Diaries and Journals of Overland Crossings of the Gold Rush Era

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August 15, 1922


I have been asked by my wife and daughter to write for their perusal something that might be called a portion of my biography, especially that connected with my early days in California. Many of the happenings jotted down here may need correcting as to date but otherwise are correct. I am now in my 87th year and aside from the little handicap of age can think as clearly as any time in my life, in some directions more clearly – especially in memory and on spiritual relations.

I was born in the town of Kingston, Plymouth, Massachusetts, October 12, 1835. My father was a direct descendant of Elder Brewster of the Mayflower Pilgrims. My mother was of Scotch descent, her immediate ancestors coming from Ohio to Massachusetts and marrying into the Sherman family, making my mother a second cousin to W.T. Sherman, the General of the Civil War. Her name was Sally Burgess, her mother’s name Sally Sherman before her marriage to Lancelot Burgess.

My youth was spent in the town of my birth and was the usual one for boys of that period. Our family was poor – that is the children were all trained to do their part in helping along the family expenses.

During my childhood days, say from my eighth to sixteenth birthday, the country was greatly excited over the slavery question; churches were divided; and families separated over the right or wrong of holding slaves. The larger part believed slavery wrong, but felt we had consented to its continuance when the nation and constitution were formed, and had no power to abolish it, unless the States where it existed so desired, but had the right to prevent its further extension. These were finally formed into a party called the “Republican Party” and continued to grow until final victory under Lincoln.

The Extreme or Garrison party said, “Slavery was a covenant of death and an agreement with Hell, and should be abolished regardless of the fact that at the formation of our government it was recognized and protected by law.” Many were the battles at the polls before the final Republican victory, and even that triumph brought on the Rebellion, which nearly caused the overthrow of our country. But as I now look back on those exciting days and see how many, who called themselves Christian men and women, who could not see the terrible wrong and so act as to retard its further spread.

About 1852, I attended a great celebration at Plymouth, in honor of the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620. It was the largest and most elaborate that had been held up to that time and many of the noted men of the nation were present. Among them being Charles Sumner, then just elected to the Senate; Edward Everett; Gove Clifford; John P. Hale of New Hampshire; Barnewell Reet; Mr. Aken of South Carolina; Henry Ward Beecher and many others. As the toasts were read by the Chairman, they were responded to as each name was called. “The Senate of the United States, the concentrated light of the Stars of the Union” was responded to by Mr. Sumner, who, after giving his views of what the Pilgrims brought here, closed as follows; ”Better be the despised Puritan a fugitive for freedom than the halting politician, forgetful of principle, with a Senate at his heels.” Edward Everett was called to respond to “The Manifest Destiny of the United States.” He pictured out country taking in all of the continent from Mexico to the Isthmus of Darien and to the North Pole. It was a very flowing and finished address. He was followed by John P. Hale in a very humorous and lively address, and in closing paid his respects to Everett as follows: “We thought we had in the Senate some whose powers of digestion were copious, but here we have the genius of the nation taking his stand at the center of magnetic attraction (Plymouth Rock), swallowing Chimbarazo for breakfast, the North Pole for dinner, and kissing sunset with an affectionate embrace.” Mr. Reet spoke kindly of the pilgrims but said their descendants must not depart from their love of law and must respect all compromises and guarantees of the constitution. Mr. Aken , after referring to the hardships of the Pilgrims and of their settlement here, and of the great men that had sprung from that little band, closed with this: “Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun, were the three greatest lights of American Democracy, and unless we as a nation imitate their example of patriotism, the Union will be dissolved.” H.W. Beecher responded to “A Church without a People; a State without a King.” He maintained that there was a difference between the Pilgrims that landed at Plymouth and the Puritians of Boston and Salem. While the former were fully imbued with progressive ideas of church and state, after living in Holland for eleven years, never having persecuted for opinion sake, never hanging a witch, but having entertained a Catholic Priest during Governor Bradford’s term of office, and having had for two years Roger William as a preacher, after the Union of the Colonies in 1680, the leaders were mostly of the Puritan school, but the community had imbibed the moral liberal view and very soon toleration and advanced thought gradually leavened the lump and as a result what we see today was in reality the last analysis of Pilgrim.

I think listening to the thoughts of the giant of that day impressed me more than all else as my views and political actions ever since. I could not but feel that slavery was wrong and should be opposed wherever it could be legally done and when Chas. Sumner made his great speech in Congress, announcing that while under the constitution we had no right to interfere in the original states, we had the right and duty to prevent its further extension, and quoted how that when the N.W. territory was organized (it at that time being all the territory claimed) slavery was prohibited in all of it. This was the real beginning of the Republican party, which finally wiped out that curse, through blood and tears, from the entire country.

I am getting a little ahead of my story and will go back to the days of 48,51, and 55. The California discovery of gold by Marshall at Coloma --- in 48 started a rush and excitement called the “California Gold Fever”, and thousands from all lands rushed to the new El Dorado. In 1851 my father decided to try his fortune and closed out his little farming business and started for the new land. In 1852 my oldest brother, James, who had just completed his trade of tinsmith caught the fever and joined our father in the mines. In the fall of 1852, I was left to care for our little farm of from eight to ten acres, and to assist my mother in caring for the family, which then consisted of my brother Riley, a younger brother, John, about five years of age, and two sisters, Sarah and Angeline. Sarah was then about thirteen years of age and Angeline about ten years old.

