Passages From the Diary of Alfred Jackson (Part 2)
In Part 2 of this series of passages from Argonaut Alfred Jackson's California Gold Rush diary, there's no doubt that Jackson is one of the select gold miners of the time who was "making a go of it" in the rich goldfields around modern-day Nevada City. Let's read more of what he has to say about his gold recoveries and the day to day existence of a small-scale gold miner in 1850.
June 2, 1850
The claim is paying pretty well. Washed out over five ounces besides two nuggets...one nine and one eleven dollars. Could do better if the water did not bother so much. Got two long letters from home. Thank God, they are all well or were a month ago. Dad got the two hundred I sent him; says I mustn't stint myself to send money home. The neighbors back home think I'm making a big fortune and many of the boys there are planning to go to California this summer. Henry North has sold a yoke of oxen and his three-year old colt and starts next month. That's this month so he must be on his way. I like Henry but I care more for his sister Hetty. I wonder if she will wait until I get back as she promised. Anderson spent the evening at the cabin. He is crazy on river mining. He and his friends have located claims on the Yuba and are going to turn the river when the water runs low. He is certain if he can get down on bedrock he will take out gold by the bucketful. Wants me to join the company.
(The South Yuba River today.)
(Note: There's a lot going on here in Jackson's short passage. It seems that he's on very good gold ground which isn't surprising considering how rich the rivers, creeks, and hillsides were around Nevada City, or "Caldwell's Store" as it was then known. He mentions washing out five ounces and I assume he means in one day based on his previous diary entries. Jackson is being paid around $17.00 a troy ounce for his gold so those two nuggets he recovered were both over a half-ounce each! From Jackson's words we can also determine that it takes about a month for any mail from the continental United States to reach the California Motherlode Region. Sending home an amount like $200.00 would've been a big deal back in that day in working class or farm families, so it's little wonder that others back home want a piece of Alfred's "pie." The last five sentences of this passage are also telling. Anderson (no first name given) is "crazy" about river mining and wants Jackson to join him and others in working the "Yuba" during low-water stage. I assume Alfred means the South Yuba River which is not too far from Nevada City and still produces good gold. Undoubtedly, Anderson's plan is a good one but Jackson doesn't seem convinced. I suspect Alfred is working one of the creeks or tributary streams in the area and he seems content with his claim. J.R.)
June 9, 1850
Went to town yesterday afternoon. With last week's washings I had 18 ounces besides the nuggets. Spent $27 at the store and deposited $200. Had two bully meals at the hotel; first pie I have eaten since I got here. The town is full of drunken miners. Have kept my promise to Mother and have not touched a drop since I started. Went to the Bella Union gambling saloon. The place was full and running over with gamblers and miners, and the latter seemed to be trying to get rid of their money as fast as possible. At some of the tables they were playing for high stakes...as much as $100 on the turn of a card. Monte was the most popular game and while I was there "Texas Bill" tapped one of the banks for two thousand dollars and won on the first pull. Then he took the dealer's seat and the banker quit until he could raise another stake. There was a young French woman dealing twenty one. She was as pretty as a picture. Began betting just to get near her and hear her talk. I lost $70 and she did not notice me any more than she did the rest of the crowd. What would Hetty say if she knew I gambled? Four days' hard work gone for nothing!
(Miners "whooping it up.")
June 16, 1850
I hear that Anson James and his partner took out fourteen hundred dollars on Brush Creek last week. That beats Rock Creek, but Brush is all taken up. Anderson is still after me to go river mining with him. He is getting up a company of 10 men. He has seven now and they will put up $250 each for capital. They want that for lumber, which costs $100 a thousand feet and they need twenty thousand for a wing dam and a flume, whatever that means. If my claim gives out before August, I may go with them.
(Note: A "flume" was a series of wooden troughs used to divert river water downstream so miners of the day could essentially "drain" the riverbed to get at bedrock where the best gold would be. Jackson implies that he's now thinking of joining them because the writing may be on the wall in terms of the gold left in creek or tributary streams in the area, his claim included. J.R.)
(Old photo showing a flume in the Motherlode Region.)
June 23, 1850
Have not heard from Henry North. He ought to have been here last week. I have been fairly homesick all the week, working the claim alone and I am so dead tired when night comes that it's a task to cook supper although there isn't much to cook. There is always a pot of cold beans and I fry a piece of pork for the grease to sop my bread in, and then I make a cup of tea. I roll up in blankets and go to bed at eight o'clock and try to sleep just to keep from thinking, although I can't always do it. Thoughts of the old home will come into my head and it brings up everything that has happened since I was a boy. Sometimes I get up and go outdoors, out under the stars, and wonder what Hetty is doing and whether she will wait. If she saw me sniffling and the tears rolling down my cheeks she would think I wasn't much of a man. I wish Henry North would come...it wouldn't be so lonesome. Rich diggings have been found on Kanaka Creek and a lot of miners have gone to take up claims there. I took out a little over five ounces here for the week.
(Note: Although not mentioned before, Alfred Jackson's home is Litchfield, Connecticut. J.R.)
There is an Indian camp up on the ridge above Brush Creek where about 200 Digger Indians are camped. They are the dirtiest lot of human beings on earth. One has to be careful about going near the place or he will surely get the itch. They will eat anything...acorns, grasshoppers, or seeds. There are two white men who have taken squaws to live with them in their cabins down on the river, but that is looked on as a disgrace and no decent miner will associate with them.
(Note: There were numerous Native American tribes living in the Motherlode Region as they had done for centuries before the Gold Rush. Game and fish were plentiful in the forests and streams of the region prior to the coming of the "white man" since the resident Californios of Hispanic descent remained near the coastal and valley areas of California until gold was discovered at Coloma. The "rush" into the foothills and mountainous terrain of the Sierra Nevada Range spelled doom in capital letters for these indigenous people as they were forced off their tribal lands where they were either killed, left to starve, or died of diseases like smallpox that the white miners had brought with them. It was a sad chapter in mining history that would be repeated elsewhere in the American West and Southwest in the 19th Century.)
(Two women from the Miwok-Maidu tribe which inhabited the area near modern-day Auburn, California. Many of the tribes in the California Motherlode Region were completely "eradicated" during the Gold Rush.)
June 30, 1850
This last week was my lucky one. Wednesday I struck a crevice in the bedrock on the rim of the creek and it was lousy with gold. It took me two days to work it out and I got almost 29 ounces, which with three ounces rocked the first two days raised the week's work to more than $500. Sent Dad $700 last night. That makes $1,200 dollars that he has of my savings. The strike helped get rid of the homesick feeling that has made me miserable for two weeks. The only thing bothering me is that the claim is almost worked out and I'll have to hunt new diggings soon. Strange that I haven't heard from North since I sent him that fifty dollars. I got a letter from Hetty, however, asking me to look after him. She said he was weak and easily led. This is no place for weaklings, but I'll take care of him for her sake.
(Note: Some time earlier Jackson received word from Henry North [Hetty's brother] that he was in San Francisco and needed money to reach the goldfields. Alfred sent him $50.00 and that's what he's referring to in this passage. Being "weak and easily led," North may have succumbed to the numerous temptations in that very wicked city of the day. We shall see. As Alfred states, "This is no place for weaklings." J.R.)
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
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