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 Marysville sometime in 1851 when a weary and well worn miner, a battered slouch hat pulled low over his brow and his beard and mustache so wildly overgrown that his features could not easily be recognized, came into the barroom at the Tremont House.

Marysville CA 1850

The man dropped his gear on the floor and stepped up to the bar where he asked the barkeep if he could see the proprietor. When the owner appeared the crusty miner entrusted for safe keeping with him what amounted to several thousand dollars of gold, then took a seat in the parlor as if he was very tired and sorely in need of a rest. Across the room was a piano and many of the hotel’s patrons that day noticed him staring at it for a long time before he finally rose and moved closer to it. Then, at last, he took a seat on the piano stool. At this point some of those watching smiled with derision at what they took to be the actions of a rustic while others took pity on the disheveled man, suspecting he suffered from an unbalanced mind.

Square Grand Piano in a parlor

But when the stranger deftly ran his fingers across the keys from one end to the other and commenced to play Sweet Home the mockery and derision instantly quieted. Most there had never heard such music performed so well. Then the bedraggled miner began to sing along with his playing in a strong clear voice of surprising quality that echoed throughout the hotel. Soon all the ladies in the building lined the halls and stairway while the miner played song after song, seemingly oblivious to the admiring crowd he had attracted. But midway through the sad, mournful Katy Darling he glanced about and noticed the attention he had gathered. He ceased his impromptu concert at once, grabbed his beat up hat from the floor and disappeared. When those in the Tremont House next saw him he had so changed his appearance that no one recognized him until he sat back at the piano and began to play, once again delighting everyone with his extraordinary musical talent.




  1. ‘Playing the piano’ and you had my attention. Such are the gifts we have and sometimes can give. Great story.

  2. Patsy Gifford says

    Good story. Who knows where he came from or what his background was, he was polished!

    • All kinds of people flocked to California starting in 1849 and from places all across the world and all walks of life, Patsy. Many were incredible people and opportunities abounded. When the easy to find gold played out silver was found just across the mountains in Nevada and men rushed to the Comstock. Soon more gold was found in Montana and on it went. It’s a fantastic story.

      • I agree. The story possibilities are endless. The skills they brought, such as your pianist, implied the lives they had lead. Music factors into my stories in a big way. Entertainment was a magnet, always has been.

        • Thank you, Kay, for your great comment. Like everything in early California it took a while for large items to get here and a piano is certainly one of the larger musical instruments. My latest book, “Revenge,” begins with the delivery of a square piano from back east to Hangtown, or Placerville as we call it now. I even managed to get a plug for Beethoven into the story.

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