In 1853 I had thought much of going to California and talked it over with my cousin Julius and we decided if we could in any way raise the means we would also join the gold seekers. Up to this time I had not informed my mother and, as I expected strong opposition from her, I delayed it until I co8uld see a chance to make my way without drawing on our home finances. In the meantime Julius had talked it over with his father and he had reluctantly consented to his going, provided he could have the proper companion, and he, knowing our great friendship, decided if I would go he would consent to Julius going. Then came the earnest and most delicate part – to get my mother’s consent. So after arranging with Julius and his father that he would advance me one hundred and fifty dollars on my own note, unsecured, I took up the subject with mother, and after telling her my plan to sell the horse, cow, hay, lease the little farm, and put in a good supply of wood, she – to my surprise – consented, but I could see the tears beginning to flow. She said “Promise me one thing that you will urge your father to return just as soon as she can without great loss. It is hard for me to let you go, but I believe it will result in our all going out there, or all being united here again.” So we went to work in earnest, getting things arranged. I gave my personal note for the one hundred and Fifty dollars and we prepared to start on the early steamer from New York, the “Star of the West”, the historic ship which tried to relieve Fort Sumner at the beginning of the Civil War.

At this time I was seventeen years of age and my cousin was sixteen years old. We had prepared our water proof bags, in which we packed the little necessary articles of underclothes and a cake my mother had baked and sealed in a tin box for the absent ones in California.

I remember the morning I left I had to pass up a slight grade, where the road took a turn that obscured the view of my childhood home. So after kissing and saying the usual good byes, I started for the depot, where Julius and I had arranged to meet, and as I got the turn in the road, I turned to take a last look at the old home, and there on the front steps stood mother and sisters waving a last good-bye. I brushed aside a tear and braced myself for whatever the future should have in store. We reached New York the following morning, where we remained three days until the steamer was ready to sail, via Greytown.

The voyage down to Graytown was without incident, other than sea sickness, the sight of Eastern Cuba, and flying fish. At Greytown, we boarded small river boats for Castello Rapids, where we were delayed for a few hours, awaiting the arrival of the boat to cross Lake Nicaragua to Virgin Bay. We spent the time visiting the old castle, erected by the early Spanish settlers as a defense. We found the Rapids were artificially made to aid in its defense, and that the castle was held by a few half-naked Nicaragua soldiers, very untidy, and with old discarded flint-lock muskets, which did not impress us as a very formidable defense. Soon the whistle blew and all boarded the steamer “San Carlos”. We soon entered the lake and commenced to journey across the lake and arrived at Virgin Bay the next morning. We landed from surf boats, it being very rough. After landing, it was all bustle and hurry to get mules to ride the twelve miles that intervened between Virgin Bay and the Pacific or San Juan del Sur. The seven hundred passengers were strung out over the distance of twelve miles and did not all arrive at San Juan until the following day, where we found we must delay for two days, as our steamer “The Brother Johanthan” had not yet arrived. The steamer “Pacific” was substituted and it took that time to get in stores and prepare for the voyage. We passed two volcanoes which could be seen from the steamer’s deck as we crossed the lake. Just before we sailed, the “Johanthan” arrived loaded with returning miners. They informed us that the mines were practically worked out and advised us to return, as it was foolish to continue on, but I think few, if any, heeded the advice.

After getting under way, it was discovered that a greater part of the water was unfit for drinking purposes, and we were put on a limited amount . The Capitan announced she would put into the Port of Acapulco to replenish his supplies, which he did, but gave notice to any going ashore to return at once, upon the blowing of the steamer’s whistle, as he did not propose to delay any longer than to replenish his stores. We, that is Julius and myself, had seated ourselves by the railing, where we were watching the Mexican boys dive for pennies and small coins, and almost always they would come up with the coin after staying under water an incredible time. We were also interested in seeing the sailors hoist beef cattle on board by as rope attached back of their horns, and then through a pulley attached to the yard arm, as well as hoisting hogsheads of water the same way and drawing the rope through a block attached to the deck, where fifty to one hundred men would take hold of the rope and running back on the deck, the cattle or water would quickly rise and be stored where desired. We had talked the matter over and had decided we would not go ashore, but a sudden thought of the poor fare we had so far endured, led us to decide to go ashore and purchase some oranges and a little Mexican cakes to help out poor rations for the rest of the journey. So, going aft, we hired a boat and immediately pushed off from the stern and just at that instant they were hoisting a hogshead of water which caught under the hurricane deck. The mast and yards broke off at the cross-trees and the barrel crashing down, broke through the deck, where a moment before we were sitting, throwing some of the passengers into the bay, fatally injuring one, and wounding several. We were almost stunned at the suddenness, and we wondered what power prompted us to go ashore just at that moment, for we had up to that time no intention of doing so. There seems to be a power or force that determines sour actions and our fate. Some think it is a kind Providence that guides us. I cannot doubt but that it is He, who from the beginning to the end, directs our lives and our fate, and one whom we poor mortals can only wonder about and adore. After a short run to the shore, we made a few purchases of food and returned to the steamer and were soon on our way again, without top mast or yards, depending wholly on steam for our motor power. At that time, there was great rivalry between Nicaragua Route and the Pacific Mail Route, via Panama, and shortly after leaving Acapulco we sighted the Pacific Mail Steamer “John L. Stephens” and now came the race to see which would reach San Francisco first. I noticed the smoke stack of our ship was red hot, fully half its length, night after night, until we arrived at our destination. There was only a few hours difference in our arrival. It was a very exciting trip while it lasted. On the passage up, groups of passengers would gather and tell what they expected to do on arriving, and it seems queer to recall what crude ideas were entertained, until experience changed the point of view. I recollect one in particular, an Irishman, who told of a countryman of his, who had written to his home in New York that he was making eight dollars a day in the mines, and he said if he can earn eight dollars a day I can double it, as I could always do twice as much work in a day as he.

