Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

A Great Discovery

Coloma, near to the celebrated Sutter's saw-mill, was about thirty miles on east, up the trail. The trail did not always keep to the American, but diverged from it. However, streams flowing into the American were crossed, and ever the trail waxed more interesting. Several new towns were passed—one, called the Mormon Diggings, was inhabited largely by Mormons from Salt Lake. Here mining was in full blast, with many improved methods, as by "cradles," which were boxes set upon rockers and rocked like a cradle so that the water and sand were flowed out as from a pan; and by long boxes called "Long Toms," set on an incline so that when the water and dirt were flowed down them, their cleats, nailed across the bottom on the inside, caught and held the heavy sand and gold. Then the cleats were cleaned and the gold separated. As further into the foothills the trail led, the more numerous were the miners; and when the first of the mountains were entered, every gulch and ravine held its busy population.

Now the mountains, high and thickly timbered, clustered before and on either side, when, on the afternoon of the second day (for Mr. Adams traveled slowly on account of his lame leg), Mr. Grigsby, ahead, pointed and said:

"There's the saw-mill."

So it was—a large frame building, apparently not all completed, amidst a clearing of stumps, on the edge of a ravine near the foot of a slope. Several log cabins and a number of tents stood near it; and shacks and tents dotted the gullies around. But, as Captain Sutter had said, the mill was not running; and as the red-whiskered man had alleged, the locality was not bustling.

"I expect the place has been all worked out, by the first rush," commented Mr. Grigsby, as he led on, up the well-marked trail.

"This is where the gold was discovered in Forty-eight, is it?" queried Charley's father, as on the edge of the clearing they paused, to take breath, and gaze about them.

"Yes, sir; and unless I'm much mistaken, there's Jim Marshall himself, in front of that cabin."

So saying, followed by his party the Fremonter crossed the clearing, as if making for one of the cabins before whose open door a man was sitting, on a stool. The man appeared scarcely to notice their approach, and barely turned his head when, halting, Mr. Grigsby addressed him.

"How are you, Jim? I met you down at Sutter's, after the war. My name's Grigsby."

"Yes, I remember your being 'round there," responded Mr. Marshall, in a soft, slow drawl, rising to shake hands. "The country wasn't so full, then."

He was a rather tall, well-built man, with long brown beard and slouch hat. He had wide brown eyes, with a sombre gaze in them. In fact, his whole countenance was sober and a bit sullen.

"So you're still at the mill."

"I have been, but I'm going out. There's no place for me here. The man who discovered this gold ain't given an ounce of it," and Mr. Marshall's voice was bitter. "What did I get for all I did when I opened that mill-race? Nothing; not even gratitude. It's Government land, they say, and so the people flock in and take it, and my only chance is to rustle like everybody else. Do you think that's fair? No, sir! If I had my percentage of all the gold being mined around here I'd be a rich man. Instead, they give me a hundred feet, and expect me to dig like the rest. Bah! I'll starve, first."

Although Mr. Marshall was trying to make this a tale of woe, Charley, for one, could not quite see the reasonableness in it.

"Well, Jim," hastily soothed Mr. Grigsby, "this is a country of hustle, and most of us have to look out for ourselves. You were here first, and I suppose people figured on your making the most of opportunity. Anyway, I wish you'd take us over to the mill-race and show these two partners of mine just where you discovered the gold. We aren't going to stay, but we'd like to see that much."

"Yes, I can do that," assented Mr. Marshall. "Leave your animal here, if you want to. There aren't many white people about" (and he spoke bitterly, again) "to steal it."

Charley tied the burro to the cabin. Mr. Marshall led the way over to the mill, which was abandoned and idle, and paused on the brink of a wide ravine that extended back to the mill wheel.

The ravine was ragged and torn, its bottom bare to the rocks and its sides gashed by countless holes. A number of Chinamen and Indians were working in it, scraping about and filling pans and wicker baskets with loose dirt, which they washed in the stream trickling through. But there were no white men.

"That was the tail-race," explained Mr. Marshall, "which led off the water after it had passed under the wheel. After we got the mill to going, about the middle of January, last year, we found the tail-race wasn't big enough to carry off the water fast and make a current that would turn the wheel. So I threw the wheel out of gear, one night, and lifted the head-gate of the race full open, to flow a hard stream through and wash the tail-race deeper. Next morning early, which was January 24, I went down with Weimer (you know Weimer, Mr. Grigsby; he served in the Fremont battalion during the conquest), who was helping me, to see what the water had done. We shut it off first, of course, above. Well, the tail-race certainly had been scoured a good bit, and we were looking in, as we walked, congratulating ourselves on the job, when I saw a sparkle of yellow on a flat bed-rock. I went down in and picked it up, and I was sure it was gold. I sent an Indian back to the men's cabin for a tin plate. I didn't want to say much about the find till I'd made certain that it wasn't copper, but during the day Weimer and I searched about and found a little more. We tried it out with potash in Mrs. Weimer's soap kettle, and it didn't tarnish. The other men got excited, and the next day started to poking about on their own account, in the rain. I took what I had down to the fort, and the captain and I locked ourselves in and tested it with nitric acid, weighed it, pounded it, did everything we could think of, and made dead certain that gold it was. Next day the captain himself came up to the mill, and we all found gold. It was everywhere. Of course that set us up in great shape, but the captain made us promise to keep the matter a secret for six weeks until he had finished a flour-mill that he was building at the fort, or else he wouldn't be able to get anybody to work for him at wages. But some of the men showed their dust down at the store at the fort, buying goods, and the cat was out of the bag. Everybody deserted the old captain, his grist-mill hasn't been finished to this day, his crops weren't reaped, his saw-mill property was overrun with a regular army, some of the people tried to save a bed of gravel for him, but that's gone now, neither his rights or mine are respected, I don't own an ounce of gold and am busted, and he'll be busted soon. There's no gratitude in this country," and Mr. Marshall turned gloomily away.

