The California Gold Rush
In Their Own Words and Images
Letter from George H. Goddard to Augustus Goddard
dated April, 1851
page 2 of 4
   Well, there was nothing for me to do and so the agent said I would better go to the boarding house and remain until Colonel Fremont arrived who was then expected and in the meantime make some views of the country as the Colonel had once wanted some. So accordingly I employed myself in this manner for nearly six weeks, indeed until a week after Christmas, always waiting the arrival of the Colonel. Finding then that he did not come I set to work digging for a week and got about two dollars of gold in that time altho my expenses were $14 per week. I then got an order for a colored drawing of the Ava Maria Valley, the next one to Mariposa, with the quartz works of Stockton Aspinwall and Co., which brought me in $80 but still being in arrears with my board I had to set to work digging again, and as one can't manage alone, I got a partner and we started to Coloraos' digging about five miles from Mariposa where I borrowed an old tent and we set to work in regular miners style of which I will try to give you some description. We got to Colorao in the evening of 7th January and slept in the log cabin of Vincent Haller who was in that expedition of Colonel Fremont's across the Paso del Norte when half the party perished in the snow. He related me all the particulars of that terrible scene; the little cabin, about eight feet square with four of us in it, sitting on trunks and stools 'round a fire in one corner, with all the dirt and mess and discomfort of Californian pigging, for it is no better, made a scene not easily forgotten. Well, after a night's rest we were up by daylight when I and my partner set to and put up our own tent making up places to sleep on just off the ground as it was still wet, snow being on the ground in many places. It took all that day to get things a little to rights. I had with me a six pound pot of preserved beef and so we roasted some coffee and ground it and made some bread from the flour we brought up and this made a meal. There was not fresh meat to be procured as this place was quite in the mountains with only a few tents and cabins about. In the morning we would get up by daylight and boil water after having made a wood fire on the ground outside the tent. Then we made coffee and ate breakfast and went off to work. At noon we returned and took a little bread and preserved meat and then to work again and about five we returned for the day, made supper and, after resting a bit, making bread, grinding coffee, washing plates, and cups and so forth and getting our eyes well smoked over the wood fire, we got to bed before eight. The nights were very cold although the days were generally warm and pleasant. The country at Colorao was much higher in the mountains than Mariposa the latter being in a deep valley.

   The scenery there is very pretty as you will say when you see the views I have made. There are magnificent old oaks about and plenty of pines, but at Colorao the oaks are fewer and the pines more plentiful. The rock of the country was all about the same, a talcose slate, with all the allied rocks of that formation, thickly interspersed with quartz veins, some of which had gold in visible specks in the quartz, though generally, there was not any to be seen, though after grinding a little came out, but not in paying quantities. The gold in the ravine and over the surface in many parts, came, there is no question, from these quartz veins, the whole soil of the country is the debris of these rocks and the talc slate and of course where the quartz, sand and gravel have gone the gold has followed, tho' being of greater specific gravity, it is lower down and often in the holes and crevices of the bed rock itself - but I cannot now enter into any geological description. I will tell you a little about the digging which I dare say you will be interested in.

   In the first place I said the rock of the country is generally talc slate or of that character. On the side of the mountains there is not perhaps about a foot of soil on the rock, but in the valleys, of course, in some places the soil has accumulated to a greater depth, according to the steepness of the hills this varies in different diggings. At Mariposa the depth to the bed rock is on an average four to six feet through of course there are irregularities, holes and crevices that considerably alter this, and then again sometimes the rock stands right out of the ground. At Colorao the rock is generally not above two to three feet from the surface; the gold is generally found on the surface of the bed rock or in the clay and gravel immediately on the rock. If the diggings are three feet deep, one would wash one foot of the soil on the rock; if the diggins are six feet deep, perhaps two feet or even three feet might pay to wash. If the rock lies high in reference to the water level of the adjoining stream, the diggins are usually very poor; the best depth for working is when the bed rock shows at about two feet below the water level, for when much deeper it becomes such heavy work to keep out the water as it filters through the gravel and layers of sand and requires being baled out all the while one is working. Having marked off thirty feet of ground that one fancies may pay, one proceeds to dig up the top soil and stones for about six feet long, 24 ft. wide. After having gotten the hole 2 or 3 feet deep, in all probability one is at the water level of the stream when one digs one end always lower so as to let the water drain to one side and one digger sets at the baling; if the rock is then about a foot or two still deeper one generally takes a pan full of the soil and carefully washes it and if one gets enough gold from that, say from 2 to 5 cents, one throws it all up to wash, but if there is less than 2 cents one digs on and throws it away as it does not pay to wash. At last when one gets to the rock one has to scrape it with a knife, all the little holes and crevices one cleans out, and if the rock is slate one breaks it up about a foot deep so as to get the gold that has lodged between the slates. Very often the water comes in so fast that one cannot keep it under and then of course the gold is lost as it sinks always to the lowest bottom so as the work goes on the gold is always remaining behind. Most of the richest holes in the country are in this position. It would require heavy pumping engines to keep out the water and then of course the water could be gotten out but in all probability there would not be sufficient to pay, for a hole as you may suppose is very soon worked out.

   If one end of the hole has appeared richer than the other, one continues on the hole in that direction and endeavors to keep on the rich lead, but this is very difficult now to do, as there are such an infirmity of holes sunk in all directions which, of course, are all full of water that they form wells which flood you if you get near them and require extensive draining to be able to do any good with and then at last so much having to be dug over, that has already been washed, to get at the fresh ground, the amount of work exceeds the profit. In sinking these holes in the old beds of the stream one has plenty of difficulties to encounter besides the water. Sometimes large trees have to be cut down and immense roots dug up, with large boulder rocks which have been washed down by former torrents, but oftener the ground is covered with willows like the banks of the stream at Arlvey, only that being a torrent stream, there is little or no alluvial soil it is principally gravel and stones and clay. These willows are very difficult to dig up and occupy of course a long time, and often, after all it is labor in vain.


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