Another passenger thought that to get large lumps was easier than fine gold and should look for them instead of the finer sort. No doubt both discovered their theories were not sound in practice.

After looking over San Francisco from Broadway to Market Streets and the water front from Davis to Montgomery, we took passage in the steamer “Helan Henshly” for Stockton, which left Broadway wharf at 4 p.m. The streets of San Francisco at that time were in a most wretched condition. Davis Street then was wholly piled and the planks were full of holes and dangerous to travel upon. Montgomery Street was only partially paved and mud was everywhere. The side walks were made of loose planks, resting on old tobacco boxes, and anything that would serve to hold the planks above the mud. Our steamer reached Stockton the following morning and the crowd of stage runners was bedlam broken loose; “All aboard for Mariposa, Sonora, Angel’s Camp, San Andras, Mokolukne Hill”, was enough to scare the wits out of two green New England lads, but we finally, after much pulling and hauling, got our seats and baggage aboard the Sonora stage, and were off on the last lap of our journey to the land of gold. We were much interested in our ride across the plains, in the bands of coyotes and occasional gray wolf. Then we arrived at Knight’s Ferry at noon where we were permitted to take dinner, but had hardly gotten fairly started, when we head the command, “All Aboard”. But there was at the table, a man who knew all the tricks of travel, who said ”Boys keep your seats and finish your dinner; the stage dare not leave us”. So acting on his advice, we filled up and in due time boarded our stage and were off for Sonora, where we arrived after dark and took lodging for the night at the United States Hotel on Washington Street. The hotel was a very primitive affair. The beds or bunks were one above the other like bunks on emigrant ships. There were no sheets but rough gray blankets. The following morning we took our baggage on our backs for Shaw’s Flat, two miles distant, and by inquiry were directed to my father’s and brother’s cabin. It was a Sunday morning and being in ignorance of our coming they had not yet gotten up. So knocking at the door, I heard my father’s voice say “Whose there?” We answered, “We’re here from home”. You may be sure the cabin door soon swung open and the hearty welcome we received was indeed a joy to us.

And now began my life in California, which I shall try to relate, as my memory can recall it after sixty-nine years. It can readily be imagined that the change from a quiet New England town to a bustling mining camp was a transition that few boys of today can fully comprehend. Among the strange sights were miners camping in the open stem log cabins and in tents. Nearly all roofs were canvas. Cooking utensils were very limited, in many cases consisting of a fry pan and tin plate. Wash the face and hands in the fry pan, then fry the bacon in it, then make the coffee in it, and also bake the bread, was actually done in many cases.

After two or three days looking around and becoming acclimated, my Father said, “If you want to try your hand at mining, right here in front of our cabin is ground that will pay from two to four dollars a day.” So after fixing up a string of sluices, I worked for several days, making on an average about three dollars a day, which looked large to me, as youth of seventeen. The method of mining was according to location and richness of the ground. First, by rocker, a sort-of cradle, which was rocked with one hand, and water poured on with the other onto gravel, placed on a square box, say six inches deep. The water and agitation of the cradle caused the sand, small stones, and gold to pass through holes in the bottom and there remain until ready to be removed at the day’s close. The cradle was on rockers and one end was slightly elevated, so that all the light sand would flow off and only the heavier sand, pebbles, and gold remain for the miners to pan out and separate. Usually two or three worked together. One cradling of rocking; one digging and selecting the gravel to be washed; and the other carrying it in buckets from the pit where dug to the washers. When the mine was some distance from the water, more men to carry the gravel were used. Another method was the Long Tom. A long open box, say twelve to twenty inches wide, made flaring from two to two and one-half feet, turned up at the larger end. The larger end was covered with strong sheet iron, punctured with holes, the size of marbles or less. This was set so the flowing in at the upper end would flow down with considerable fall, so that sand and gravel thrown in could be washed down by the aid of a hoe or shovel, and pass on to the perforated iron, where a man with a hoe shoved it back and forth, until all the sand and gravel and gold passed through the holes. The larger stones were thrown out. When washed by a square pointed shovel, which could readily slip under them, the gravel and gold, after passing through the holes, dropped into the riffle box, set under the perforated iron, set on an angle that let all the lighter matter pass on. The heavier matter, with the gold, was retained until ready to clean up after the days work was done. If the company was a large one, the tom was lengthened, by adding sluices, which were boxes, made of boards, twelve feet long, with the bottom board two inches narrower at one end so they would fit one into the other, so men could be shoveling in as many did for a length of one hundred feet or more. Many claims were worked with sluice boxes alone; having what was called riffles across the boxes at different points. They were generally considered sufficient to catch all or nearly all the gold, the stones being forked out, the lighter gravel and sand passing out at the lower end called tailings, which when too badly accumulated at the lower end, were shoveled away so the water had a free run. The process here described was used universally in place of surface mining and in modified form in all mining.

In prospecting, one or more would pick out a likely looking place and dig down to bed rock and then with pick and pan wash out some of the gravel taken from different points. If one or two pieces or flakes of a colour could be discerned, it was thought to be good for three or four dollars a day to sluice. If pieces of flakes of several colours, or maybe a dozen or perhaps a Chisper, which might be one half an ounce or more, then we had struck it rich, and the claim might pay $10.00 of $15.00 per ay to a man, or it sometimes happened it would peter out, that is, a few feet from the find it would hardly pay a dollar a day.

