Archives for September 2011

Mining law in the Southern mines

Jackass Gulch, Soldier’s Gulch and other nearby sites in Tuolumne County were some of the first places with organized mining codes. In 1848 a man was limited to a ten square foot claim but over time this grew to one hundred square feet. It is likely that at the beginning of mining here a man could only hold one claim but by 1851, when the codes were put into writing, transfer of claims was allowed by a written bill of sale witnessed by two disinterested persons. A jury of five men reviewed any … [Read more...]

Soldiers and mining law

Soon after the end of the Mexican War in 1848 soldiers, many from Stevenson’s regiment of New York volunteers, were discharged and headed straight for the gold country. Before they went, however, they organized into small companies of from three to ten men. Each company elected a leader then adopted written rules that differed generally only in minor points of interest to a specific company. Every member was required to share equally in the expenses, such as a team of oxen and a cart, horses, … [Read more...]

The evolution of mining law

Any law or custom concerning the rules of mining could only be adopted with a consensus of the community. At first this might just be an agreement among a particular company or camp whose rules might differ from all its neighbors. But gradually meetings of the different camps, and even whole neighborhoods, were held until it became common to form large tracts into what were then called mining districts, and uniform laws were enacted to cover the whole area. Because of this gradual evolution, … [Read more...]

Mining law

Just after the discovery of gold at the sawmill in Coloma, both John Sutter and James Marshall attempted to control the mining territory by demanding rent from the men who wished to mine there, and for a short while they were successful. But as more men showed up to mine and gold was found in locations across the western foothills that extended for hundreds of miles both north and south from the original discovery site, it quickly became understood that all men were free and each had as much … [Read more...]

Mutiny on California ships

When passengers for California made a bargain with a ship captain for passage they expected that the terms of that agreement be adhered to fairly and honestly. This was not always done. Many ship captains were as corrupt on land as they were despotic at sea. With the prices in California as high as they were, many captains tried to skimp on their agreements for food and provisions in order to profit from the high prices in the gold rush. Many then found themselves hauled before an unsympathetic … [Read more...]

Crossing Panama

Many of the gold seekers who came by way of Panama differed from those who came around Cape Horn as well as from those who crossed America by wagon. A good number simply hoped to avoid the hardship of the other routes but, while there were great numbers of first class passengers, a whole grab bag of the riffraff of eastern cities, including gamblers, cheats, and swindlers, also came by way of the isthmus. It was noted that some of these men “chewed tobacco at a ruinous rate and spent their time … [Read more...]

The voyage around Cape Horn

The gold seekers who chose to sail to California by sea also had their experiences with what might be called Lynch law. But the men who opted for the long route, around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, were a different class than those who took the shorter route across Panama. Mostly from the east coast of America, these were men accustomed to life aboard a ship and were generally more orderly. A great many were of an independent mind and would not tolerate a great deal of imposition, and … [Read more...]

Justice on the wagon trains

It was said to have started with a Virginia farmer named Lynch who caught a thief then tied the man to a tree and personally flogged him instead of handing him over to officers of the law. Lynch, it seems, had little regard for the capabilities of the law or for the efficiency of the local courts and so dispensed his own justice and thus bypassed the technicalities and delays of the legal system. This summary administration of law by irresponsible and irregular individuals and tribunals in … [Read more...]

Gold rush wagon trains

The forming of the great wagon trains of the 49ers was a mighty spectacle and, for almost all who went west with them, a tremendous experience well worth the toil, hardship and danger they encountered. Nothing like this had happened before and it was unlikely that it would ever happen again. It was something a man would remember, and talk about, for the rest of his life. For endless miles, as far as the eye could see and farther still, long lines of canvas topped wagons moved west through the … [Read more...]

Hardship on the trail west

While the gold fever lasted, from 1849 to about 1855, the true caliber of the men and women who crossed the country was sorely tested by the many trials and tribulations they faced. A man’s bad qualities were sure to come to the fore with all the hardship of the long, difficult trek. One young man from Missouri said it this way, “If a man has a mean streak in him half an inch long, I’ll be bound if it don’t come out on the plains.” While the trip did have it’s pleasures and romance and a great … [Read more...]