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During the first fifty years, following the discovery of gold in California, notwithstanding the great drawbacks of inefficiency of management, of inadequate and limited equipment and of stock-selling schemes when the money was spent elsewhere than in the mines, Mariposa County mines produced over $100,000,000 in gold.
During the second fifty years, the record of the pioneers should at least be equalled. There are still veins of untold wealth here, which the present generation can never exhaust. Mining men, today, are better trained and more experienced and the machinery of today is far more efficient and the earth can be penetrated to greater depths than was possible in the first fifty years, for remember this, gold comes from below.
What would John C. Fremont, L. H. Bunnell, J. M. Hutchings, Angevine Reynolds, James D. Savage, John S. Diltz or any of the pioneers say, if they could return for a visit? They bequeathed us a heritage, far richer than they imagined, but it is ours only in our lifetime and we must not forget that we are also trustees for the generations to come.
A most appropriate gala celebration, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of gold in California, was held in San Francisco, in January, 1898. Thousands of mining men, from all parts of the State participated, and Mariposa County was well represented, as was, also, every State in the Union. Even the Chinese and Japanese had floats in the parade.
Never again can such a scene be duplicated. The men of forty-nine and their strange romantic stories were soon to pass from the memories of living men. The young prospectors of forty-nine, if present, were now old men, yet their eyes sparkled and they entered into the gayety of the occasion whole-heartedly. The tales that were told of the past and the stories of the prospects that they were still working on in the hills showed that they were still the greatest optimists in the world and that their spirits were still young, even though their bodies were old. From many a re-union of old friends, songs like the following floated in the air:
“Now youth it is fled, we’re alive, not dead,
It’s a folly to keep repining,
Let’s all sing a song, go happy along,
And think of those days we were mining,
Let’s do unto others, as we’d be done by,
Let us act to each other like brothers,
Let’s all stick together like birds of one feather,
Old miners, forty-niners and others.”*
“The days of forty-nine, my boys,
The days of forty-nine,
We’ll fill a cup of kindness yet,
To the days of forty-nine.”†
*By Maurice M. Murray
†By Chas. H. Chamberlain
Millionaire John Hite, liberal with his money, mixed with the boys, just as if he was still but a common miner. A friend asked, “John, how did you really happen to find your rich mine?” Hite replied, “I owe it to an Indian squaw. She had lived with Jim Savage, as his wife, when he had a store on the south fork. After Jim had shown her what gold was and its value, on one of her rambles around the hills, she noticed a rich outcrop, about which she intended later to tell her husband. Meanwhile the Indian war occurred, she became separated from him and a short time later he was killed.
“I had been friendly with her, so one day, she told me of her find and its approximate location and that’s what I was in search of, when I came upon it. That is the reason I have always been friendly with the Indians, for without the help of this Indian squaw, I never would have found my mine”.
Tom Bichard was there and told many of his amusing tales. “Boys”, he said, “you all know that there has been lots of gold buried in our hills by old-timers, which will never be found inside the next fifty or a hundred years, maybe not until the rains have washed away the ground on top of the cans containing the gold. Most of you think that I found some of George Lacy’s buried money. Well, I did, and this is how it came about. I knew, just like all the rest of you did, that George had buried many thousands of dollars and that some day he would die and perhaps his hidden treasure would never be found. I thought over the matter a good deal and then I said to myself, ‘Tom, if you had buried gold, at any distance from your cabin, wouldn’t it be natural for you to go there at least once a day, to see if it was still there? Of course you would, so why not watch old George?’
“Sure enough, I watched from a hillside for days, and each day I would see George go off into the pines to a certain place on some neighboring government land, without accomplishing anything on these trips and without any apparent purpose. I knew then where some of his gold must be buried. After he died, I went and found it, just as I had surmised. I buried some of it and if I need it before I die, I will get it, otherwise, the secret will have to be found out by another generation.
“Then there is the case of ‘One-eyed Gus’, whose hidden wealth has never been found, so far as I know. Gus was a German, who, for several years worked a rich claim on Sherlock’s Creek, just below the falls and about two miles from the Merced River. Everyone thought that his claim averaged about an ounce a day and he also made considerable money on Sundays by fixing miner’s shoes and making breeches for them. He was very thrifty and never spent money for anything except necessities.
“One winter evening, when the creek was high, he journeyed down to the store on the river and after purchasing some needed supplies, he started to return to his cabin, about two miles up the creek. That was the last ever seen of him. When the creek subsided, one of his boots was found, where it had been washed into some brush by the high water, but his body was never found. The neighbors figured that he must have accumulated at least ten thousand dollars, which he buried somewhere in the vicinity, but so far as known, it has never been found.
“Now, let me tell you a story where I almost found a fabulous hidden treasure, just to show you that it is an indisputable fact, in the course of events, whether human or otherwise, we, in this here life, must have our ups and downs, or things wouldn’t be perfectly natural.