Now at this time, the government had not interfered but let the miners make their own laws as to size of mines and all customs in holding them, and free access to wood for fuel and timber necessary to work the mines. These laws of the miners were held by the courts as the supreme law all through the mining region. The different sections were divided into districts, such as Sonora District, Columbia District, and so on throughout the different mining sections. When new discoveries were made, if not within any known district, a new district was formed. Many districts had the same sized claims, though some varied in size. Shaw’s Flat allowed one hundred feet square, requiring a stake at each corner with notice thereon, stating how many owners and their tames, and giving the work necessary to hold the claim. If they defaulted in working the mine, provided water could be had and they neglected to use it, then that claim was jumpable and anyone could work it and the former owners had no redress. In some districts fifty feed was allowed. At Chinese Camp it was required that a furrow should be run around your claim with a plow. After Julius and myself had accustomed ourselves to living like miners, we began to feel we should get into a claim, and then we could hope for big things. So we got together the little we had earned and Julius bought into a claim at Union Hill. I bought one not far from our cabin. We each paid one hundred and fifty dollars for our interests. The claims paid from four to six dollars a day. The water failed in June and they had to remain closed until the rains the following winter. We occupied our time in prospecting and visiting other mining districts. One trip we made was to the big trees of Calaveras, this was in 1854. We had heard of them but had never seen them, so Julius, Elisha Holbrock and myself started one bright morning in the fall. It was about thirty miles distant via Murphy’s Camp, and after a very strenuous day, we arrived at the grove about eight o’clock in the evening, very tired and dusty. The following morning we found ourselves so stiff and lame, we decided to remain over one day and rest. We spent the day looking over the grove and wondering and admiring the beauty of the grove.

Then the real big tree, the largest of the grove, had just been cut and lay prostrate. The stump, which was thirty tree feet in diameter, had been smoothed, and a dance had been held on it in which thirty couples took part. At that time only a log or shake cabin was able to accommodate all comers. We were the only guests at that time. It certainly opened our eyes to California’s wonders. Having heard of a wonderful cave about fifteen miles distant, which we found by detour of seven miles on our return trip, we decided to take that in. So the second morning, after being rested and somewhat limbered up, we started for what was then called “Cave City”. We found the Cave and its keeper who gave us a history of its discovery. It seems that a man was hunting a coyote which had invaded his premises, and at a point near the cave, suddenly disappeared. The man upon reaching the point of disappearance, found a small hold about one foot in diameter. Curiosity prompted him to drop a stone into this opening, and hearing it fall and its echo, prompted him to dig, and in a short time, he mad an opening into a larger room and from that to several others. From one room was suspended a beautiful basket of jewels formed by the dripping water’s action. About eight feet from the floor at a short distance out was the exact image of a goat’s head and horns, in another there were the most beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of alabaster and or rose colour. Some were very large and when struck gave forth beautiful musical sounds. In one other room was a meeting place of some secret order said to be a KnowNothing meeting place. This order at that time had just begun its propaganda and afterwards gained for itself a control of the state government for a short time. We each paid our guide fifty cents for his services and a couple of hours was spent in our investigation. We then moved on to Murphy’s Camp and remained over night. We reached home the next day. This was in 1854. In 1860 I was again to visit this section but on different business altogether which I will come to later on. A day to two after our return, a man riding a mule and swinging a bell to attract the miners, announced he had come to establish a lodge of the Sons of Temperance. He was a deputy of the Order and his name was David Deal. The order was started with my brother James as the First Worthy Patriarch. The lodge prospered and did much good. At one time the lodge owned a nice hall and was free from debt, and had several hundred members, but after several years the mines declined and members moved away. It finally died out in 1869. I think I held every office from outside Sentinel to Worthy Patriarch We had many pleasant evenings and many comic and funny experiences. I remember after business was competed, it was customary to discuss the good of the order and we had many fledgling orators, who would entertain us with more zeal than knowledge. We had one from Tennessee, named Colwell who was like the Irishman who never opened his mouth without putting his feet into it. He would assume as theatrical attitude and begin: “Brethren, when I look back on my future life”, or this: “We should all together become one spoke in the wheels of temperance.” One night we had a little Irishman, named Jimmy Burns, to initiate. As he was totally ignorant of the solemn ceremony, he made a great blunder, which nearly upset the evening’s proceedings. After he was seated, the Past Worthy Patriarch, whose duty was to give him a most solemn lecture, beginning, “Tell me, of my friend, who art thou? Is this earth they permanent abiding place?” was answered by Jimmy jumping up and saying, “Me name’s Jimmy Burns and me home’s Shaw’s Flat.” We had another peculiar member, but an able man, whose name was De Puy, an uncle of the great Chauncey De Puy. He would often address us and much of what he said was very good and worthy of much thought. I remember his quaint way of putting things. His family, consisting of addresses he would often refer to his wife and daughter as “the hen and pullet.” Looking at the Worthy Patriarch (my brother) he would say, “Hum, Jim, the pullet will soon be here. I vum, keep your eyes open.” He was in his youth rather dissipated and often told the following: “I had been out one night and imbibed more than I ought. I was drunk and needed water, but could not find my way to the faucet (blank space here) the devil’s blood and broth, but I remembered that Gemine, that’s my first wife’s name, and been churning that day as it occurred to me to get hold of that churn and drink butter milk. So after feeling around, I got hold of the churn and lifted it to my mouth, but the effort was too much for me and the butter milk deluged me outwardly, but not inwardly. Now, in this plight, Gemine called ‘Brevier, what have you done, and what will the; neighbors say?’. I vum, I determined from that day forward to leave the devil’s blood and broth alone and with God’s help, I have kept my word.” He was living several years after I left the mines and finally died at an advanced age. Many more funny things might be told but what I have written is enough to let you know our meetings were not wholly destitute of a little sunshine. We admitted women and as there were but few in the mines at that time, they attracted a large attendance.

