A con man hits Downieville

The Bummer from ‘A Peep at Washoe’

It was May of 1850 when the honest, hard working miners around Downieville realized the ethical days of the early gold rush had come to a sudden, and expensive, end. It was a lesson that would stay with them for a long time and was ably taught by a man known as Captain Slater, who must have been both charming and persuasive for the people to trust him as much as they did. He was known widely about the area but perhaps not as well as should be. When he announced to those in the neighborhood a need to go to San Francisco, and offered to take with him any gold the miners might have and then deposit it in a bank in the city, his acquaintances, supposing the Captain to be an honest man and seeing an opportunity to save the charges an express company would levy for the same service, entrusted their gold dust to Slater, so much so that he accumulated two mules loads of treasure.

Stage at Downieville

And so Slater started out from the remote mountain mining town and made his way to San Francisco, but Slater didn’t stop there, nor did he deposit any of the gold in a San Francisco bank as he had promised. Back in Downieville men waited and waited but there came no word from Captain Slater. He had dropped completely out of sight until at long last an eastern newspaper arrived with an article announcing the arrival of a Captain Slater who had come from California with an extraordinarily large amount of gold, which he said he had mined himself from along the North Fork of the Yuba River. This was the first and last news the good people of Downieville ever received about Captain Slater or their money. It’s a good bet that before anyone else was entrusted with so much hard earned gold dust a lot more care was taken into who they really were and if they could indeed be trusted.


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