Independence Day in the gold mines

Here we are, at length, in the gold diggings. Seated around us, upon the ground beneath a large oak, are a group of wild Indians from the tribe called the “Diggers,” so named from their living chiefly upon roots. They have brought us some salmon, one of which weighs twenty-nine pounds. These they spear with great dexterity, and exchange for provisions or clothing and ornaments of bright colors.

Salmon Falls Map 1892

We are surrounded on all sides by high, steep mountains, over which are scattered the evergreen and white oak, and which are inhabited by the wolf and bear. This will always be to us a memorable Fourth of July, as being our first day at the California gold mines. We have spent the day in prospecting. This term, as it designates a very important part of the business of mining, requires explanation.

Salmon Falls bridge

I should first, however, give some description of the bar upon which we are to labor. This lies on both sides the river, and is covered with smooth, brassy-looking rocks, some of which weigh many tons. It is a little higher than the water level; but we find, as we dig down, that the water soon begins to flow in and must be “baled out.” This bar, or rather a succession of bars, extends a distance of some miles up and down the river, over which the water runs with surprising rapidity in the freshets, which are common during the rainy reason, and break up and reduce the gold-bearing quartz, tearing it away from its primitive bed, robbing it in its course of its virgin gold, and breaking it down until it is at length deposited, in greater or less abundance, within some crevice or some water-worn hollow or beneath some rock so formed as to receive it.

Salmon Falls foundation

These bars vary from a few feet to several hundred yards in width. In order to find the deposits, the ground must be “prospected.” Thus have we been employed the whole of this day, digging one hole after another—washing out many test-pans—hoping, at every new attempt, to find that which would reward our toil, and we have made ten cents each.

July 4th 1849, Salmon Falls, South Fork of the American river, now under Folsom Lake.

USA flag 1849

Best wishes to all for a wonderful Independence Day. Let us not forget that it was because of the sacrifice of so many that this nation rose to become a shinning light of hope in the hearts of men.



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