Archives for August 2011

The kindness of early gold miners

During the years of Mexican rule in California life for those who lived there was slow and relaxed, but with the large influx of American settlers that began in 1844 and soared to great numbers in 1849 that easy-going culture was quickly supplanted by the active and enterprising pioneers eager to make a better life for themselves. This resulted in a rapid Americanization of California and the unparalleled growth that led to statehood in 1850. Men, strong in body and in spirit, rapidly spread … [Read more...]

The citrus industry in California

Another early Californian who contributed much to the growth of a major state industry was William Wolfskill, a neighbor and contemporary of Jean Louis Vignes. But while Vignes devoted himself to wine making Wolfskill specialized in oranges and other orchard fruits. But unlike Vignes who was born in France, Wolfskill was a true American pioneer. He was born in 1798 in Kentucky and his family moved to Boone’s Lick, Mississippi in 1809. Then in 1822 Wolfskill headed west and was among the first … [Read more...]

The start of California wineries

In the years before California became a part of the United States there were many important men who already exerted a large influence over the events to come. Among the most widely known were John Marsh, Thomas Larkin, John Sutter, Pearson Reading and John Bidwell, but there were others who added their own special talents to the evolution of the great state of California. One of these men was Jean Luis Vignes, born and raised near Bordeaux, France, he came first to Honolulu in what was then the … [Read more...]

Firebaugh’s Ferry

It wasn’t much of a town. The one ramshackle wooden building looked so poorly made that someone must’ve piled the barrels of beans, barley and wheat along the sides just to keep the place from blowing down in a good-sized wind. Next door a large round tent with ‘saloon’ scrawled in crude red letters over its open flap beckoned, and the rest of the posse ducked inside, their prisoner in tow. But I headed across the road to where wood smoke from a low chimney attached to a sod-roofed adobe carried … [Read more...]

Equality in the gold mines

A great majority of the men who flocked to California in the early years of the gold rush were an industrious and enterprising bunch. As many as five out of six were young men between eighteen and thirty-five and they came from all parts of the United States as well as many foreign lands. When they got to the mines all found that in order to keep up with their neighbors hard work was required. Every man, regardless of his former station in life, was forced to toil with his hands and this … [Read more...]

Wild gold rush drinking sprees

In 1849, while there was a lot of drinking among the miners, it was noted that there were very few regular drunks as yet. Confirmed sots from the east were not able to make the hard journey west and the men who were here had not had time yet to develop a strong dependency. The great majority of drinking was what the miners called treating where if a man was asked to join a friend in some drinks he was expected to return the favor the next time they met. But a natural outgrowth of treating was … [Read more...]

Drinking and gambling in the gold rush

Perhaps nowhere else in the world was there as much drinking as in California. While not everyone drank or gambled so many did, and the public houses were so well patronized, that it seemed to many that almost everyone was addicted to these vices. Throughout the entire country, wherever miners were, there would always be some place to drink and gamble. Even in the most remote camps the mule trains that kept the men supplied with food and equipment also brought liquor and cards in large amounts. … [Read more...]

Gold rush lawlessness

The men who were in gold country at the outset of mining were of a different class than those who came with the gold rush of 1849. Those men were a part of the old population of California. They had come as frontiersmen or in the service of the United States. Some were settlers who had arrived in growing numbers since the Bidwell-Bartleston party in 1841. Others were soldiers discharged from Stevenson’s regiment of New York volunteers or those who came with the Mormon battalion. Some of the … [Read more...]

The characteristics of the Comstock Lode

It didn’t take long for the experienced miners who flooded into Western Nevada from California to ascertain the facts about the new discovery. The main deposit was a lode that ran along the eastern slope of the Washoe Mountains. It was a vein that varied in width from a hundred to a thousand feet. It ran about three to four miles in length, starting just south of Gold Hill and then north beneath Virginia City. And while it got its name from Henry Comstock, he played no other significant role in … [Read more...]

The end of the Pony Express

The dramatic rush of men into the Comstock after the discovery of silver put a strain on the already tense relations with the Piute tribes that had lived in the area for centuries. Both miners and the relay stations of the Pony Express had imposed on the available water sources, valuable pinon trees were cut down, and game was killed. Several murders, including that of the mountain man Peter Lassen, were blamed on the Indians. In the spring of 1860 the tribe gathered for the annual fish run at … [Read more...]