From 1854 to 1860, there were many exciting scenes and a few I will relate. At the near close of 1854, my first year as a miner closed. I had been fairly successful and had repaid the $150.00, with interest, I had borrowed, and now owned my claim and felt I could now be classed as an old miner. My father had returned home in May. The only drawback was the shortage of water during the summer. Some went to the rivers and hired out for the dry months. In the summer of 1855 I worked for a few months at Red Mountain Bar on the Tuolumne for a man named “Jones”. We turned the river from its bed but we got but little gold, not near enough for expenses.

I will give a short account of our daily life and rations: We usually arose early. In summer we arose at five o’clock, in the winter at six o’clock and cooked breakfast, consisting of fried bacon, sometimes meat, coffee, bread and butter, or syrup. Occasionally we had mush and molasses. This was the usual meal; at times it was varied with a home made cake or pie or doughnuts. Sunday was wash day. We washed our woolen shirts and underclothes, hug them out, then usually read the Eastern papers or story books. Whenever there was a service in the little log church we would attend. My father while with us was always prompt and faithful in his religious life. While not demonstrative he could always be depended on to attend all religious gatherings, and after he left we continued to do so as long as we remained in the vicinity.

A white shirt in these days was the mark of a dandy or tenderfoot and was frowned upon by all self respecting miners. On Sundays we would usually fry one half a sugar barrel of doughnuts and our friends had a free run of them. Many of our callers would have passed us by, were it not for the call of the doughnut. In the evenings we played cards or checkers and told of our mine prospecting and of news from home. Our mail arrived every second week, and was usually from twenty eight to thirty days on the way. The Pony Express and Overland Stage gradually reduced the time until the Central Pacific Railroad was completed and regular seven day schedule was established.

During 1854, a new preacher appeared one Sunday. He made a very affecting address, describing a death bed scene of an upright man... At the close he said that ministers like other men had to eat and drink and should not have to ask for a collection. I took my hat and passed around the small audience of thirty or more. I set my hat on the side of the pulpit and awaited his dismissal of the worshipers, I then went up and counted the money sand handed and handed it to him. He looked at me and said in a low voice, “You better take a part of it”. I was surprised and replied the collection was for you. He left us and the next I heard of him he was seen at a gambling resort playing at a game called “Monte”. He afterwards committed an offense against the moral law and was chased by a sheriff and his posse out of the country. He was a black sheep and one that brought ridicule upon religion. But we had many devoted and sterling men who lived and worked by precept and example for peace on earth and good will towards men.

