Squatting settled by the courts

Squatting began early in San Francisco and continued vigorously until land titles became substantially settled by the decisions of the court in favor of the old Mexican pueblo system and the subsequent acts of congress of 1864 and 1866 which granted to the city and county of San Francisco all lands included in such pueblo limits in trust for the lot holders and occupants on such terms as might be prescribed by the state legislature. There was hardly any part of the city and county that had not … [Read more...]

Restless miners sought richer diggings

Miners were, even in the early days of the gold rush, a restless bunch. Almost always discontented they longed for what they termed “big strikes” even though they could make as much in a single month as they could in a year with their former work. Thus they constantly sought new and richer diggings. When word of ground that prospected, or “panned out,” better than usual arrived, a rush to that location would follow. The manner in which the adventurers would come together and jostle each other … [Read more...]

A squatter open to reason

Occasionally a squatter could be found who was open to reason as to who the land he had taken over really belonged. Much of the ground squatted on had been cultivated by John Sutter until his workmen left him in 1848 to mine for gold. A few days after the excitement engendered by the recent destruction of squatters’ shanties in Sacramento one man, working ground that had once been farmed by Sutter, was asked by what authority he expected to hold the land he was on. “By preoccupation and … [Read more...]

Vigilante justice in the mines

One of the most significant occurrences of the early California gold rush, which sheds light on the character of the old miners and their efforts to administer justice and secure order as ill advised as this could sometimes be, were the irregular, spontaneous and sometimes violent proceedings known as lynch law, mob rule or vigilante justice. There were so many occurrences of mob rule, and most of it such a natural outgrowth of the conditions in the mining country at the time that, for a while, … [Read more...]

River pollution and mining law

In both the northern and southern mines farms were dug up and large tracts of arable land washed into sluice boxes in the quest for gold. Whole towns were moved so the locations where they had been built could be mined. But in 1851, along Nevada City’s Main Street, several miners planted themselves in the center of town determined to dig up the roadway for gold. A shopkeeper whose business would have been seriously affected put up a protest but the miners cited the superiority of the mines under … [Read more...]

Agriculture versus the mining laws

Conflicts inevitably developed between differing interests in the mining areas, and the rights claimed by the early miners to occupy and work ground that was currently in the possession of others is amply illustrated by a situation that arose near Grass Valley in 1850. Two men had a large field of meadowland that they had put a brush fence around, all with the purpose of mowing the two crops of hay the meadow would yield each year. Hay was a valuable commodity in those days and sold for eighty … [Read more...]

The foreign miner laws

Prejudices of the early miners against foreigners soon translated into rules and regulations in some districts. And there were many men of bad character who came to California, particularly from Australia and Mexico. The Australians, known as Sidney Ducks, were for the most part recently released convicts and prone to cause trouble, but because they spoke English they were harder to distinguish than the Spanish speakers. Due to the recent war there was already a lot of hatred of Mexicans and a … [Read more...]

Mining law, the Northern mines

The Sweetland district in Nevada County was organized in 1850 and allowed thirty square feet per claim. Two years later claims of eighty by one hundred and eighty feet were the rule. Then in 1853, at a large miner’s meeting, the district was divided into three parts. In one of these parts, North San Juan, a few miles northeast of Nevada City, one claim could be held by location and an unlimited number by purchase. This aggregation of claims made possible the extensive hydraulic operations for … [Read more...]

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...]