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Next: Chapter 7ContentsPrevious: Chapter 5

Up and Down California in 1860-1864;
The Journal of William H. Brewer:
Book 3, Chapter 6

Weaverville—Hydraulic Mining—Mount Balley—A Street Fight—Another “Balley”—Volcanic Remains—The Sacramento Valley—Deer Creek—Chico—Pence’s Ranch—Table Mountains—Tunnel Mining—Disbanding at Marysville.

October 15, 1862.

At Shasta City the party broke up for a time owing to sickness of several members. Tuesday, September 23, Professor Whitney left before daylight for San Francisco. Schmidt and Hoffmann were better, but both unable to ride.

After breakfast, leaving orders for the rest, Rémond and I started on mules for Weaverville, forty miles distant among the mountains west of Shasta. Over a mountain six miles to Whiskey, a little mining place on Clear Creek—once clear, but foul enough from mining now—then up that eight more to Towers—merely a public house, and a very pleasant one at that. This is on the great Yreka road, many heavy teams are met, and the road is dusty almost beyond endurance. The day is hot. At Towers the Weaverville road branches off. This is a toll road. It is only twenty-six or twenty-eight miles long, but this spring $38,000 was spent on it—this tells something of the country it must pass through. It was a fine road and well engineered.

We went up Crystal Creek a few miles, then over Trinity Mountains at an elevation of over three thousand feet, and then went down a ravine into the valley of Trinity River—a very picturesque road, with magnificent fir, spruce, pine, and oak trees. Some of the scenery is decidedly fine. We stopped all night at Buckhorn Station, a tavern and stage station—cold enough, heavy frost and some ice. I have only a linen coat along—decidedly too thin.

September 24 we were up early and off—six miles to the Trinity River, which we crossed by a ferry (our tolls for this trip were $5.50 on our two mules), then over Brown’s Mountain, 2,800 to 3,000 feet high, then into the valley of Weaver Creek, and by a little past noon were in Weaverville, always called simply Weaver.

We had heard of fossiliferous strata of Cretaceous rocks there, and as we were striving to solve the difficult problem of the geological age of the Sierra Nevada and of the gold-bearing slates, this was supposed to be a most important point to visit. We spent that afternoon in making inquiries, and found that all our information had been wrong. We found in a drug store a single fossil, said to have come from diggings six miles distant; so the next morning, September 25, we started for the place, Douglas City, on the Trinity River, six miles south. We found no fossils there, but very extensive “hydraulic” diggings.

The river here makes a curve. A stratum of soil twenty or thirty feet thick forms a flat at the curve of the river, of limited extent. The “bed rock” beneath this is of metamorphic slates, much twisted, contorted in every shape by former volcanic convulsions, and much of it very hard. The soil above is very hard, like rock itself, made up of loose rounded bowlders, cemented by a firm red clay into a mass as hard as ordinary sandstone. In this the gold is found.

Deep ditches are cut, not only through this, but deep down into the hard bed rock beneath, often twenty or more feet into the latter, and running out to the river. In these are the “sluices”—merely long troughs for conveying the water. The bottoms of these sluices are made of blocks sawed from the ends

From a lithograph published by J. M. Hutchings in 1855
Shasta City
From a lithograph published by J. M. Hutchings in 1855
of partially squared timber, so that the end of the grain is presented to the surface, sometimes of a double row, thus—
diagram of sluice bottom
[Note: Professor Brewer’s diary contained several diagrams done in brownish ink with a very fine pen. It was not practicable to reproduce these photographically nor to trace them, hence the reduced diagrams shown herein are very accurate and careful redrawings by Miss Lois North, but are not photographic copies.]
sometimes, however, of but a single row of blocks. These do not lie perfectly square and level, so, as the water flows swiftly over them, they cause a ripple, like water flowing swiftly over the stony bed of a stream. The bottom of the box or trough, below these blocks, is perfectly tight, and quicksilver is poured in and collects in all the holes between the blocks.