I think it was in May of 1854, that we had a fire which destroyed almost the entire town of Columbia, but times were god and it was at once rebuild largely of brick and was a flourishing town for many years, until the mining industry failed and it gradually declined. The year 1854 was about the zenith of prosperity for Tuolumne County and the years following were the greatest for crime. “The Lyon’s Murder of the Blakely’s brothers, The Killing of Bond by McCauley”, The Murder of the County Treasurer Heslep, The Lynching of one Smith at Columbia, The Hanging by Law of Six for crimes of, murder, lynching of three others”, all followed in rapid succession. You can be assured that those were exciting days. During 1855 the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco was formed and found great support among the miners and many were willing to go to their support, had meetings, and passed resolutions to that effect. At the time of the murder of Bond by Mc Cauley, my brother James was constable, having been elected by citizens favorable to law and order. When the notice of the killing reached him, he at once got busy and having gained information that McCauly was to meet a friend, who would furnish him with clothing and money by which he would try to escape, stationed himself at the appointed rendezvous and when McCauley appeared, covered him with his pistol and marched him to the Justice’s Office at Shaw’s Flat, where his preliminary examination was held.. While this was going on, a large crowd assembled with a view of lynching the prisoner. My brother, quick to discern the intention of the crowd, summoned a posse of ten or more to assist him and sent a message to the Sheriff at Sonora asking assistance, and addressing the crowd advised moderation and that they should allow the law to take its course ass the evidence was conclusive. The mob, however, was growing more noisy and exhibited a rope already prepared with the hangman’s noose and well soaped. In the meantime, the Judge had committed the prisoner to the County Jail to await the action of the grand jury. The constable then cleared the little court room and prepared to take the prisoner to jail. The crowd outside had now become fully excited and began pressing in the doors having got one of them partially opened. My brother with pistol in hand ordered the crowd to stand back or he would shoot. The crowd fell back slightly and the door closed. There was a scantling 3x4 lying on the floor which had been left by workmen, I took it up and with the assistance of others braced the doors in such fashion that the only way to get through the doors was to cut them down. Soon an ax was procured and began to cut. At this time the prisoner was shaking with fear and just as it seemed a forlorn hope the Sheriff arrived with a posse of thirty mounted men. The Sheriff entered the room, and the prisoner was delivered to him. He mounted him on a horse, surrounded by him with his men, and in an incredible short time was on his was to Sonora, under a fire of stones and some pistol shots, but no one was injured, and the excitement died down. After the usual delay, the murderer was tried, convicted, and hung. At the same time Lyons and his accomplice, Poor, were hung from the same scaffold. Lyons was a fine looking man, but ignorant. He said just before the drop, I was wronged by the Blakleys and under the same circumstances I would do the same thing again. Poor, his accomplice, said “Tis liquor that brought me here,” and he advised the young and old to shun it. McCauly was sullen, but said nothing. The Father of Bond, who was killed, was standing near me when the drop fell, and he remarked “Justice is done. I am satisfied.” The Sheriff at that time was James Stewart, a nephew of J.B. Steward of the Rebel Army. Many prominent men were at that intended lynching, either using their influence for or against it. Amongst those I now remember were a Mr. Street, who became famous as the builder of the Telegraph lines to Salt Lake, also Horace Davis, a large flour merchant for many years in San Francisco, and may others. All the details of other crimes are equally exciting, but I simply relate details of this one, as I was in a measure a part of it. There were during these years reports of large strikes in different parts, and a rush would be made, but soon subsided to wait another. The strike in Colwell Garden, before spoken of, had caused miners to believe that a river once flowed under the whole of Table Mountain, extending for fifteen to twenty miles through the country, and dozens of attempts to settle the mystery were made and companies formed to run tunnels under the mountain. I was interested in four tunnels, which never brought any return, but rather drained my pocked in assessment fees We abandoned them after from two to four years effort, poorer but no wiser for the experience. So year after year passed, with hope that we would strike it yet! Our winter surface mining always paid well, but the always present chance to do better caused me, as well as others, to try our luck, as we called it, to make our pile at once. There were many comic, as well as tragic scenes, I witnessed. There was a mining case on trial before Judge Wellington of Shaw’s Flat, and much interest was taken in it by the miners, as it concerned titles in Table Mountain. N.P. Barber was Counsel on one side, and a lawyer named Hunter on the other. Barber took out his pistol and laid it on the table near him, to have it handy in case of need. Hunter took out a Boye Knife and commenced to point out on a map the bounds of his client’s claim. Then the excitement began and waxed fast and furious. The Judge threw up his hand and shouted, “For God’s sake, gentlemen, don’t disgrace the Court, don’t disgrace the community, the Court stands adjourned,” and the lawyers left and the case was appealed. Afterwards lawyer Hunter shot a witness named Drake, who was the community judge at the McCauley trial. Drake lost an arm and in later years was Police Judge for a time in San Francisco.

During the years from 56 to 59, there were several robberies, and one near our cabin. It concerned a Mr. Collingswood, who bought gold, sending it to the mint, and making a percentage. The plans of the robbery in some way became divulged to the Sheriff, and he, with assistants, laid a plan to capture the robbers. However, the robbers suspected, after entering the house, that they had been betrayed and tried to retreat. The officer shot one dead. The other robber was wounded and got away, but later on was captured. For a week or more after that I slept in Dr. Sperry’s parlor, in the rear of his store, ass there had been a warning from the Sheriff’s office that an attempt would be made to rob the store, but nothing like a robbery occurred while I was there. One night a strange noise attracted my attention, and I sat up in bed, ready with my gun to defend the place the now supposed robber seemed to be working about or prying up the window. My nerves were getting tense and I was ready to fire as soon as the window was lifted, but just at this moment a rat, which had gnawed a hole through the ceiling, scampered across the floor, and the prying ceased, and my robber was gone. About this time a terrible accident happened at Table Mountain. The pressure of water had burst through the diversion wall, which separated the claim below, and drowned five men, one of them a Mr. Plummer, a former resident to Alameda County who ran a grocery store and was greatly respected. Old Captain Peck, his partner, was much affected at his death, and I remember what a sad countenance he wore when all hope of rescue was given up.

My brother and I had often talked of having our sister, Angeline, come out and keep house for us. In 67 a good chance for her to come with a family that was coming presented itself, and we sent the ;funds and she arrived while I was at work at the Stanislaus Tunnel, and my brother brought her down to see me there. I could hardly believe my eyes. Was this the little sister I had left some six or seven years before, about nine years of age, in short dress, now a well developed girl of sixteen in long skirts, well proportioned, and beautiful – but there was no denying her identity. We talked earnestly until time for them to leave.

From 57 to 59, I had mined with fair success, but had invested largely in Table Mountain Tunnel, which had brought no returns. I still had a very good surface claim, but no water to work it, other than water from mining holes, which could only be pumped by hand, and would hold out for two to three hours a day. At this time I formed the acquaintance of Mr. Edward Harlow of Plymouth, Massachusetts who had just arrived with his young bride from the East, and we became fast friends. I took him in as a partner. We discovered a gravel deposit on the claim, which kept us busy all that summer, and considering the limitation of water, and slow pumping, we made good wages all summer, while most of the miners were idle. But we planned for future greatness. Many evenings we spent discussing ways and means. We had heard of the great money making sheep business, and as a friend of my brother-in-law, Mr. Wheeler and wife who was intimately acquainted with a Mr. Eaken who was desirous of letting out a flock on shares, we investigated the matter. Through their influence, coupled with our own endeavors, we concluded a bargain, by which we were to take a flock of two thousand sheep, care for them, finding range, and shearing same, and we were to have one-half the increase and one-half the wool.

