Gold mining gear, the rocker

Panning gold was slow work and very early in 1848 Isaac Humphrey, a miner who’d been at the gold finds in the mountains of Georgia in the 1830’s, introduced a new device that sped things up a great deal. Called a rocker or a cradle, it resembled a baby’s bed. At the upper end was a hopper with moderately high sides and covered with a sheet metal or rawhide sieve with holes a half-inch in diameter. Here ore bearing soil would be shoveled in then washed down the body where the gold would collect … [Read more...]

The basic gear for a gold miner

The early gold miner who traveled by foot required little more than a single suit of clothes consisting of a wool shirt, thick pants, heavy boots and a slouch hat. He carried a pistol, a knife, and a roll of blankets for his bed, a cooking pot, a gold pan, a shovel and maybe a pick, and a pack with salt pork, beans, sugar, flour, and coffee or tea. Often he slept on the ground or in a hastily built brush hut. Men with horses and mules could carry more and might have a tent. It was quickly … [Read more...]

Exploding gold rush steamboat service

Before the discovery of gold, and the mad rush to California that followed, the tiny 37-foot long steamboat Sitka left San Francisco on November 28, 1847 and docked on December 4 at the embarcadero near what would soon become Sacramento. Hauled down in pieces from Alaska by William Leidesdorff, an early California trader, it was to be the first of many craft to ply the bay and rivers of Northern California in the years to come. On September 15, 1849 the Washington arrived in Sacramento. In … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, tragedy at Donner Pass

High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains the emigrants came upon the remains of several log cabins deep in a thick grove of fir trees to the left of the trail just east of Truckee Lake. Shreds of dresses and other clothes, scraps of iron, and many bones, broken to extract every edible taste of marrow, were strewn about. Tree stumps, felled to build the cabins, towered 12 feet above the ground, the depth of the snow pack when the trees had been cut. The 49ers noted the melancholy gloominess of a place … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, the Truckee River

After the Humboldt Sink the gold rush emigrants could head south along the trail the Mormons had pioneered in 1848 or they could continue west to the Truckee River and cross the Sierra at Donner Pass. Either way they had to cross the dreaded 40-mile Desert. This was the worst stretch of road yet faced, without grass or water for most of the way and blisteringly hot during the days, but there was a hot water spring about half way to the Truckee. They traveled at night and by morning came … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers along the Humboldt River

Emigrants to California continued southwest from the City of Rocks through Granite Pass and on about 100 miles to the Humboldt River, the river that would lead them to within sight of the Sierra Nevada, the last major hurdle on the road to California. Fed by melt water from the Ruby Mountains the beautiful river valley was at first a welcome sight, covered with lush grass for their animals and running with a fresh, cool stream filled with trout. But their joy was short lived. The alkali dust … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, Fort Hall to the City of Rocks

West of Soda Springs the main emigrant trail turned northwest along the Portneuf River and on to the Snake River. The trading post of Fort Hall sat on a large plain where Lewis’ Fork met the Snake. Built in 1834 by Nathaniel Wyeth to supply the fur traders and Indians, it was said to be small and poorly made. In 1838 it was sold to Hudson Bay Company. Past the fort the trail continued along the Snake River then, at a narrow gap along the road that came to be called Massacre Rocks because of an … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, the Bear River divide

Emigrants who expected Fort Bridger to be like Forts Laramie or Kearney were disappointed. “It’s built of poles and dabbed with mud; it is a shabby concern,” said one visitor. Built in 1843 by the famous frontiersman Jim Bridger to sell supplies to the wagon trains and trade with the Indians, the fort did offer much welcome fresh water, shade trees and grass along Black’s Fork of the Green River. Shoshone braves from a nearby village could be seen riding horses atop the nearby bluffs. But … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers cross the Rocky Mountains

The road west was well marked. Even today the deep ruts of iron rimmed wheels scar the land. The emigrants made a slow, steady approach to the 7,550-foot South Pass that sat between two low rocky hills about 60 feet high, with the Antelope Hills to the south and the Wind River Range on the north. A few miles below the pass Pacific Spring rose in the middle of a dry, barren valley. Filled with fresh, clear water and surrounded by lush grass it was named because a stream from it ran off to … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, Devil’s Gate and the Sweetwater

After the ferry across the Platte River the strong smell of sulfur rose and alkaline water was nauseously offensive. Dead oxen lay along the trail. One man wrote, “The country is a dry, sterile and dreary desert.” But here were found sage hens and huge grasshoppers. Willow Springs, with its cold, pure water came as a welcome relief for the emigrants. Their mules were now getting sick and still the oxen died. Soon after they came to a large, isolated oval dome beside the trail. Few could pass … [Read more...]