Honesty in the early gold rush

For some time after the initial discovery of gold in California, and while the supply of gold appeared inexhaustible, everyone was honest. This seeming unique situation was not just because there were few bad characters as yet in the mines, but with so much easily obtainable wealth everywhere about stealing or dishonestly was simply not worthwhile. Men often left their gold stores exposed without worry of loss. And when a man needed a loan he could borrow the money simply on his honor and a handshake. Borrowers expected to repay loans as soon as possible but it was considered an insult to dun a man for his outstanding loan.

California Gold Diggers

Once, along the Stanislaus River, one man loaned another six ounces of gold.  When the loan wasn’t repaid in a timely manner the lender began to talk. The borrower stood the rudeness of the lender for as long as he could then told his impatient financier to “Just wait ten minutes and time it,” and with a pickax on his shoulder rushed out to his claim. True to his word he returned in the promised ten minutes with more than enough gold to repay his debt, much to the delight of the rest of the miners gathered there. Another time an impatient man who’d made the loan of a few ounces of gold went to the borrowers tent in the middle of the night and asked for his money back. The borrower told the man to wait, picked up a lantern and left the tent. He returned a short time later, tied the gold in a small bag and threw it into the face of the lender.

Gold Rush Marysville

Gold Rush Marysville

In Marysville in 1852 a woman of around thirty years of age and quite good looking stopped at the Tremont House after just arriving on the steamship from San Francisco. She told the proprietor that she had no money since her trip from New York had cost far more than she had anticipated. She asked for the loan of twenty dollars to get her to Downieville where she was to meet a relative. Though the owner of the hotel had his doubts that he would ever see her or the money again he gave her the twenty dollars. But five or six weeks later she returned and explained that she had found her relative who had set her up with a large tent and a cook stove and she had opened a boarding house with some forty boarders. Then one day, as she swept the earthen floor of her tent, she noticed a glimmer that turned out to be gold. She called her relative and they started digging. They found five hundred dollars worth of nuggets on the first day and did the same on a number of succeeding days. Now she had taken a break from her bonanza to return to Marysville and repay her debt.

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