I shall dwell more fully one this, as my acquaintance sand friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Harlow continued from that time until their death. My son married their daughter Alice, the mother of Edward, my grandson. Before we finally closed the bargain for the sheep, we sought out what we thought would be an ideal place on the Bear Mountain, between Copperopolis and Reynolds Ferry on the Stanislaus. It consisted of a range of from four to five miles of hilly and rough ground, with occasional springs, and to all appearances was just what would be required. We entered 320 acres, near one of the springs, built a three room house, coral, and prepared to make this our permanent headquarters. We had the previous summer raised about 300 trees and expected to plant them out. We had moved on to the ground and were busy getting things sin order, expecting the sheep within a week or ten days, when to our surprise the following morning we were notified that the sheep were within a few miles and would arrive and be turned over to us during the day. Of course we were surprised, but there was no alternative but to let all our intended improvements remain unfinished sand devote our time to the sheep. We had no experience in the business but felt we could learn all that was necessary as we went on. In fact the year before I made a journey through the San Jose Valley to San Juan and had gathered considerable information, which we found useful. in aiding us to do the right thing. All went well for a week or two, but one morning after turning the sheep out we found four dead, evidently poisoned. We, of course, were surprised, thinking it might be some poisonous weed. We shut up a couple of the sheep and fed them on all the different we could find growing in the vicinity, but they thrived on what was fed them. Some suggested the sheep might have been poisoned by cattlemen, to whom sheep were obnoxious, as the sheep destroyed the range for cattle, but we could never prove it. We had the stomach analyzed by a professed chemist, who claimed he discovered arsenic. In spite of all we could do, after several months during which we lost about four hundred of our flock, we were compelled to abandon our ranch and remove our flock to the valley, sold the house to parties who moved the it to Copperopolis, where it was standing eighteen years afterward. When we found a change was inevitable, we held a council of war and it was decided that Mrs. Harlow should return to her friends in Massachusetts, as it was uncertain where we would finally settle and our roving camp life was hardly the thing for a young bride, unaccustomed to hardships. After moving the sheep about four miles, I was left in charge while Mr. Harlow journeyed to San Francisco, saw his wife aboard the steamer for New York, and returned.. We now commenced the final move to the valley, and right here let me pay my feeble tribute to Mrs. Harlow. She was unassuming, modest, never under the most exciting provocation excited, always friendly and kind to all, always ready to do up a sore finger, or kill a chicken for dinner. Mr. Harlow was a man more impulsive, but just. When greatly ruffled and rather demonstrative the worst Mrs. Harlow would say would be: “Now Edward, what’s the use?” I loved her as a sister. She seemed far superior to most women. I always addressed her as Mrs. Harlow. Mr. Harlow would say: “Why don’t you address my wife as Laura; why do you always say Mrs. Harlow?” And my answer was “Because I think she is entitled to a g greater respect than other women.” They were a true and noble couple and the world was made better by their life and example.

Now, I will relate my experience in my journey through San Jose Valley. In 59, I looked over the sheep business. I stayed for several days at the Antelope Hotel, corner of First and San Fernando Streets, kept at that time by a young man named Wilcox. Twenty years afterwards, on visiting San Jose, I met the same Mr. Wilcox, who had build a fine block on the site of the old hotel, having a large shoe store, and renting out the balance. After a few days in San Jose, I started on foot for Gilroy and San Juan. About six miles out I was overtaken by an elderly man, in a rather dilapidated rig, with curls down his back, who asked me to get in, to which invitation I accepted. He at once asked my business and where I came from, and whether going. Having answered his varied questions, I began to question him. He informed me his name was Burnett, that his brother was the first Governor of California, that he was a circuit rider at the Methodist South, that he was then going to fill an appointment at the New Almaden Mine. After giving me all the information he could, we reached a point where his road turned from my course, and I thanked him for his information and the ride. “O”, says he, “it’s alright, pass it on – pass it on.” Now comes the sequel. Forty years afterward, I assisted a women with a heavy satchel from Glen Ridge to the station in Los Gatos, for which she seemed grateful She said to whom do I owe thanks for this kindness. I gave her my name and asked for her name. She replied my name is Burnett. I replied forty years ago a man named Burnett gave me a ride near San Jose. He said he was a preacher of the Methodist South but probably he was no relative of yours. She answered, “Why, how strange, that was my father’s uncle.” “Well”, I said, “he told me when I thanked him to ‘pass it on’, and so at this late day I am passing it on to one of his relatives.” She said, “How strange, I shall relate this to my father when I reach the city.”

After parting from the Reverend Burnett, I journed on, examining different flocks, and learning all I could about their management. Arriving at Gilroy, I remained until the stage arrived and took passage for San Juan. Gilroy at that time consisted of a hotel, blacksmith shop, and I think a saloon. I recollect I thought the country was beautiful and no doubt would be a center of trade later on. At the old mission town, San Juan Baptista, I stopped at the Plaza Hotel, kept at that time by a man whose excellent table had quite a reputation. The old church buildings were at that early day sadly neglected, though worship in them continued. I remember how the frequent ringing of the bells awoke me at early morning. I was acquainted with one or two persons who owned ranches near by and at this time great excitement existed for fear the Black Republicans would win the next election. The Fire Eaters, as the Secessionalists were called, were determined to destroy the Union if possible, under the belief that their rights were in danger. My acquaintances were mostly southern men, who strongly favored the southern cause, but were bitter in their denunciation of the Republican Party. The following year, when Lincoln was elected, many of them were ready to join the southern cause. The heated talks at this time were forerunners of the more heated a year or more later. In ’61 the town and the night I stayed there excitement, almost equivalent to Civil War, existed. I recollect the proprietor recommend that we keep our rooms after dark, as it was feared a stray bullet might strike some of us. The French cook at this second visit had a little son about six years of age. On a third visit in 1922, this little boy who was now a man over 65 years of age, related to me some of the exciting scenes of the early days. At San Juan, I visited Flint & Bixby’s Sheep Ranch. On my second visit, I purchased twenty bucks and drove them alone and unaided across Pechaco Pass to the Merced River, across to the Tuolumne, across again to the Stanislaus, and to our ranch, and on again to our flock thirty miles above the Calaveras Grove of big trees. This I think was the most severe test of endurance that I had during my sheep herding days. I scarcely got more than an hour or two sleep a day during the drive which took about seven days.

