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


Angevine Reynolds, prominent early-day newspaper man, is speaking: “We landed on Mariposa Creek, September 13, 1849, astride a white mule. We were one of a band of twenty-nine men and boys who had left our native home, relatives and friends, sacrificing worldly comforts and homes and a competency bequeathed by our ancestors, all to gratify hopes of gold which so brilliantly loomed on the horizon of our imagination and which became a general epidemic throughout the land.

“On April 4, 1849, we bid farewell to our brother and family at Bastrup, Texas. All were mounted on mules, with an extra animal each, packed with what we deemed sufficient to sustain life for three months. Our brother accompanied us for three or four miles. His last words were, ‘Be a good boy and don’t marry in California’. We promised to return in two years. After a voyage of six months and three days, we landed here on Mariposa Creek.

“There were no hotels, stores, saloons, court house, jail or even a newspaper of any sort here then. The present location of Mariposa had not given birth to a town at that time. The only sign of anyone living in the neighborhood was a few Mexican miners, camping on Missouri Gulch, and Scott & Montgomery’s butcher corral, at the junction of Stockton and Mariposa Creeks. There was also an Italian store, kept in a tent about eight by sixteen feet, with about a cartload of stock. He had some flour, beans, salt, and a few shovels, picks, and pans to sell. A half ounce would buy a shovel, $6 for a pick, $4 for a pan, 25¢ a pound for flour and beans. Green coffee, unground, was 50¢ a pound and sugar about the same.

“The original location of Mariposa, in 1849, was about a half mile downstream from the site of the present town. We then owned a mining claim on the creek, near the mouth of Chicken Gulch. So rich in gold were the beds of streams and gulches, that we, with our partner, were restricted to twelve feet square, our mining implements being a case knife and an old tin pan, with pick and shovel. With these, we averaged each fifteen and twenty dollars a day with an occasional big strike.

“A description of our wardrobe at that period may not be uninteresting. It consisted of an old red flannel shirt, minus the hinder portion called tail and a part of one sleeve, a pair of pantaloons, patched and holey, a hat without crown or rim and a pair of moccasins. As apology for our shabby appearance, our pack mule had stampeded with our clothing.

“The latter part of the year, we sought a better digging at Agua Fria Creek and afterwards went into the Express business, delivering letters at $2 each and selling newspapers at a dollar a copy, at which prices no-one complained. Early in the fall of 1850, we returned and found that high water had driven the inhabitants of the town upstream on higher ground, and that they had congregated and built on a flat, which they christened Logtown and which is now the present location of Mariposa.

“It was peopled with an industrious and jovial crowd. Music floated on the evening breeze; and dark-eyed senoritas, in gay costumes, whirled in the merry dance with brawny miners, until they became dizzy. The latter counted their gold-dust by ounces and pounds, and a hundred dollars was less prized than a ten cent piece later on.”

Joe Miller, prominent pioneer business man and postmaster, is speaking: “In the summer of 1849, when I was nineteen years old, I started for California with a party, among whom was Miles Goodman and Dave Hayes.

“In crossing the Colorado River, we met a large party of Indians who had a raft which they used as a boat to get people across the river. The provisions were all put on the raft and I was put in charge of them and as many Indians as the raft would carry across and they were expected to return for the others.

“Dave Hayes, Goodman, and others were left to drive the animals into the water and the Indians were to swim them across, but the Indians swam them down and out on the same side of the river. Goodman shot at and killed two of the red devils in the water.

“The Indians that were with me, picked up all the provisions and clothing and ran away with them. We were practically destitute and had a hard tramp to the nearest settlement. I was bound to get to the mines and finally got to Agua Fria, half-starved and half-naked.

“The first man I met at Agua Fria was Sherlock, a hunter who sold meat to the miners. Sherlock took me in and gave me venison to eat and hired me to help the man left in charge, when he, Sherlock, was away hunting. Sherlock had his hunting grounds, and the bear trappers had theirs; and when anyone returned home, the miners would gather around to hear a hunting story.

“On one of his hunting trips, Sherlock shot at, and wounded a deer on the divide and hitched his mule there and followed a sprinkle of blood far down into a deep gulch and in looking along the vein and on the bedrock for blood, he saw nuggets of gold. He took his butcher knife and picked out the gold and filled his pouch. He worked till late in the evening, then hid his gold, climbed the hill to his mule and got home late in the night. He told the boys that he did not get his deer but probably would the next day and he talked about getting some tools to prospect some. He said he would give up hunting, if he could do better by mining for gold.

“He went somewhere and got a rocker and went away and was gone for several months. Sometime in the spring, he was found working with a rocker. He had skimmed well over the best and easiest ground to work. Hundreds of people poured in onto him and crowded him out. They took up claims one rod square.

“They gave it the name of Sherlock’s Creek, Sherlock’s Falls, Sherlocktown and they were so fond of the name, they called a flat on the other side of the Merced River, Sherlock’s Flat.

“Sherlock was sole proprietor of the gulch for several months before he was found out and he did not remain long after he was discovered, but with as much as a mule could carry of pure gold, estimated at not less than $100,000, he rolled on presumably to where he came from and was never heard of afterwards. Maybe he never reached home but was waylaid, robbed and slain by Murietta and his gang.”

Daniel A. Clark, successful pioneer miner, is speaking: “We reached Mariposa, September 6, 1850, only a little short of five months after leaving New York. Six of us joined together in fitting up a log cabin. We lived very comfortably, with plenty of provisions and plenty of price, but that didn’t count. Wild game was abundant, deer, bear, antelope, rabbits, and quail. We were in dry diggings and the want of water, when and where we wanted it, was a serious drawback, but we had fair success. It was hard work; the watching for Indians, who were very troublesome, kept us from being lonesome. It was unsafe to go far away from our camp alone. Many miners were killed by Indians during the winter.

“Everything left outside the cabin door was stolen by them but they had too much regard for revolvers to come inside. In the Spring, a company of two hundred volunteers was raised, commanded by Major Savage; the Indians were driven from the Yosemite Valley, Captain Boling’s Company from Mariposa being the first to reach that famed spot. What Indians were left were fairly peaceable after that.

“I have seen men ride into town with their clothes stuck full of arrows. I recall Colonel Owen, he was attacked five miles out, riding up a mountain; at first flight of arrows, his mule whirled suddenly, throwing his carbine from the pommel of his saddle, where it was hanging; he used his two revolvers as long as they held out and then depended upon his mule for the chances. There were three arrows in the mule’s flanks, five in Owen’s clothing and one in his hat, but only one drew blood. He did not know how many of his shots took effect, but felt sure that some of the attackers did not get away with whole skins.

Criss-cross letter, 1858.
[click to enlarge]
Criss-cross letter, 1858.
[Editor’s note: from p. xi: Criss-cross letter, 1858, so written to save postage. One sheet cost $2, two sheets $3. —dea].

“These were exciting times; everybody flush with gold dust, gambling and drinking saloons in full blast, quarrels and shooting were everyday occurrences. We camped one mile out of town and only went there for provisions and letters. Wells, Fargo & Co. charged $5 to bring letters from San Francisco, but nobody cared, only to get the letter.

“There was one old grizzly bear that frequented the chaparral near our camp. One day a miner, going home with a fifty pound bag of flour on his shoulder, met the grizzly; he dropped the flour (only $1 a pound) and went up a tree forthwith. The bear smelt of the bag, struck it with his paw and scattered it over the ground. After keeping the miner in a tree all night, the bear left. A trap was set for him, a rifle loaded to the muzzle; it did the work and the miners had 800 pounds of meat to eat, rather tough, though.”

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