Ditches, from miles back in the mountains, bring the water up against the hillside, far above the surface of the flat, and a flume, or “raceway,” built on high stilts, over seventy or one hundred feet high, brings the water directly over the “claim.” A very stout hose, often six inches in diameter, conducts the water down from this high head, and has at its end a nozzle like that of a fire engine, only larger. Now, this stream of water, heavy and issuing with enormous force from the great pressure of so high a head of water, is made to play against this bank of hard earth, which melts away before it like sand, and all flows into the sluices—mud, bowlders, gold. The mud is carried off in the stream of thick, muddy water; the bowlders, if not too large, roll down with the swift current; the heavier gold falls in the crevices and is dissolved in the quicksilver, as sugar or salt would be in water. In some mines these sluices are miles long, and are charged with quicksilver by the thousands of pounds. This washing down banks by such a stream of water under pressure is “hydraulic mining.” After a certain time the sluices are “cleaned up,” that is, the blocks are removed, the quicksilver, amalgamated with the gold, is taken out, the former being then driven off by heat—“retorted”—and the gold left.

From this flat near Douglas City over a million dollars has already been taken, and it looks as if as much more was yet to be got. Owing to the want of water at present the sluices were dry, and men were only preparing for water when the rains should commence.

The amount of soil removed in hydraulic mining must be seen to be at all appreciated. Single claims will estimate it by the millions of tons, the “tailings” (refuse from the sluices) fill valleys, while the mud not only muddies the Sacramento River for more than four hundred miles of its course, but is slowly and surely filling up the Bay of San Francisco. In the Sierra, the soil from hundreds of acres together has already been sluiced off from the rock, which it formerly covered even to the depth of 150 feet! I have seen none of the heavy mining as yet, although I have seen works and effects that one would imagine it would take centuries to produce, instead of the dozen years that have elapsed since the work began.

Well, this we found, but we found no fossils, and no formation at all possible to contain them.

A high mountain rises to the northwest of Weaver, called here Mount Balley. This we resolved to climb the next day. A citizen who wished to make the ascent resolved to accompany us. So, on September 26, we made the trip. The mountain is 7,647 feet high, and at the altitude of over 6,300 feet there is a small lake, a very uncommon thing in this part of the state. Ice is got out of this in the winter, and is packed down on mules in summer, selling at six to eight cents per pound, so a pack trail leads up to that point. The slopes of the mountain to this height are covered in some places with chaparral and in others with forests, mostly of the same species of trees that we found at Mount Shasta. Some of the spruce trees were especilly grand. I measured some that were over twenty-five feet in circumference and must have been over two hundred feet high.

Above the lake it is very steep, and our friend puffed so hard that we went on ahead, he following up more slowly. The summit is a very narrow ridge of granite. We had ascended it from the south side, while the north side is so steep that bowlders will go bounding down several hundreds of feet if once started. The view was very picturesque.

Trinity County is a very rough one—too rough to survey, so there is no “public land,” that is, surveyed land, in the entire county. In the middle of this we were perched at an altitude of over 1,300 feet higher than Mount Washington or Mount Mitchell, the highest land east of the Mississippi River. The view in every direction was extensive, and the roughest region I have yet seen, all broken into mountains from five thousand to nine thousand feet high, many of them streaked with patches of snow. Immediately to the north the mountains were not only high but very rugged and broken, the canyons thousands of feet deep and the sides very steep and rocky. We enjoyed that trip greatly, and were back in time for a late supper.

I met in Weaver a Mr. and Mrs. McClure, who had been fellow passengers on the steamer when we went out, and I had a pleasant time with them.

Before leaving Weaver I must speak of the town. It is a purely mining town—no other interest there except such as bears upon that—so it is like California in bygone times. There are a few valley ranches, very small, in the county; they raise something, but everything else must come from the outside. Hay is generally $50 per ton, and the livery-stable man told me that he had paid $160 per ton. Our mules cost us $1.75 each day to keep—other things proportionately dear. Freights from Red Bluff are about four cents per pound, so while all kinds of goods are dearer than outside, they are dearer in proportion not to their value but to their weight. In winter freights are often eight, ten, or even twelve cents. It is curious to note the effect on prices in a place where the increased price of a pound of silk is the same as the increased price of a pound of iron—where you buy your stockings and shirts, as well as sugar and tea, by the pound—at least really if not nominally.

