Archives for August 2011

The tragic case of Michael Brennan

But not all miners had the perseverance of Alvinza Hayward. Take the tragic case of Michael Brennan and his mine near Grass Valley. Brennan came to America from Ireland and landed a job with the New York Herald. When news of the California gold reached him he invested a lot of cash in the Rocky Bar Company who operated a gold mine on Massachusetts Hill near Grass Valley. For several years his investments paid off handsomely but hard times fell on the mine and Brennan, with his wife and three … [Read more...]

Alvinza Hayward

Pluck and perseverance were the most notable characteristics of the men who made vast fortunes from gold in California. This was especially true in quartz mining, which required a tremendous amount of time, effort and capital to realize a profit. And one of the best examples of this is the career of Alvinza Hayward who went on to hold significant interests in a number of gold mines, the Comstock Lode, timber, coal, railroads, and was an investor in the San Francisco City Gas Company as well as a … [Read more...]

Payback at Murderer’s Bar

Sunshine suddenly flooded through the open door of the cabin. I picked up the crutch my eldest, Enos, had fashioned from an alder branch and limped outside. Thick, dark clouds still roiled above the river as far as I could see, but off to the west a small gap between heaven and earth had given the setting sun a last brief opportunity to remind us of the glory of it’s existence. It was a welcome sign. Rain had fallen in a steady downpour since yesterday morning, starting just after we’d … [Read more...]

A little fraud among gold miners backfires

Across the gold country surprising discoveries were made because of the patient, persevering efforts in the face of much discouragement and so California miners, once they thought well of a claim, would usually continue to work it. In the early days so little was known about how the gold was distributed that it was often found in places where no one thought it might be. There were instances of more experienced men coaxing newcomers to dig in spots considered unpromising. In many cases these … [Read more...]

Gold Rush misers

Early in the gold rush men sometimes hoarded their gold, but over all there were few who could be considered misers. As time passed however money-grubbing characters with sufficient enterprise to amass sizable fortunes did exist though none so colorful as the famous Englishman of the 18th century, Blewbury Jones, the Vicar of Blewbury who, it is said, took his clothes from scarecrows because they were patched so often that not a shred of the original remained, and who was the inspiration for … [Read more...]

The negative impact of sudden riches

The rapid discovery of a large amount of wealth, as occurred often in California during the gold rush, did not always contribute to the betterment of the discoverers. When a well-respected member of a party mining along Carson Creek in 1848 died his friends set out to give him a proper and respectful funeral. A miner from nearby who had been a prominent preacher before coming to California was brought in to preside. And after the mourners assembled and had ‘drinks all around’ they proceeded … [Read more...]

Honesty in the early gold rush

For some time after the initial discovery of gold in California, and while the supply of gold appeared inexhaustible, everyone was honest. This seeming unique situation was not just because there were few bad characters as yet in the mines, but with so much easily obtainable wealth everywhere about stealing or dishonestly was simply not worthwhile. Men often left their gold stores exposed without worry of loss. And when a man needed a loan he could borrow the money simply on his honor and a … [Read more...]

James Savage, Indian war and Yosemite Valley

Because of the shortage of available women in California many of the early settlers chose to marry Indians. A lot of these men were trappers and mountain men who lived much like the natives did anyway, but some were educated, cultured men who later became prominent and influential. One of these men was Daniel Murphy, who came across the Sierra in 1844 with the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party. After gold was discovered he set up a trading post northeast of Angels Camp with his brother John. Daniel … [Read more...]

Women arrive in the gold mines

Before the discovery of gold in California many American settlers married the daughters of the old California families. Many were beautiful, cultured and refined women who made excellent partners, but there were still far to few to satisfy the overwhelming influx of miners that began as early as the spring of 1848. A lot of these men, especially the Americans, had left wives or girl friends back east and planned on returning to their homes once they had made their fortune in the mines, but when … [Read more...]

The scarcity of gold rush women

In 1848 and 1849 there were very few women in the gold country of California, and in many of the more remote camps there were no women at all for years after the discovery of gold. But the miners in these places valued the fair sex perhaps more so because of their absence. In 1851 a man in Tuttletown along the Stanislaus River had acquired a lady’s boot and would often hold it up before an admiring crowd of lonely men. And when someone would offer a large amount of gold for the boot the man … [Read more...]