And so the days rolled along, and now we had passed the second lambing season; the flock now numbered near five thousand, but the season was a dry one and feed was short, and many were closing out at greatly reduced prices. Good breeding sheep could be bought as low as one dollar per head, and some flocks were offered at seventy-five cents per head. By great care and good fortune we were able to sell out mutton sheep for two dollars per head, but the price of wool dropped from eighteen to eleven cents, and it took all our wool and all our male increases to meet our expenses, but our entire female increase now numbered about five hundred head. The outlook was ad enough and I felt it would be better for all concerned if I could sell my interest and then Mr. Harlow might get out of it a little better. I finally sold my interest to Mr. Eaken for four hundred dollars; three hundred down and one hundred on his note. The note was paid, with interest, a year or more afterward. After selling our, I started for San Francisco, where my brother, James, had located. At that time, in 1881 my brother was on Commercial Street, later moving to Clay Street, and still later to Front Street. Still later on, he united with Holbrook, Merrill & Stetson on California Street, afterward on Market Street where he held his interest until his death in 1908. My brother-in-law, Mr. Wheeler, had started a little express business from Fruitvale to San Francisco. With the assistance of my brother, we proposed to enlarge the express business by taking in San Leandro and San Lorenzo, so I looked p the business and made arrangements with the proprietor of the Estudillo House (Mr. Stokes, an Armenian) to board. They gave me their business, paying the difference in cash, keeping my horses at the livery stable. So in the morning at five o’clock sunrise, I would drive to San Lorenzo, take any orders for merchandise, or take chickens, butter, or eggs to the city for sale, bringing back any kind of merchandise that might be required, getting back to San Leandro at 7 o’clock, then take my breakfast, and at 7:30 drive to Alameda, take the mail, drive to East Oakland, then called San Antonia, board, with my team, the ferry boast at 9:30, arriving usually in the city at eleven o’clock. Here, I delivered the mail, sold or delivered my load; then filled my orders, taking on the mail, and returning at 3:30, usually arriving at San Antonia at 5:P.M., via Alameda delivery, the mail usually reaching San Leandro about 7:30 to 8 o’clock. Our business prospered. I had by this time formed the acquaintance of my future wife, who has now been my most devoted and loving wife for more than 59 years, and to her loving care and devotion, and her never failing labor for all that seemed best in our domestic life – none can surpass and very few equal her. In sickness, her consoling words never failed us. When cast down by the loss of means, and also when the hand of death has taken three of our dear ones, still with unfaltering faith she bravely bears it, and encourages us with the hope of meeting bye and bye. May God bless her, as she has always done, and when the final record is made up, may her eternal inheritance be made sure.

I think I have written sufficient, so you can form a very general idea of my California career, up to my marriage. From that time, until the present, you can in your own career and from mother complete the record. There are many little incidents during my mining days I have omitted, thinking them so trivial they might not interest. One I will relate that at the time caused quite a little fun among the legal community. I had an Irishman as a partner, at one time named Andy Mc Gee. He was full of fun and could put on a very serious face when playing a joke. A neighbor of his named Gershom from New York had been trying to solve spiritualism, and he had seen great wonders, which he would relate to Andy. Andy would listen in all seriousness, but in reality did not credit his tales. So one dark night, he procured as black cat and going to Gershom’s cabin dropped it down the chimney, and fled back to his own cabin, got into hiss bun, and awaited results. The cat dropping into the hot ashes of the fireplace was wild with fear, and dashed around Gershom’s head, made a bound through the canvas roof, which being old gave away, and bounded away in the darkness. Poor Gershom, nearly frantic with fear, rushed out and ran to Andy’s cabin, demanding admission. Andy got up and let him in. Gershom had not stopped to dress. He related what a wonderful experience he had with the spirits, how they had raced over his bed, throwing things about, and at last vanishing through the roof. Andy told him it might have been something else, but Gershom insisted that it was real spiritual phenomena, and said “There are things in Heaven and Earth not dreamed of in your philosophy-Horatio.” Andy related to me all the circumstances and how seriously Gershom took it and said, “Man, I thought I ought to tell him of the joke I had played, and I did, but he would not be undeceived.” Gershom said to Andy, “Nobody can convince me against the evidence of my own eyes.” I doubt whether he ever got over his delusion.

Now having brought this story down to the days of my final departure from the mines and of my severed relations with the sheep business, and the beginning of my life in the region of San Francisco, I will close and at some future time, if permitted by a kind Providence, fill out this imperfect narrative by adding the last and best, though the saddest days of my life, but as you are familiar with the larger part I will bring this to a close. Life, after all, seems a mystery. Could we know the future it would have no charms, but as it unfolds we are able to bear it, with a hope and faith that a little further, all mystery will clear away, and our longing hope for the glorious outcome shall be gratified.

With love for you both, as ever yours,


Charles R. Stetson

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