Sluices run through the town, but the town has no limits, no corporation. The houses grew more and more scattered up and down the valley—some are “washed out”—one church has been sluiced around until only enough land remains for it to stand upon.

There are multitudes of Chinese—the men miners, the women “frail,” very frail, industrious in their calling. There is a Chinese temple there, with its idols and fixtures, decidedly a curious concern; for in this land of religious liberty the Chinese, of course, introduce all their heathen rites of worship.

There are twenty-eight saloons and liquor holes in the place, and gambling and fighting are favorite pastimes. After the third fight had come off in the streets Rémond remarked to me, “I teenk dat de mineeng customs are petter preserved in dees plaze dan in any town I yet see in dees state.” He was quite right.

One of these fights deserves more than a passing notice. A brawl occurred in a groggery between an Irish bartender and a tough, plucky little teamster. They adjourned to the street to fight it out, when a constable stopped it, then went his way. When he was out of sight they adjourned to a neighboring corral to have the fight out quietly. A crowd came in to see the sport. I was in there letting my mules drink, so I got them tied up, perched myself on the fence, and calmly witnessed the preparation for the contest. Teamster pulled off shirt, took an extra hitch in his belt, pulled up his pants above his boots, and announced that he was ready, asking Paddy whether he preferred a fair stand-up fight, or rough and tumble. Paddy preferred the “fair stand-up,” “peeled” also his shirt, announced that he was ready, and they “sailed in.” No one interfered—they pommeled each other and Paddy got knocked down. Teamster says, “Come up here, my boy,” and waits for him to get up. Paddy is up and at it again—a little more pommeling—they clinch, hit, strike, squirm, and writhe. Both get down, part of the time one on top, part of the time the other, spectators standing calmly around giving them plenty of room, when the constable makes his appearance and stops the “sport” by separating the men and arresting both. Paddy, who has the worst of it, seems satisfied, but Teamster jocosely requests constable to absent himself just fifteen minutes, then come back and he may arrest and be damned. The fight, however, stops, the people mostly disperse, but the belligerents are not taken into custody. I come down from my lofty position on the fence and finish with my mules. The constable gone, Teamster proposes that now is a good time to quietly settle it, but Paddy, who has one eye closed and the other terribly black, objects and threatens to knife him. Teamster coolly offers to settle it right there with knives, if Paddy prefers that way. Men, however, here interfere and Paddy is got away.

Another street fight had less of note in it. That night I heard a noise in the street, inquired in the morning what it was, found there had been a fight in front of a gambling saloon across the street, and that a miner had been stabbed in five places, probably fatally.

We had often heard that “Weaver is a great place for amusement,” “a lively little place”—we found it so.

The morning of September 27 we left—a chilly morning. We returned over the same road we had come on, and stopped all night at Towers. To the south of Towers and west of Shasta rises a high, conspicuous mountain, 6,357 feet high, also called Balley—an Indian word meaning “high mountain.” September 28 we climbed it. Two men accompanied us. As we had to ascend from the base, and there was some chaparral, the view was more extensive, but less picturesque, than from the “Balley” near Weaver. We started to return, but our two companions went down by another way to hunt. While we were on the top we saw two rainstorms coming down the mountains from the far north. We lost our way on the way back, when in the labyrinth of foothills at the base, and were caught in a cold rain. We waited until it ceased, then found our way back at last, having walked six miles extra because of our mistake, making it decidedly a heavy day’s work. That night and the next morning were very cold.

September 29 we went back to Shasta. Here we were rejoined by Schmidt who had been to Red Bluff. He had chills and fever every other day. Hoffmann had gone down the valley, too badly used up for hard work for the season.

October 20.

October 2 we left Shasta City. First, six miles southwest to the river, over the table-land before described—a table furrowed entirely into hills and gulches—then crossed the river, then rose to another table. This was unlike the first; it is in reality the head of the great Sacramento Valley plain, which at its northern end rises into level tables, perhaps six hundred to eight hundred feet above the sea, often for many miles without streams or deep gulches, bearing no gold, covered at this place with scattered oaks and pines, the soil dry, but barren because of its dryness only. The surface is as hard as a paved road, the trees and shrubs have a dry aspect, although they are mostly evergree, and all the herbage is long since dried up and gone.

