Any law or custom concerning the rules of mining could only be adopted with a consensus of the community. At first this might just be an agreement among a particular company or camp whose rules might differ from all its neighbors. But gradually meetings of the different camps, and even whole neighborhoods, were held until it became common to form large tracts into what were then called mining districts, and uniform laws were enacted to cover the whole area. Because of this gradual evolution, based on the practical good sense and judgment of the entire mining community, a system of mining laws was adopted throughout the entire territory and was recognized as the common law of the land.
Most of the attempts to form mining companies before the mines were actually reached ended in failure. It was impossible to know in advance the nature of the mining country and what types of associations would work. Even the most basic association, a partnership, worked best when formed once in the gold fields, but whenever the relationship was formed, if it lasted any length of time, it became exceedingly close. Two men who lived in the same cabin, ate together, took turns at the cooking and washing, tended to the other when one was ill, and toiled together in the mines splitting equally all the profits or losses, were regarded to have formed a bond of brotherhood almost as sacred as marriage. A man without a partner was considered antisocial. A man’s partner, or his ‘pard’ for short, was always consulted in any important manner. A man was expected to stand by his partner in bad times as well as good and anyone who failed in this trust was considered almost as a criminal and no miner would place any reliance in him afterwards.
Many who came to California in the early days were a part of a company, usually of men from the same place who had traveled together and planned to mine together. But few of these companies lasted long enough to reach the gold fields and most of the others broke up soon after. Men found that the kind of life they were compelled to lead in the mining country was unlike anything they had ever seen or heard about and, with the exception of those pioneers who came down from Oregon and some frontiersmen, they were totally unprepared for it. Few came to the mines with any idea of the amount of helpfulness and tolerance that was needed to make a man a worthy member of a mining community. But in time they learned and these lessons served to distinguish them from other men and made them more orderly and considerate while at the same time stronger and more determined. Thus, from the remnants of the older companies new ones, more suited to the conditions in the mines, were formed, and with these new companies grew mining laws well suited to the working of mines anywhere, and particularly in California.
John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, a thrilling saga of the early California gold rush.