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


While the County government was being conducted from the log-cabin Court House, on Agua Fria, Joseph F. Marr became Treasurer and Tax Collector. It was his custom to go about the County, from diggings to diggings, on horse-back, collecting taxes, which he would bring back to his office and secrete as best he could, for, in those days, there was no safe in which to place the collections.

One day, a terrific storm arose and, in crossing a swollen stream, he and his horse were drowned. No trace of the County funds were found, although, on the previous day, he was known to have had over three hundred of the fifty dollar Mt. Ophir octagon gold slugs, then valued at over fifteen thousand dollars, but today worth many times their original value to coin collectors. No one knows that this gold was ever found. It may still be buried in the vicinity of the first Court House.

Fights between bears and bulls were one of the early-day amusements and their main attraction was that they furnished something to bet on. In one of these contests, a bear and a bull would be chained together, with a common-sized draft chain, to prevent escape and to force the animals to fight it out. The Mexicans, generally, bet on the bull and it was always the favorite in the betting. However, sometimes the bear would get the bull by the nose and hold on until the bull was strangled to death.

In 1852, one of these contests, held near Mariposa, is thus described by a correspondent of the Daily Alta California: “The crowd had assembled and were seated around the ring, in which the conflict between a bear and bull was to take place, enjoying the sport, when, as is frequently the case, the chain slipped over bruin’s head, leaving him to go where he pleased.

“The majority of the crowd commenced dispersing instantly, as might be supposed, but a few, in different parts of the circle, drew their revolvers and began shooting desperately at the bear, jeopardizing the lives of numbers, who were immediately opposite. Luckily, but one man was injured and he was only slightly wounded in the thigh, but the wonder was, with such a large crowd, that scores were not shot. The bear was killed instantly, his body being perfectly riddled by the leaden hail. Just imagine a crowd, in a high state of excitement, still standing around one object in the center and firing directly at it, themselves perhaps in range of a dozen revolvers. ‘Ugh’, the thought is dreadful enough to frighten us from any desire to participate in such fun.”

Another important diversion or pastime, to make life interesting, in the early mining days, was chicken fighting. The following description of one of these contests, by the Editor of the Gazette, is quite realistic:

“The chicken fight at Bachman and Davanay’s saloon, on the 22nd. of February, came off as announced. Owing to bad, rainy weather, the pit was moved into the vacant building, adjoining the saloon.

“First fight, B and D handled the fowls. Gordon’s chicken had four ounces too much corn in him and extra weight besides, which gave him the advantage. B got a severe blow in the hand by a fowl while handling.

“Second fight, B’s ‘little duck’ cleaned out McC’s chicken, about the same size. McC’s chicken ran, had his windpipe immediately cut and goes to pot for somebody’s Sunday breakfast. Betting ranged from $1 to $2.50.

“Third fight, some rube rang in a fowl on B, knocked him out of the pit twice. All sorts of betting, some hedging. B’s bird ran, he knew he would run; went to pot. Then all hands imbibed in some ‘fluid’ and the heeling went on. Cries of ‘whar is them leathers’, ‘vere ish de odder schicken’, ‘one dollar on the wheeler’, were heard from different parts of the house.”

The following rules of an early-day mining camp hotel, appeared in the Gazette:

“Board must be paid in advance; with beans, $15., without, $12.; salt free, boarders not permitted to speak to the cook; no extras allowed; potatoes for dinner; pocketing at meals, strictly forbidden; no whistling while eating.

“Gentlemen are expected to wash out of doors and find their own water; no charge for ice; towel bags at the end of the house.

“Extra charges for seats around the stove.

“Lodgers must furnish their own straw; beds on the bar-room floor reserved for regular customers; persons sleeping in the bar are requested not to take off their boots.

“Lodgers inside arise at 5 A. M.; in the barn, at 7 o’clock; each man sweeps up his own bed.

“No quartz taken at the bar. No fighting allowed at the table. Specimens must invariably be left on the outside.

“Anyone violating the above rules will be shot.”

In January, 1850, the following was the ‘Bill of Fare’, of one of the miner’s hotels:

Ox Tail (short)1.50
Beef, Mexican (prime cut)1.50
  ” Up along1.00
Beef, Plain1.00
   , with one potato (fair size)1.25
   , Tame, from the States1.50
Baked Beans, Plain.75
    , Greased1.00
Two potatoes (medium size)1.00
    , Peeled.75
Sauer Kraut1.00
Bacon, Fried1.00
   , Stuffed1.50
Hash, Low Grade.75
Hash, 18 Carets1.00
Codfish Balls, per pair.75
Grizzly, Roast1.00
   , Fried.75
Jackass Rabbit (whole)1.00
Rice Pudding, Plain.75
    , with Molasses1.00
    ,    Brandy Peaches2.00
Square Meal, with Dessert3.00
The old Mariposa Gazette building
[click to enlarge]
The old Mariposa Gazette building.

John Gilmore, with his team, entering Mariposa, 1879.
[click to enlarge]
John Gilmore, with his team, entering Mariposa, 1879.

Next: 11. Fremont and Savage VisitContentsPrevious: 9. Early Justice

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management