We camped on Cow Creek, about twelve miles from old Fort Reading. We had heard of coal mines discovered up this creek, about fifteen miles from our camp, so on October 3 Rémond and I started for them, intending to be gone two days. Our ride was a gentle ascent, sometimes passing over tables sloping to the west and elevated perhaps a hundred feet above the surrounding country. These were remarkable, being made up of strata of volcanic ashes, sometimes mixed with bowlders of lava. This had covered the entire region, but up about fourteen miles from camp we found where the stream had cut through these strata into the sandstone beneath, which is rich in fossils—shells of many species were as thickly imbedded in the rocks as if the sea had but lately left these shores.

It was a solitary region, with houses only at intervals of several miles. We did not find the coal mines, did not find the men who were to show us where they were, could find no place where we could get shelter or feed for our animals, so returned the same night. It rained in the night, and drove us into the tent.

San Francisco.
October 26.

Safely back here again I will go on with my journal, but first, a few more words on the great interior valley of the state, that of the San Joaquin and the Sacramento.

This great feature is a vast valley, often thirty to forty miles wide, a perfect plain enclosed by high mountains on both sides, its only opening, the Straits of Carquinez, being less than a mile wide. One can start on this plain, near Shasta, and travel southeast four hundred and fifty miles in a nearly straight line, without crossing any hill of any considerable height—that is, if a road is run near the rivers.

The extreme north end rises in a table-land a few hundred feet high, but the valley does not taper to a point—it is cut off nearly square, where it is at least thirty miles wide, by the mountains that extend across the north part of the state. But the eastern edge is modified by a range of hills that stretches east from Lassen’s Peak, down into the valley, way to the river, near Red Bluff, so that the upper end of the plain spreads out above it, something like a letter T. Now these hills mentioned are mostly of lava and need more than a passing notice, for they impart features to the landscape so unlike anything else that I must make these preliminary explanations so that you may understand what I will have to write for some time to come.

Lassen’s Peak, and in fact, that whole part of that chain, like Mount Shasta, is a gigantic extinct volcano, perhaps about twelve thousand feet high—a volcano not only much higher, but vastly greater in every respect of magnitude and effect than Etna. It is flanked by a considerable number of smaller cones, old volcanoes, from one thousand feet high, up to that of the main peak itself, many of these cones being much higher and greater than Mount Vesuvius.

Here, in a former age of the world, was a scene of volcanic activity vastly surpassing anything existing now on the earth. The materials from these volcanoes not only formed the mountains themselves and covered the foothills, but also came down on the plain for more than a hundred miles. Sometimes volcanic ashes covered the whole region many feet thick, then sheets of molten lava would flow over it, hardening into the hardest rock, then ashes and lava again. Thus were formed beds of enormous thickness, regularly stratified, descending with a gentle slope toward the Sacramento River, and even crossing it in one place near Red Bluff.

But all volcanic action ceased ages ago, and the snows and rains falling on the high lands about Lassen’s Peak formed streams which radiate from it. They have worn deep canyons, channels, in this lava, often a thousand feet deep, but generally less. Between these are table-lands, sometimes strewn with loose bowlders of lava, at others showing a surface of nearly naked lava with only enough soil to support, here and there, low cragged shrubs and a few herbs during the wet parts of the year.

Saturday, October 4, we went on north to near the mouth of Battle Creek. It rained a little, and we camped at a miserable little tavern, where we took our meals. A part of our way led over a table, perfectly treeless, and for six miles apparently as level as a floor. Bear Creek cuts a deep canyon in the volcanic strata, but Battle Creek cuts a greater and deeper one. About ten miles east, on the north side of Battle Creek, rose a regular volcanic cone, which we resolved to visit.

