Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

Charley Hears a Conversation

"If you're looking for Colonel Fremont, you'll likely find him at the United States Hotel," hailed the hotel clerk, as Charley and Mr. Grigsby passed the counter. "He's there with General Vallejo, I understand."

"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Grigsby. "You know who Fremont is," he said, to Charley; and Charley nodded. Of course he knew. Fremont was the great explorer—Fremont the Pathfinder, they called him. He it was who, arrived in California on his third exploring expedition for the Government, early in 1846, had been on hand to lead in the taking of California from Mexico. His stories of his travels made fine reading. "Well, this General Vallejo is Don Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. He was the military governor of Upper California before the war, but he's been a great friend of the Americans, although he was the first man they captured in the uprising of Forty-six. Nobody has a word to say against General Vallejo. He wanted California to belong to the United States, and said so, when other Californians were favoring England and France instead of Mexico, after it was seen that Mexico couldn't hold it. Fact is, General Vallejo it was who started San Francisco. Not this San Francisco, but Benicia, at the other end of the bay. He donated the land, and only asked that the city be named Francisca, after his wife, Francisca Benicia. He gave a tract an mile wide by five miles long. It's a better site for a big city than this is, they say, because it's not so steep and is only across a narrow strait from the mainland, and has deep-water anchorage. Most of the steamers go there now, to anchor, and it has the naval and military headquarters, at Mare Island and at the new post going up. This place was only Yerba Buena—Good Herb Cove—a landing-place for the San Francisco mission. But the settlers already here got ahead of the Vallejo plan, and renamed their town San Francisco, because of San Francisco Bay; and the name has made it grow. The general and Thomas O. Larkin (who was the Government consul and agent) and Doc Robert Semple, who's an old-time trapper from Kentucky and is about seven feet high, went ahead and started the other town, and having lost out on Francisca called it by Mrs. Vallejo's other name, Benicia. But it never has amounted to much as a town. I thought I'd tell you about General Vallejo. He and Fremont are a good pair—Americans both, though one is French, born in Georgia, the other is Mexican, born in California."

The same boys whom Charley had seen in the morning were scratching for gold in front of the United States Hotel, and quarreling over their finds, which stuck to the moistened heads of the pins they were using.

"There he is, now—and the General with him," spoke Mr. Grigsby, quickening pace as he and Charley approached across the street.

Two men were just leaving the hotel porch. One was of medium height, erect and slender, in a broad silvered Californian hat and a short velvet jacket embroidered with gilt. The other was taller and heavier and darker, in ordinary citizen's clothes. Charley guessed that the first was Colonel Fremont.

That was so, for going directly to him, Mr. Grigsby extended his brown, sinewy hand, saying:

"Colonel, do you remember me?"

Colonel Fremont gave him one flashing glance out of a pair of deep-set, very keen, dark blue eyes. A handsome man was the Pathfinder, with such eyes, a clean-cut, imperious nose, and a crisp full brown beard.

"Hello, Grigsby," he said, grasping the hand heartily. "Do you think I could forget one of my own men? The General remembers you, too, I'll wager."

"With pleasure," said General Vallejo; and he, also, shook hands. He was older than Colonel Fremont, was General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, and even more commanding in his appearance. His face was large and dignified, in its black beard, his forehead was high and broad, and his dark eyes piercing.

Mr. Grigsby introduced Charley, and they both shook hands with him.

"We're off to the mines in the morning, and I wanted to pay my respects and introduce this boy, here, before we left," explained Mr. Grigsby. "Are your family here, Colonel? And yours, General?"

"The General's are north at Sonoma, I believe," answered the Pathfinder. "Mine are on their way back to Monterey. What trail do you take, Grigsby? The northern mines, or the southern?"

"We'll try the northern, up the American; by boat as far as Sacramento."

"Our old stamping-ground of the American fork, eh?" remarked the Colonel. "I well recall our first trip in, across the mountains, in that winter of early Forty-four, when Sutter's Fort was the only habitation. Who'd have thought that in five years there'd be towns all along the old trail, and thousands of white men pushing in from mountains and ocean both, to scratch and burrow like gophers! You won't know the place, Grigsby! When were you there last?"

"A year ago."

"You won't know it, just the same."

"No," agreed General Vallejo, earnestly.

"There's still plenty of gold, is there?" queried Mr. Grigsby. This was an important question, to Charley.

