Passages From the Diary of Alfred Jackson (Part 4)
It's time to return to California Gold Rush miner Alfred Jackson's diary passages. There's a wealth of historical mining information in his writings, as well as remarkable insights into the daily life of a miner in the early California goldfields. So let's see what else Jackson has to say.
August 25, 1850
This last week was fine. We set the Long Tom on Monday morning, put a box at the head of it, and were three and a half days washing out the ground which was about two feet thick. Cleaned up the bedrock and we got 63 ounces. We stripped off about 30 feet more by noon yesterday and will begin washing tomorrow. Anderson insisted on my taking half. I thought I ought to pay him something for my share in the claim. He wouldn't listen; said we were partners and he was bound to see that I got the Slocum farm and Hetty as my wife, just to teach me there was real trouble to be found in the world. He gets letters from home but they don't seem to give him much comfort. He reads them, swears under his breath, then tears them into bits and sulks for the rest of the day. I sent a draft for $500 to the old folks last night. That is $2000 I've saved in less than six months.
A woman who kept a boarding house at Selby Flat was killed yesterday. She got tangled in a lariat and was dragged to death by a mule. We walked down to the Yuba River yesterday. There are about 200 miners working on the bars and banks, and they are doing pretty well. None of them have been able to get into the bed of the stream, as there is no way of turning the water. Anderson says there is no use trying it now, as the rains would come before we could get to work, but he believes there is gold by the bucketful if we could get at it.
(Note: I'm assuming Jackson is speaking of the South Yuba River which is not far from Nevada City. Anderson is right on the money...he knows that if they could get access to the Yuba's main channel and the bedrock underneath they would hit it big. J.R.)
September 1, 1850
We washed up two days and sluiced top dirt the rest of the week. The ground is still rich. We got 41 ounces. That is as well as they are doing on Brush Creek. Bought a new suit of clothes yesterday...black broadcloth, two white shirts, a Peruvian hat, and a pair of fine boots. The hat cost $16.00, the boots $21, and the whole outfit with necktie and handkerchiefs cost $105. I put them on this morning and went to town. Anderson said I looked like a real sport. It's been so long since I wore decent clothes that I felt like a fool. I was told that the people living round Caldwell's Store held a meeting and decided to call the place "Nevada City." Nevada is Spanish for snow. The Frenchwoman is still dealing twenty one. I went in to see her and started to make a bet and she said, "You can't play at this game. Gamblers are barred." I stammered out that I wasn't a gambler but she said, "You can't play that on me," so I quit. She's got a voice like music and her speaking to me in that way put me all in a flutter. There are a few women in town but they are mostly Mexicans.
There was a dog fight down on the bridge and a lot of money bet on it. The losing dog was pretty badly chewed up...his forelegs bitten through and through, but he never whimpered. His owner was disgusted and swore he would kill him. I asked him what he would take for the dog and I got him for two ounces. He couldn't walk so I had to carry him. My new boots hurt me like sin and I had to take them off and walk over two miles in my stocking feet carrying my boots and the dog. When I got to the cabin my new clothes were a sight but Anderson never laughed. He set to work washing the blood off the dog and binding up his legs. When I told him my story he said I was a good fellow. The look out of the dog's eyes and the way he licked my hand was worth more than what I paid for him.
September 8, 1850
We took out only 30 ounces this past week. The gulch is getting narrow and there is a scant 50 feet more before we reach the ditch. There is a flat of about half an acre where the gulch runs out into the creek and Anderson says the channel must run through it. If it does, we will have at least another month's work. There was some fun over on Shelby Flat last week. A young fellow got stuck on the grass widow and they went to town and got married. She is at least 30 years older than her husband, and when the boys got wind of it they gathered and gave the couple a shivaree. He got mad and turned loose with a shotgun at the crowd, peppering some of the boys with bird shot. They corralled him and come pretty near lynching him. But the old woman got down on her knees and begged them to spare her dear husband. She prayed so hard the boys agreed to let him go providing both would leave camp the next morning. They skipped out at night and now there is only one woman left on the flat and about 300 men. Anderson says one woman is enough to keep the camp a-boiling.
I can't make Anderson out. He's a good a chap as ever lived; kindhearted, has no bad habits, always ready to do twice his share of the work if I would let him. But he doesn't seem to have faith in anything or anybody except me. He gets his letters from home regularly, reads them, swears and tears them up, and never talks about his life or his people. There is something on his mind that he broods over, but I do not see that I have any call to put my nose in his affairs. So I take no notice of his queer moods.
(Note: The California Gold Rush was the largest mass migration in human history, drawing men and women from all over the world. Some were running to something, while others were running away from something. Debt, bad marriages, legal troubles...you name it. I suspect Anderson left a life at home that wasn't exactly to his liking. J.R.)
There's more to come...
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
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