Monday, October 6, Rémond and I started, our pistols carefully loaded, for hostile Indians sometimes lurked about—we saw none, however. The road leads up a gentle ascent for ten miles, rising about 150 feet per mile—a table of lava all the way, in places thickly strewn with bowlders, in others more weathered into a soil supporting straggling bushes and trees. On nearing the cone, there is more soil, and as a consequence, more trees. The cone rises, a round steep hill, steep on all sides, the top apparently cut off, thus:

It is 2,500 feet high, and in the top there is a perfectly formed old crater, a funnel-shaped basin, as is shown by the dotted line in the outline sketch above. It is perfectly round, about 900 yards around it, and 250 feet deep, its sides steep, and covered with bushes. No water ever stands in it, owing to the porous nature of the rock, and large pine trees grow down in there, their tops not reaching nearly to the rim. It appeared to be a favorite resort of bears—the “signs” were everywhere. The rim was perfect on all sides. A tolerably good figure of this is given in one of the plates of the Pacific Railroad Survey, in Doctor Newberry’s report.1

From the cone we descended into the canyon of Battle Creek, thinking that possibly it was cut in deep enough to cut through the lava. It is in places eight hundred or one thousand feet deep, but entirely cut in these sheets of lava. It was a terrible place to get mules down and back. We found it impassable, and had to get out again, which took us several hours.

The view from this cone was peculiarly fine. The great Sacramento Valley, the Coast Range beyond in the west—in the northwest, the rough mountains beyond Shasta, for a hundred miles—in the north, Mount Shasta, looming up grandly, all white and spotless in a fresh coat of snow—in the east, the rugged, broken volcanic chain of Lassen’s Peak, Black Butte, etc.—while just about us was the desolate volcanic region just described.

The country to the south of Battle Creek was too rough for us to follow down on the east side of the river, so we crossed over, passed down to Red Bluff, recrossed, and camped the next night at Antelope Creek.

Here we were in the Sacramento Valley again, a plain with majestic oaks and fertile land. We camped at Mr. Dye’s ranch, an old pioneer. He was a fine old man—had come into the state in 1832 and had settled on that ranch in 1842. What changes he has seen on this coast! It seemed like a romance to hear him tell his truthful story. But he has fallen into the hands of sharpers, and the sheriff was just attaching some of his property. I felt sorry for him. Only one other man north of San Francisco has so long occupied one ranch. Mr. Dye had a fine nursery of fruit, and we luxuriated in peaches, pears, and grapes.

We spent a day in examining the canyon of Antelope Creek, which is precisely like that of Battle Creek, and the Tuscan Springs, which I described before.

October 9 we came on to Deer Creek, Lassen’s old ranch, originally owned by the man2 whose name is given to Lassen’s Peak. He was murdered about two years ago by the Indians. We got into camp about noon, and in the afternoon went back to the canyon of Deer Creek.

All the way from Red Bluff the plain on the east side of the river is from five to eight miles wide. Then the volcanic hills begin—all the streams emerge from these by deep canyons. Deer Creek runs in such a canyon for over a hundred miles, often for long distances impassable. We found no fossils, for the lava was not cut through. At the mouth of the canyon we found a cabin in which lived a white man and a squaw, but we saw no other Indians. We were back to camp by dark.

October 10 we were off in good season and came down the valley twenty miles and camped at Chico, on Chico Creek. As we come south the valley becomes more fertile, and more highly cultivated. Here it is ten miles from the river to the hills, of which about eight is most excellent land and produces immense crops.

Chico is a thriving little place. We camped in the private yard of Major Bidwell, the principal citizen of the place, and while there ate at his house. We had a pleasant time.

By the way, I have forgotten whether I have given you the height of Mount Shasta—it is 14,440 feet, the highest land yet measured in the United States.3 I feel proud that I took first accurate barometrical observations to measure the highest point over which the Stars and Stripes hold jurisdiction.

San Francisco.
November 2.

My last letter brought me up to Chico, and here I will begin again. Here, as elsewhere, one man is often the town in heart and soul. Major Bidwell left the “States” in 1840, and arrived here in 1841. He is Chico. He is very wealthy now, very public spirited—owns a ranch of five leagues (over twenty-two thousand acres) of fine land in the Sacramento Valley, a large mill, store, etc., and is the spirit of the growing town of Chico. Unfortunately, he was not at home; but, knowing that we were coming, he had left orders for our entertainment.4

Around his yard cottonwood trees had been planted ten years ago—these trees have now an average diameter of two feet—showing how trees grow here with care. In this shady yard we pitched our tent, the most pleasant place we have seen for a long time. Back of us was a fruit garden of some thirty acres, teeming with peaches, figs, grapes, etc., of which we were invited to partake ad libitum—ad nauseam if we chose.