The Colonel shrugged his shoulders and laughed. The General gravely smiled. Answered the Colonel:

"Gold? Lots of it, and people finding it. The diggings along the American and the Yuba and the Feather are in full blast; and then there are the southern mines, up the San Joaquin Valley, in the Mokelumne and Calaveras districts. I'm going over there myself to-morrow or next day. If you see Captain Sutter up north, tell him that any help he can give you will be appreciated by me."

"Your rancho is prosperous, Colonel?"

"Fairly so. You know we've named it Mariposa, or Lily Ranch. I had intended to stock it to cattle, but the mining excitement has changed my plans and all my ranch machinery is stored here in town. The land has so much mineral on it, we've discovered, that I'll work that first if the Government doesn't object. Unfortunately mineral claims are not supposed to go with Mexican land grants. While my family are here we make our quarters in the Happy Valley section. I have a saw-mill started back of San Jose, too. Should you come that way, be sure and stop off with me."

"And should you come to Sonoma, do me the honor of making my house your home," said the General. "And pray do not forget that in September we of California hold a statehood convention at Monterey, to frame a State constitution. All good citizens are requested to be present."

"The State of California, already! Think of that!" exclaimed Mr. Grigsby.

"And a free State, too, if we can make it so," added Colonel Fremont, his blue eyes aglow. "California's free now, to everybody. One man is as good as another. I was born in the South, but I'm against slavery. California has started gloriously free, and she ought to remain so."

"I'm with you, there, gentlemen," quoth Mr. Grigsby. "Certainly this is the one population, away out here like a big family, where slavery has no place or reason. Anybody who will work ought to be allowed to make a living. This gold and land weren't put here for the benefit of a few."

They all shook hands again. The Colonel and the General paced away, on their business. Mr. Grigsby and Charley went ahead on theirs. And Charley never forgot his first meeting with the celebrated Pathfinder and the stately ex-governor.

He was tired enough when he and Mr. Grigsby had completed their errands. But he found his father rested and up, and waiting with the home letter just finished. Charley added four pages; but he had so much to tell that he didn't say half of it. 'Twas a wonderful country, let alone the marvelous journey behind it. He only regretted that he didn't pick up a little gold, in the streets, so as to enclose that in the letter, too.

His father had made arrangements to store their trunk, and what clothes they would not need while at the mines.

"Now all that remains is to get our washing early—and, by the way, the Frenchman promises to have it ready by six o'clock—and a pack animal at Sacramento," he pronounced. "That is, if we can find one."

"If Captain Sutter is there, we'll find our pack animal," asserted Mr. Grigsby.

"And if we don't, we can carry our own packs," declared Mr. Adams. "That's the way the majority of the people are going in. By the way, several persons have told me we ought to try the southern mines, up the San Joaquin, beyond the new town called Stockton. But of course we have our reasons."

"It's all luck, to the greenhorn," replied the Fremonter. "But I think the American or the Feather country fits that map better."

After supper they took a stroll, before they turned in early to get a good night's sleep. Surely there never was a gayer, busier place than San Francisco at night. The wind, which had been blowing most of the day, dropped, at evening, and a dense fog floated in. In the fog the lights of lamps, lanterns and candles shone weirdly from doors and windows and through canvas walls. Now about every other store appeared to be a saloon or gambling room, all crowded. There were other places of amusement, also, even to a sort of a theatre, where miners were dancing with one another, on the floor, to the sound of a fiddle and cracked accordion, while on a stage a thin woman with painted red cheeks was singing and prancing. An auctioneer was selling real estate, from a dry-goods box in the plaza. Stores were open, the streets were thronged, hammering and music and shouting were mingled just as in the night before; and after the Adams party had gone to bed they found it hard work to sleep.

The hotel itself was noisy, for voices carried right through the floors and the thin partitions. Charley tried not to listen, and was just dozing off at last, when a new conversation, somewhere along the hall, made him prick up his ears. There evidently were two men.

"You've never heard of Tom, have you?" asked one voice.

"Not a word, since he started back to the States to find his relatives," answered a gruffer voice.

"Hadn't many, had he?"

"Nephew by marriage, is all he ever mentioned."

"He did well while he was here, and it's a pity he threw up and left. Somebody's jumped his claims by this time, sure. Fact is, you can't leave a claim over night, without having somebody jump into it and squat. People are getting crazy, running 'round wild-like and grabbing any land they fancy. The Government will have to step in and make laws."

"That's right; but Tom had one claim that he banked on and said nobody could find."