"There doesn't seem to be much show here for mining; the whole country's been turned over," commented Mr. Adams, as they gazed about. "But I'm glad to have seen the spot where the first gold was found in California."

"By the way, Jim," spoke the Fremonter, "are there any quartz workings around here? Never heard of a claim called the Golden West, did you?"

Mr. Marshall shook his head, in his gloomy fashion.

"Not on the South Branch of the American, either fork. It's all placer work yet. That's the quickest. Lodes don't pay; they need machinery, and nobody wants to wait for machinery. But I've heard they're beginning to find lodes over in the Nevada country, beyond the upper North Branch. Several parties on their way to the dry diggin's of Rough and Ready spoke about quartz outcrops over yonder somewhere on the North Branch."

"Yes, we thought we'd go over that way ourselves," answered Mr. Grigsby.

"Whereabouts is Rough and Ready, Mr. Marshall?" asked Charley's father—much to Charley's relief, who wanted to know, himself.

"It's a dry diggin's camp, near to the Nevada dry diggin's, in Grass Valley between the Bear and the Yuba. That's all I know," responded Mr. Marshall, as if to imply that it was all he cared, too!

The directions seemed very indefinite, in such a big country, but Mr. Grigsby appeared to be impressed by something or other in Mr. Marshall's words, for he was plunged into a brown study until the party had left Mr. Marshall sitting gloomily as before and were resuming the march. Then, out of earshot of the cabins and mill, he suddenly slapped his buckskin thigh and uttered an exclamation.

"By jings!" he said. "I have it—and those three fellows had it, too. We've overrun 'em. They've turned off, below, and I'll wager they're making for that smudge! Remember that smudge on the map—what looked to be another 'G. H.,' in capital letters? Well, sir, if that sign isn't 'G. W.' instead of 'G. H.' I'll miss my guess. 'G. W.'—'Golden West'! How does that strike you? It's yonder in the new quartz country, you see."

Charley stared, agape. The idea was stupendous. Oh, if only they had that map, again, so as to re-examine it.

"Why—I shouldn't wonder if you were right, Grigsby," agreed his father, weighing the matter. "Then we ought to get over there as quick as we can."

"I know I'm right," asserted the Fremonter. "Feel it in my bones. And away we go, as straight as we can travel."

A long, long tramp across a wild country it was, now, upon which the tall Fremonter piloted the way. He seemed to know where he was going and what he was doing; and Charley and his father could only trust in his guidance. Up hill and down, through timber and brush, sometimes on a trail and sometimes not, ever making northward, on they went, with the burro the nimblest of all, and Mr. Adams having hard work, occasionally, with his lame leg. But wherever they passed, no matter how rough and high the country, they encountered miners like themselves, digging and washing and searching, in camp or on the march.

But not a word more, of the Jacobs party, or of the Golden West mine.

Mr. Grigsby appeared to be looking for certain landmarks, ahead. It was at the end of two weeks of travel and camp when they three, following a pack trail across a timbered ridge, suddenly emerged into a beautiful vista of valley and snowy range, to the north and east; the course of a rushing river, and the tents of another mining camp.

"There she is!" cheered the Fremonter, swinging his hat. "There's the trail where Fremont and we fellows came in, the second time, winter of Forty-five. Yon river's the North Branch of the American. I remember that gap, there. What that camp is I don't know; but we'll find out."

"This is an emigrant trail, then, too, isn't it?" queried Charley's father.

"It'll be the main emigrant trail, or I'm much mistaken."

"I don't see any emigrants, though," puffed Charley, as down they hastened, for the camp. He was wondering about Billy Walker.

"No; there haven't many passed yet, that's certain," answered the Fremonter. "But the rush must be about due."

"What camp's this?" he hailed, as they passed a party of miners delving and washing in a little ravine.

"This is the Shirt-tail Diggin's, stranger, where everybody's happy and the goose hangs high."

Shirt-tail Diggin's consisted of a collection of tents and of lean-to shacks made of boughs and canvas, three or four log cabins, and a store, scattered along the side of the valley, amidst great trees. To the east showed the bluish gap, of which Mr. Grigsby had spoken, in the hills, and beyond the hills was the snowy range. Through the valley coursed the river—the North Branch of the American, according to Mr. Grigsby; and in the river shallows and along the banks and in ravines and ditches on both sides, up the slopes themselves, with pick and spade and pan and cradle were working the miners.

As with his father and Mr. Grigsby and the burro he drew near, Charley was surprised to hear a cheer—and another, and another, as if in greeting. Why was that? Was it a joke? But see! Arms were pointing, hats were waving, and shout joined with shout:

"Emigrants in sight! Here they come—the overlanders! Tumble out, boys!"