Chico Creek seems on the map a little short stream. It is not so—it heads back in the hills many miles, in the volcanic table-land so often spoken of before. Somewhere on this creek certain Cretaceous fossils had been found, which were expected to throw much light on the geology of the region—it was absolutely necessary to find and examine them. I only knew that some had been seen ten miles up the creek from Chico. On Saturday, October 11, Rémond, Schmidt, and I started on mules to visit this locality, with a young Indian from the ranch as guide. Four miles across the plain brought us to the hills. Here the creek emerges from a canyon cut into the volcanic rock. Up this we made our way for about three miles, sometimes by a cattle trail, oftener without, over rocks, through thickets of chaparral—all volcanic rock, no sign of any place where fossils could possibly be obtained. Moreover, the canyon became more abrupt, and our Indian pretended to know nothing more of the road and wanted to stop. I urged him on.

At last he stopped and told us that he did not wish to go any farther, that he was afraid of Indians, that four persons had been murdered in that immediate vicinity within a few months, that his own brother had been shot in the arm, that Indians might be lurking anywhere, and that he was afraid to go any farther. We found, indeed, that what he said was true. A teamster, on a wood road near had been shot in his wagon, and his horses killed. Two girls had gone up blackberrying, on horses, with a little brother; the girls were murdered, each one pierced by over thirty arrows; the boy was carried off, and his remains were found two weeks later, sixty miles distant, where they had tortured him. We were entirely without arms, for, supposing ourselves out of danger, we had not even our revolvers. Trusting, however, that the severe punishments the Indians had received after their last murders had driven them off—a band of “volunteers” had followed them for a hundred miles, and, after finding the remains of the poor tortured boy, had killed indiscriminately all the wild Indians they could find, male or female female—I resolved to push on, and after various mishaps, at last found the coveted fossils in the bottom of the canyon.

The volcanic deposits here were about eight hundred feet thick, lava and ashes interstratified. The stream has cut entirely through into the sandstones beneath, which teem with shells. They are fossils, but are apparently as fresh as if left on the beach but a few years ago—only imbedded in sandstone. Large masses seemed half made of shells. What convulsions of nature that locality must have seen since those animals lived in that ancient sea!

We climbed out of the canyon and took our route back over the hills, sometimes through dense chaparral, at others over tables of lava, which supported a scanty vegetation of cragged bushes or more cragged trees of the nut pine. Around the latter our guide kept a sharp lookout for signs of Indians, who gather the seeds or nuts of this species for food. Whenever he found where the Indians had been, he scanned every clump of bushes very anxiously. The tame Indians that live on the ranches, or among the whites, are much afraid of the wild ones, who treat them with terrible cruelties if they catch them; moreover, like most Indians, they are very cowardly.

When near the plain again, a fine gray squirrel ran up a pine. Our Indian got off his horse, and took a “sling” out of his pocket—much like those we used to play with when boys, a piece of leather suspended between two strings about two and a half feet long. He selected a pebble nearly as large as a hen’s egg, placed it in the sling, and poised it over his head, holding the stone in the leather with his left hand, his right holding the string, so that the string was over his head. Suddenly letting go with his left, he twirled it twice around with his right hand. The stone flew like a bullet and knocked the squirrel out. The Indian stood on the lower side of the tree, so the animal must have been at least seventy or eighty feet above him. It fell among the bushes, however, and got away.

We got back all safely—tired, however. The next day, Sunday, we spent very quietly in camp, and luxuriated on fruit from the garden. It was a sad day for the grapes and figs.

Monday, October 13, we went on to Pence’s Ranch, about twelve miles north of Oroville. First, we went down the plain, crossed the Butte Creek, turbid with miners’ dirt, and, after about ten miles, struck east.