"You mean the Golden West?"

"Yes. Somewhere up north."

"In the American or the Feather country, I always imagined. He was saving it till he could get that nephew, I reckon, to work it with him. A quartz claim. I saw specimens from it. Well, let's go to sleep. So long."

"So long."

Charley's heart beat rapidly. "The Golden West!" That was the very name of the mine they were seeking—the mine that had been given to them by the mysterious Californian back in St. Louis! In the American River or Feather River country, the two men had said; and "Tom"; but beyond that they didn't seem to know much more than did anybody else. They had spoken of a nephew, though. He wasn't entitled to it, was he—even if the man in St. Louis had been looking for him? The man had given it to him, Charley, and to his, Charley's, father, because they had helped him. Shucks! Now the nephew might be hunting for it, and the long-nosed man and partners were hunting for it, and it didn't belong to any of them.

Charley had half a mind to get out of bed and find those two men. He wanted to see them, at least. But to snoop through the hall, asking people in the rooms if they had been talking about "Tom," would be a crazy proceeding. No; all he could do was to wait till morning and tell his father and Mr. Grigsby what he had heard. He wished that they weren't sleeping so soundly, and snoring without a pause. He could scarcely wait—until he fell asleep himself.

It appeared to be the fashion in San Francisco to sleep late. Perhaps everybody was tired out. The early morning hours were the only quiet hours, and when Charley was wakened by the movements of his father and Mr. Grigsby, the rest of the hotel seemed to be still in bed.

"All aboard, Charley," bade his father, leaning over the bunk. He was dressed, and so was Mr. Grigsby. The air in the room was chill and gray.

"All right," answered Charley. "But wait a minute. I want to tell you and Mr. Grigsby what I heard, while you were asleep. Got to speak low, though." And with them listening, close to him as he sat up, he repeated every word of the conversation. "That nephew doesn't get any of it, just the same; does he?" he added. "It's ours."

"Now, Charley," laughed his father, "you're going too fast. Nobody can have it till after somebody finds it. We've come 6000 miles, and what do we know? There was a man named Tom, who is supposed to have had a mine in Northern California named the Golden West, and a nephew back in the States. That's too indefinite to argue about."

"A quartz claim," reminded Mr. Grigsby. "That's one clue of value. There aren't many quartz claims in the country. Nearly all the mining is placer. People prefer to dig in the dirt rather than blast in the rock. It's quicker."

"Quartz let it be, then," agreed Mr. Adams. "That does help out a bit; but we won't discuss ownership yet, except with that man Jacobs. Him I'll resist to the full extent of law and strength."

"What is a quartz claim?" queried Charley.

"Well," said Mr. Grigsby, "gold may be loose in the dirt, or held in rock. The first is a placer, the other is a vein or lode. Nearly all the mining out here is placer mining, where the dirt is dug out and washed away, leaving the gold. But of course the gold in the placer beds must have come out of a vein somewhere above. It doesn't grow like grass. 'Cording to the scientific idee it was melted into the rock, first, like into quartz, and then was worn away by the weather and carried into the dirt. I don't fancy breaking up rock, to get gold, when in a placer it's already been broken for you. But they say quartz mining can be made to pay well, if you have the proper machinery. As like as not this man 'Tom' was waiting for machinery."

"Tom." Tom who? And what was his nephew's name? And did his nephew know about the mine? And was he out here looking for it? These and other questions Charley kept putting to himself, because nobody could answer them for him. The main thing now, anyway, was to get off, to the "diggin's."

They paid their bill, shouldered their baggage, and wearing their complete miner's costumes (Charley sporting his knife and his belt) they proceeded down to Long Wharf and the Mary Ann. On their way they collected their washing from the bowing Frenchman.

Long Wharf was the principal wharf, where they had climbed the stairs when landing from the California, and was at the foot of Clay Street, just beyond Montgomery, only a few blocks from the plaza of Portsmouth Square. The tide was half in, partially covering the ugly mud-flats, and extending all around the wharf.

Considerable of a crowd had collected, on the wharf. They were in flannel shirts and boots and coarse trousers belted about with pistol and knife, and were laden with baggage rolls. Evidently they, too, were off to the mines; perhaps by the Mary Ann.

"That must be the schooner, out yonder—I can see Mary Ann on her stern," spoke Mr. Grigsby. "And I reckon that's her boat coming in."

"I'll get you out quicker'n that, stranger, if you're for the Mary Ann," cut in an alert by-stander. "Five dollars for the trip; safety guaranteed."

