields, where they expected to bag a fortune in a few days. It was a two day trip to Mariposa and the fare $25.

When the day came to transfer the business to Wells, Fargo & Co., in taking inventory of stock, “Chips”, whose real name was Pillsbury Hodgkins, was turned over to them. “Chips” was indispensable to the business. He could mount a mule and at short notice be off to the mines, with the latest news, consisting of papers and mail. California was blest only once a month with mail, which came by steamer via Panama, from the Eastern States. Stages were frequently threatened by robbers. The miners were in the habit of sending home to their friends and relatives packages of gold dust and specimens, which together with gold shipped for commercial purposes, made the shipments on what was called “Steamer Day” very large. On several occasions, it had been necessary to arm and equip a special “convoy extraordinary” and among them Chips was always to be found, with a gun and several Colt revolvers and Bowie knives.



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