The California Gold Rush
In Their Own Words and Images
 
Excerpt from “Roughing It and the Innocents at home”
by Mark Twain. First published 1872
During his sojourn in the west Twain visited the Angel’s Camp area of the Mother Lode in the winter of 1864 - 1865. While staying in the area he heard a story that became the basis for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The publication of that story by an east coast magazine in 1865 (then titled “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”) made him famous and was the start of his very successful career. In our Gallery is an image of the ruins of Swerer’s Store in Tuttletown which Twain visited several times during his stay in the area.

   It was in this Sacramento Valley, just referred to, that a deal of the most lucrative of the early gold mining was done, and you may still see, in places, its grassy slopes and levels torn and guttered and disfigured by the avaricious spoilers of fifteen and twenty years ago. You may see such disfigurements far and wide over California — and in some such places, where only meadows and forests are visible — not a living creature, not a house, no stick or stone or remnant of a ruin, and not a sound, not even a whisper to disturb the Sabbath stillness — you will find it hard to believe that there stood at one time a fiercely-flourishing little city, of two thousand or three thousand souls, with its newspaper, fire company, brass band, volunteer militia, bank, hotels, noisy Fourth of July processions and speeches, gambling hells crammed with tobacco smoke, profanity, and rough-bearded men of all nations and colors, with tables heaped with god dust sufficient for the revenues of a German principality — streets crowded and rife with business — town lots worth four hundred dollars a front foot — labor, laughter, music, dancing, swearing, fighting, shooting, stabbing — a bloody inquest and a man for breakfast every morning — everything that delights and adorns existence — all the appointments and appurtenances of a thriving and prosperous and promising young city, — and now nothing is left of it all but a lifeless, homeless solitude. The men are gone, the houses have vanished, even the name of the place is forgotten. In no other land, in modern times, have towns so absolutely died and disappeared, as in the old mining regions of California.

   It was a driving, vigorous, restless population in those days. It was a curious population. It was the only population of the kind that the world has ever seen gathered together, and it is not likely that the world will ever see its like again. For, observe, it was an assemblage of two hundred thousand young men — not simpering, dainty, kid-gloved weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young braves, brimful of push and energy, and royally endowed with every attribute that goes to make up a peerless and magnificent manhood — the very pick and choice of the world's glorious ones. No women, no children, no gray and stooping veterans, — none but erect, bright-eyed, quick-moving, strong-handed young giants — the strangest population, the finest population, the most gallant host that ever trooped down the startled solitudes of an unpeopled land. And where are they now? Scattered to the ends of the earth — or prematurely aged and decrepit — or shot or stabbed in street affrays — or dead of disappointed hopes and broken hearts — all gone, or nearly all — victims devoted upon the altar of the golden calf — the noblest holocaust that ever wafted its sacrificial incense heavenward. It is pitiful to think upon.

   It was a splendid population — for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths staid at home — you never find that sort of people among pioneers — you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day — and when she projects a new surprise, the grave world smiles as usual, and says "Well, that is California all over."

   But they were rough in those times! They fairly reveled in gold, whiskey, fights and fandangoes, and were unspeakably happy. The honest miner raked from a hundred to a thousand dollars out of his claim a day, and what with the gambling dens and other entertainments, he hadn't a cent the next morning, if he had any sort of luck. They cooked their own bacon and beans, sewed on their own buttons, washed their own shirts — blue woolen ones; and if a man wanted a fight on his hands without any annoying delay, all he had to do was to appear in public in a white shirt or a stove-pipe hat, and he would be accommodated. For those people hated aristocrats. They had a particular and malignant animosity toward what they called a “biled shirt.”

   It was a wild, free, disorderly, grotesque society! Men — only swarming hosts of stalwart men — nothing juvenile, nothing feminine, visible anywhere!

   In those days miners would flock in crowds to catch a glimpse of that rare and blessed spectacle, a woman! Old inhabitants tell how, in a certain camp, the news went abroad early in the morning that a woman was come! They had seen a calico dress hanging out of a wagon down at the camping-ground — sign of emigrants from over the great plains. Everybody went down there, and a shout went up when an actual, bona fide dress was discovered fluttering in the wind! The male emigrant was visible. The miners said: “Fetch her out!”
   He said: “It is my wife, gentlemen — she is sick — we have been robbed of money,
   provisions, everything, by the Indians — we want to rest.”
  “Fetch her out! We’ve got to see her!”
  “But, gentlemen, the poor thing, she —”
  “FETCH HER OUT”
   He “fetched her out,” and they swung their hats and sent up three rousing cheers and a tiger; and they crowded around and gazed at her, and touched her dress, and listened to her voice with the look of men who listened to a memory rather than a present realty — and they collected twenty-five hundred dollars in gold and gave it to the man, and swung their hats again and gave three more cheers, and went home satisfied.

Excerpt from Roughing It and the Innocents at home
Mark Twain


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