Pence’s Ranch lies just back into the first tier of foothills, and we found it on some accounts the most interesting place to the geologist in the state, owing to the proximity of several different geological formations. Here we spent two days, days most important in results.

There is a peculiar feature about the landscape that I must attempt to describe, although I fear that I cannot well make you understand it. Several of these volcanic ridges terminate here, and before they sink to the plain curious table-lands are left. The whole surface of the country has been washed away in places, except where protected by patches of lava. A hill is thus formed, a perfect “table.” This would be the profile of many hills seen, thus:

table-lands (buttes): a-a and b-b, top of hill, level lava, very hard; c-c, plain; d, valley; f-f,soft strata of ashes lying under the lava.
a-a and b-b, top of hill, level lava, very hard; c-c, plain; d, valley; f-f,soft strata of ashes lying under the lava.
These hills are sometimes long ridges, at others, near camp, mere round hills, the lava washed away on all sides, leaving those isolated tables. The tops are bare rock, or nearly so. They are nearly level, with a slight descent toward the valley, the same slope down which the lava once flowed. You cannot imagine what a peculiar feature these hills, or “table mountains,” impart to the scenery of the landscape.

And while I am at it, I may as well enlarge on this and tell you more about that great feature, the table mountains of this state. The kind I have just been describing are caused by great sheets of lava having flowed over great districts, thousands of square miles together, and then being partially worn away in later times by the denuding actions of our terrible winter rains.

There is another kind, however, still more remarkable, more noted, and of immense pecuniary importance. The Sierra Nevada, as I told you, is a broad chain, from 60 to 150 miles wide, and from 6,000 to 13,000 feet high. Its width is the great feature. It appears to have been upheaved, and then furrowed by water into great canyons, valleys, and “gulches.” The gold is disseminated thinly through the slate rock. This slate (or quartz veins in it, with gold) has been worn down, powdered by rains and streams, the lighter materials washed into the great valleys below, the gold left in the gulches because of its greater weight; and here it is found, concentrated as it were, the gulch being a natural sluice that has been worked by nature for ages—man has only to “clean up” the gold. These are the “placer mines” of the state.

Now, the lava flowed over this country after much of this denudation had taken place. Immense districts, which would otherwise be gold bearing, are barren because covered up by these lava deposits.

All through the Sierra there have been immense craters, or “vents,” from which enormous quantities of lava have flowed, the steams streaking the slopes, and forming table mountains. This may be taken as a sample:

table land (butte): table of lava stretching from the mountains back toward the valleys to the west; b-b-b, the gold-bearing slates, always standing more or lesson edge and dipping east; c, valley of the interior of the state.
a-a-a, table of lava stretching from the mountains back toward the valleys to the west; b-b-b, the gold-bearing slates, always standing more or lesson edge and dipping east; c, valley of the interior of the state.

But these are narrow hills, and if cut across, their shape is thus:

table land (butte): a-a, the flat, level top of the hill, naked rock, the edges abrupt precipices,from one hundred to six hundred feet thick; b-b, valleys of the presentrivers and streams; c-c, steep sides, of gold-bearing slates, covered more or less with chaparral and bushes.
a-a, the flat, level top of the hill, naked rock, the edges abrupt precipices,from one hundred to six hundred feet thick; b-b, valleys of the presentrivers and streams; c-c, steep sides, of gold-bearing slates, covered more or less with chaparral and bushes.

Now these are old lava streams, long and narrow. There is a table mountain in Tuolumne County that is ninety miles long, and never over a mile wide, generally less than half a mile! How could it have been formed? you ask, and the answer is the extraordinary part of the story. This lava, now the top of a mountain, ran in a stream in the bottom of a valley! Those hills of softer slate have been worn down until they are the valleys, while the harder lava has withstood the elements and forms now the top of the mountain. Most extraordinary fact! Once the outline was the a-a-a-a in this sketch; now it is the line b-b-b-b:

table land (butte) formation

Now, upon this fact is founded an important element in one kind of mining—“tunneling”—which proves that these streams of lava flowed down the valleys of old rivers. The mountain is tunneled, often at an enormous expense, to find the old river bed, and from that get the gold. The following sketch will show my meaning:

table land (butte) formation: a, represents the lava top or 'table'; b-b, the underlying gold-bearing slates, called the 'bed rock,' and also the 'rim rock'.
a, represents the lava top or “table”; b-b, the underlying gold-bearing slates, called the “bed rock,” and also the “rim rock.”