"Not to-day," smiled Mr. Grigsby.

A skiff was being pulled in, from a schooner anchored out a short distance. At a nod from Mr. Grigsby, Charley and his father pressed forward with him, to meet the boat at the foot of the long stairs. Yes, it was from the Mary Ann; and they and a dozen others (or as many as the boat would hold) tumbled in.

The Mary Ann was a small schooner, about fifty feet long and twenty feet wide. She had one little cabin with four rooms, so that the passengers were expected to sleep on deck or in the hold, where bunks had been built along the sides, with the dining table (of boards) in the middle! However, who cared, when they were off to the mines and this was one way to get there?

"How long'll it take us, to Sacramento, captain?" hailed one of his passengers.

"Five days with luck; two weeks without," snapped the captain, a very short, red-faced little man, giving orders right and left and sending mate and sailors running, as the Mary Ann swung free from her anchorage. Up went the foresail and out shook the jib. Leaning, the Mary Ann slowly gathered way, gliding through the ripples.

The great Bay of San Francisco was beautiful. The morning sun had broken through the fog, to gild the hundreds of ships, and the dancing water. Heeling to a smart breeze, the Mary Ann soon passed vessel after vessel lying at anchor—among them the California herself. The jumble of low buildings and tents forming the city of San Francisco dwindled, behind; the uproar of voices and hammers died; and heading for the north the Mary Ann clipped merrily along, the Golden Gate entrance on her left, the rolling hills of the California mainland distant on her right.

Her passengers numbered thirty-seven—about seven more than she ought to hold, decided Charley. Everybody was in high feather at the prospects of being on the way to the "diggin's." They pressed against the weather rail, mounted atop the cook's galley and the cabin roof, and several of the boldest even climbed aloft to the cross-trees of fore-mast and mainmast, where they cheered and whooped. Yes, it seemed to be a sort of pleasure excursion. Voices were constantly shouting.

"That's Goat Island, isn't it? The first one we passed."

"There's Alcatraz."

"Hurrah for Angel Island! Anybody want to land?"

"Is this still San Francisco Bay?"

"Of course it is."

"Where's San Pablo Bay, then?"

"At the end, before we turn into the Sacramento River."

The Mary Ann was making good time. The red-faced little captain stood near the wheel, with folded arms and vigilant eye, as if he was very proud of her. All the shipping at anchor had been left behind long ago, and now the schooner seemed to have joined with a regular procession of small boats, hastening in the same direction as she. Some were sail-boats, many were skiffs and launches; all were crowded, and in a great hurry.

The bay narrowed, and between two points called San Pablo (or Saint Paul) and San Pedro (or Saint Peter), guarded by islands called the Brothers and the Sisters, the Mary Ann entered San Pablo Bay, which really was a round basin forming the north end of San Francisco Bay.

The bell below was ringing for dinner, but the Mary Ann had turned more toward the east, and against the land, in front, could be seen the masts of more shipping.

"That must be at Mare Island, and at Benicia beyond," said Mr. Grigsby. "You know how Mare Island gets its name? Because there used to be a big herd of elk on it, led by an old mare. The Government's going to make a naval station of it. Benicia is the town General Vallejo donated the site of. There's where the army headquarters are being built. Well, guess we'll have time to eat, before we get there."

"Come ahead, Charley," bade his father.

The dinner really was very good; and if anybody still was hungry, a sign on the cook's galley announced, invitingly: "Pies One Dollar." Charley saw several of the miners buying pies and eating them.

When the Adams party came up on deck again, the Mary Ann had passed Mare Island, where some vessels, among them two ships of war, were anchored, and was entering a narrow opening named the Straits of Carquinez. On the right the mountains approached very close. On the left appeared more shipping, and the houses and tents of a town. This was Benicia, and a prettily located place it was, too, with the ground sloping upward, behind it, and the massy brown crest of Mount Diablo, landmark seen from the Golden Gate, rising across the strait, before.

Beyond Benicia the straits opened into Suisun Bay—a pocket into which emptied the Sacramento River and the San Joachin River. The San Joaquin River came in on the south. Anybody going to the southern gold mines would sail up the San Joachin to Stockton; but the Mary Ann was bound for the Sacramento and the northern mines; so she kept on, through Suisun Bay, past a town of one house, on the south side, and named (people said, laughing) the New-York-of-the-Pacific, for the mouth of the Sacramento.