“Many years ago, I was down on the Merced River, at a point about three miles from Colorow, where I found a good prospect for gold. I also found a remarkable ‘find’, on the bank of the river, which was a large slab of rock, with an inscription cut on it, which read, ‘Raise me and I’ll tell you more’. The more I looked at it, the more I became excited and as it was impossible for me to turn it over, I abandoned it for the present.
“When I got back home, I reported to some friends what I had found and they, also, got excited and were anxious to investigate the mysterious stone and turn it over, if possible. The next day, with picks, shovels and crowbars, we all repaired to the legendary stone, underneath which the boys had conjured up in their imagination that there might be a treasure buried by some miners in ’49. So confident were they that something good was to be realized that their courtesy to me knew no bounds. They recognized me as their great chief, called me Captain and were remarkably clever.
“The slab was ten feet long, six feet wide and two feet deep and our company of six arrived at the spot and found the inscription as represented. They were so elated that they fairly loaded me down with compliments at being such a lucky cuss, finding things that weren’t lost and it was Tom here and Tom there. Speculations of the buried treasure were rife with the members of the extraordinary find. One says, ‘it was put there by some miners in ’49, who had been scalped by Indians.’ Another guesses that Fremont had deposited a few million there during his peregrinations, when he was surveying the grant.
“After they had all had their say, I says, ‘gentlemen, I will account for this mysterious treasure. This is the place where Captain Kidd buried his treasure.’ They all gave me a look of amazement and asked me, in all seriousness, how Captain Kidd could get here with his ships. ‘Gentlemen,’ says I, ‘I hope you will not doubt my veracity, when I tell you how it happened. I presume you all have read the story of Jonah, who swallowed the whale. That is all bosh. It was the whale that swallowed Captain Kidd and all his outfit, ships and all, which occurred just outside the bar of San Francisco harbor, here, about the time of Noah’s flood. This whale, in his bewilderment, wandered up into the interior, and as the flood receded, he left his effects behind, which was deposited under this stone. Now, you who are in the habit of making two or three ounces per day, or sometimes that much to a pan, let me see your elephantine strength, in overturning this stone.’
“ ‘Simply waiting orders, Captain’, responded the spokesman of the crowd. The inscription on the top of the slab was again read and repeated so as not to be all lost from memory, as it was evidently going under, when all hands with their temporary derricks, signalled the grand somersault by a ‘he-up and over she goes’, and over she went, sure enough. With much united effort, it was really no trick at all. As it went over, the following poetical effusion flashed across my shattered brain:
‘Oh, you bloody fools,
Haven’t you a particle of sense?
This is only the corner-stone
To Captain Kidd’s mosaic fence.’
“But inspired with hope and with strong arms uplifted, over went the mysterious slab, which divulged an inscription upon the other side and which had not been read for the first time until now, and what do you think it read?
“All hands, trembling with hope and anxiety, each read to their satisfaction, the grave-yard words, ‘Lay me down as I was before’. Well, you never saw such a change in human countenances, they could have cannibalized me; that would have been the last of poor Tom. They appeased their appetites by calling me a humbug, fraud, bilk and everything but a gentleman. So it goes, when things go wrong, nevertheless, I told them, my name will always be Tom.”
The Hon. Niles Searles, delivered the oration of the day, in part as follows: “To California, the discovery of gold was the motive power which transformed a land of vast resources, but with an extreme poverty of development, into an empire.
“To our common country, the discovery was almost equally important. It wiped out the last vestiges of provincialism in business methods and placed her commercially and financially upon the plane with the leading nations of the earth and when the final, crucial test of the perpetuation of the Union came, it was California’s gold, which was a twin factor with patriotism, in settling the problem of a continued existence.
“The mass of Argonauts were mostly young men. Twenty-five years is believed to be an average of their ages. They composed the best intelligence, energy, courage and perseverence of the communities, from which they came. They were in an age when the love of adventure was strong.
“Only the pioneers and the men who served in the field as soldiers can comprehend how it is possible to do without things and still be comfortable. The early miners endured much and enjoyed much. They were free as the invigorating mountain air. They yielded homage to no man and felt a proud consciousness that that which they extracted from the earth, added to the world’s aggregate wealth, without impoverishing their fellow men. Their pursuit and their environment begot in them self-reliance and greater individuality. They were tolerant of the views of others, willing to think for themselves and accord a like privilege to others. They were the most charitable and liberal people on earth and these qualities have been inherited or imbibed by their descendants and successors until this day.”
The spirit of forty-nine still lives on, throughout the easily-accessible area on the gold road to Yosemite. It is today a land of charm, of mining activity, and a living and important connecting link with the romantic past.
Next: Appendix: Miners’ Ten Commandments • Contents • Previous: 38. Pioneer Spirit