Between the table and the rim rock is a bed of gravel, once the soil of the surface before the molten streams of lava flowed on. This gravel is thickest in the old river bed, where they find the gold mixed with sand, gravel, and cobblestones, the whole generally cemented together into a hard, firm mass, like rock.

To get it, they pierce the rim rock by a tunnel, as at c, and herein is the great labor and risk. If the tunnel is begun too high, they strike above the old river bed, and hence must work at an immense disadvantage. If too low, they may pass through the mountain and not find the bed at all. This bed sometimes is beneath the middle of the lava table, at others near one side, so that should the tunnel be begun on the wrong side it must be carried to great length.

Under these mountains, you find all the evidences of the former river—not only sand, pebbles, and gold, but sometimes pools which have been filled with clay, most beautifully stratified, and containing leaves, bits of wood, etc. Some of these leaves are as plain and beautifully distinct as if their impressions were taken but yesterday in wax or putty. The bones of animals—mastodons, elephants, etc.—are also found; these, however, are rare. California, like eastern America, was once the home of these huge animals, and their remains are often found in the placer and hydraulic diggings. We have the perfect skull of a horse (extinct species) with teeth all in, found thirty-five feet underground—the teeth of elephants, mastodons, tapirs, camels, etc., and a few days ago the underjaw of a rhinoceros nearly perfect!

We remained at Pence’s Ranch two and a half days, then went to Oroville. This is a smart mining town, purely mining, surrounded by claims on every side. We climbed a table mountain about three miles north, 1,300 feet high, the table of lava on top bare of all bushes, perfectly flat, but not perfectly horizontal, bounded by precipices on all sides, up which one could climb in only a few places.

Saturday, October 18, we came on to Marysville, quite a smart city, where we stayed over Sunday and attended church. I had decided that my best course now was to return immediately to the city, as we had settled certain geological points which otherwise would have required a longer stay. Monday I sent the party on, and on Tuesday I followed, arriving here the same night, the rest of the party getting in Friday, October 24. Here we disorganized the party, although there is some field work to do yet.


1. Pacific Railroad Reports, Vol. VI, Pt. II, 26.

2. Peter Lassen, born in Denmark in 1800, came to America in 1829. After a residence of ten years in Missouri he emigrated to Oregon and the following year came to California by boat. In 1843, while working for Sutter, Lassen became familiar with the Sacramento Valley. He applied to the governor for a grant of land on Deer Creek and became one of the first settlers north of Sacramento. Returning from a visit to Missouri in 1848 he brought the first Masonic charter to California. Lassen later sold his Deer Creek ranch and moved to Plumas County, where, in April, 1859, he was killed by Indians. Lassen Peak and Lassen County are named for him. The name was commonly pronounced “Lawson,” judging from contemporary spelling.

3. The figure 14,440 was current for many years. It was occasionally written as 14,444 for popular impression. It was superseded by the figure 14,380, computed from observations of the United States Geological Survey in 1883, which, in turn, has given way to the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey figure, 14,162 (see note on page 323).

4. John Bidwell, born in Chautauqua County, New York, in 1819, moved westward by successive stages until, in 1840-41, he became one of the organizers of the first party of Americans to cross the continent for the purpose of settling in California. Soon after his arrival in California Bidwell went to work for Sutter, first at Bodega and Fort Ross, later at the Hock farm in the Sacramento Valley. In 1849 he purchased Rancho Chico, on the Sacramento River, where he lived until his death in 1900. General Bidwell (brigadier-general, California Militia, 1863) was a Member of Congress (1865-67) and was the nominee of the Prohibition Party for the presidency in 1892. (Articles by John Bidwell in Century Magazine, November and December, 1890; Bidwell: Echoes of the Past, The Lakeside Press, Chicago, 1928.)

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