Early gold rush fortunes by the Mokelumne River

Panning on the Mokelumne

One of the first miners along the Mokelumne River was Charles Weber, but Weber moved on toward Coloma. Next came Colonel Jonathan Stevenson and 100 men of his 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers who arrived in August 1848 soon after they were mustered out of the army. But much early work here was placer mining at Big Bar where the efforts of men from Oregon were so productive that when their food ran short no one wanted make a trip to Stockton for provisions. Finally a man named Syree went. After his return he set up a tent on Mokelumne Hill and sold his goods for a considerable profit.

Samuel. W. Pearsall, also from Stevenson’s regiment, first found gold on Mokelumne Hill. The deposits were so rich that most of the mining at Big Bar and elsewhere along the river was abandoned. Mining claims on the hill were limited to 16 square feet but could pay out as much as $20,000. Pearsall bought a saloon that made him $500 a day. Soon gold was found at Stockton Hill, Negro Hill, and French Hill, named for French trappers who may have been mining here even before Marshall’s discovery at Coloma.

Mokelumne River

a long tom sluice box

Long tom

Mokelumne River photo by Calibas

By 1850 Mokelumne Hill sported a population of 15, 000 and was one of the richest towns around and filled with miners from across the world, but racial tension and lawlessness gave the town a bad reputation. In one 17 week period there was one murder a week. The well-known California outlaw, Joaquin Murieta, reportedly gambled often in saloons there.

In 1849 Colonel Stevenson bought the Rancho los Medanos and started the town we know today as Pittsburg. In 1872 he became San Francisco’s Shipping Commissioner. He died on February 14, 1894. San Francisco’s Stevenson Street, between Market and Mission, is named for him.

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