Archives for September 2011

Lynch law and the wagon trains

On May 16, 1842 one of the first organized wagon trains, with one hundred and sixty souls, half of them armed men, left Elm Grove, Missouri for the Oregon Territory. At some point on their way one man proposed to steal an Indian pony and the rest of the group, worried about the consequences, decided to try the man before the entire company. But since he had only talked of stealing the horse and had actually done no wrong he was acquitted. This event caused much discussion about the need for … [Read more...]

To California by sea

At the onset of the gold rush of 1849 America was less than seventy-five years old, but the generations of self-government had already made this country one of the happiest and most powerful on the face of the earth. The westward growth of the nation had been in progress since the beginning, but was, in reality, mostly the expansion into adjacent territory. But California, almost a whole continent away and at the time of the gold discovery still regarded as conquered territory, was a totally new … [Read more...]

Gold rush life changed miners

Every period in world history has its own unique characteristics which are examined in minute detail by historians and scholars throughout the ensuing years, but nowhere else in the world has there been a time such as the early days of the California gold rush, especially the fall of 1849 through the spring of 1850. Even today every town in the gold country still carries on the traditions of those pioneer times, and the present inhabitants treasure the memories and relics of the days of freedom, … [Read more...]

A new judicial system in California

Early in 1850 California’s new legislature made sweeping changes to the judicial system in the new state. The old Mexican office of Alcalde was done away with and provision was made for justices of the peace with definite and limited powers. But old habits die hard and in many of the remote mining camps, for several years after California obtained statehood, some of the new justices continued to assume broad powers and were as arbitrary in their judgments as the Alcaldes had been. One … [Read more...]

Gold rush justice

During the era of Mexican rule the office of Alcalde was a mixture of judge and mayor, and this tradition continued in the early days of the gold rush and in many cases the powers of the office were greatly expanded by some of the most colorful characters of the era. The peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of these men were readily apparent even in the more settled areas where there was some semblance of law, but in the more remote towns where there was no law at all a gold rush Alcalde could cut a … [Read more...]

A lesson learned in Nevada City

Unlike Captain Slater, who bilked the miners of Downieville out of their gold with a simple confidence scheme, miners across the gold country invested and lost huge sums of money and time in many and varied undertakings promoted as a way for them to make even more money with less effort. One of these events happened in 1851 when a man called Dr. Rodgers led the people of Nevada City on a wild goose chase that at the time caused a huge amount of excitement in the gold country. This was not a case … [Read more...]

A con man hits Downieville

It was May of 1850 when the honest, hard working miners around Downieville realized the ethical days of the early gold rush had come to a sudden, and expensive, end. It was a lesson that would stay with them for a long time and was ably taught by a man known as Captain Slater, who must have been both charming and persuasive for the people to trust him as much as they did. He was known widely about the area but perhaps not as well as should be. When he announced to those in the neighborhood a … [Read more...]

The Philosopher from Weber Creek

Life in the California gold mines, while peaceful at times, had its rough moments, as one would expect anyplace where alcohol was plentiful and there were few women to moderate behavior. A miner of little education but who knew a few scientific terms and was quite the talker lived along Weber Creek near Hangtown. He was an advocate of the practice of phrenology, or the belief that the shape of the skull and the bumps on the head can determine a man’s mental facilities and character traits. At … [Read more...]

The Grizzly Bear House

In the early days of California gold mining, when it was easier to dig for gold than to steal it, and almost everybody was peaceful, men would gather in the evenings, either in a remote camp or in one of the many rustic inns that sprang up along the trails and, in the twilight time between supper and bed, swap tales of their many adventures. Most of these wonderful stories are lost to us today and so too is that special insight into the lives and characters of the men who came to mine for gold … [Read more...]

Refinement in the gold mines

The California gold rush attracted men of all stripes from all across the world, the poor man and the rich, the uneducated as well as the scholar, the simple farm hand and the man of taste and refinement. Yet, in general, highly accomplished men hid their achievements, for in the raw gold country hard work and sweat were the qualities that mattered most. But on certain rare occasions the refinements of these men shone bright, almost in spite of themselves. One good example of this happened in … [Read more...]