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By Stephen Magagnini Bee Staff Writer Published Jan. 18, 1998 When news of the Gold Rush reached Canton in 1848, thousands of young Chinese mortgaged their futures and boarded boats to "Gum Shan," or "Gold Mountain," as California was known. It was a dangerous gamble, but they had little to lose: Canton (Kwangtung) province was torn by civil war, floods, droughts, typhoons and other disasters. By 1852, 25,000 Chinese had reached Gold Mountain. The 1852 census showed 804 Chinese males and 10 females in Sacramento. Most had to work off the cost of their passage (between $30 and $125), and few struck it rich in the gold fields. But they would transform Gold Mountain, and America. From the time they landed, they patiently worked long hours for low pay, quickly earning the resentment of their white competitors. In 1849, white miners drove off a team of 60 Chinese miners working for a British company at Chinese Camp in Tuolumne County. By 1852, white miners had driven hundreds of Chinese from Columbia, Yuba City, Horseshoe Bar, Mormon Bar and other diggings. In 1856, Chinese at Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County paid $70,000 for mining rights and "protection." In 1862, an "anti-coolie" club formed in San Francisco. According to Hutching's Illustrated California magazine, "With the exception of leading Chinese merchants we have had the opportunity to observe only the most unfavorable specimens of this race ... throngs of coolies and degraded women." Some Chinese women became prostitutes to work off their passage. The first was Madame Ah Toy, who landed in San Francisco in 1850 and quickly became famous. She bought her freedom, opened dives in San Francisco and Sacramento and returned to China a wealthy woman. In Fiddletown, Amador County, the 1860 census showed 2,000 Chinese men and six "women of pleasure," according to Dr. Herbert Yee, a prominent dentist, philanthropist and historian whose great-grandfather, Yee Fung Cheung arrived here in 1850 and soon made his way to Fiddletown. When gold mining didn't pan out, Yee, 25, unpacked his herbal medicines and began treating his countrymen, and, gradually, other nationalities. So genial was Yee, it was said, "it was only a dose of his smile they needed." Yee prospered, opening a second store in Virginia City to capitalize on the 1859 Comstock Lode silver strike in Nevada. Yee's "Chew Kee Store" in Fiddletown -- the only Gold Rush-era emporium still intact -- has been preserved as a historic site. Yee's most famous patient was the wife of Gov. Leland Stanford, who called Chinese immigrants the "dregs of Asia" in his 1862 inaugural address and urged their expulsion. But when Jane Stanford contracted a seemingly incurable pulmonary disease, the governor's minions tracked Yee down in a gambling hall in Sacramento's Chinatown on I Street between Front and Sixth streets. Yee stopped playing mah-jongg and cured Jane Stanford with majaung, a natural source of ephedrine. One of Yee's great-great-grandsons, Dr. Allen Yee, is now a pulmonary specialist in Sacramento, one of a long line of Yee healers.
Stanford never got Yee's name right, calling him "T. Wah Hing," the name of the men's club Yee frequented. Yee's son Yee Lock Sam adopted the name, listing himself in a 1901 Sacramento Bee ad as "Dr. T. Wah Hing, Physician and Surgeon. Eye, ear, nose and throat." Yee returned to China in 1904 a rich man. His legacy includes the 3,000-member Yee Family Association of Sacramento. Like other non-whites, Chinese could not testify against whites in court, and many were the victims of racist savagery. In Nevada City, a Chinese miner was hanged for stealing a mule -only to have the mule's supposed owner show up and say his mule was a "jack," not the "jenny" owned by the Chinese miner. Some Chinese, infected with gold fever, "chased gold all the way to Vancouver, Idaho and Alaska," said historian Sylvia Sun Minnick. Despite the virulent racism they faced, many Chinese stuck it out as cooks, cigar makers, restaurateurs, vegetable farmers and merchants. The first Chinese laundry opened in San Francisco, or "Dai Fow" (Big City) in 1851; a thousand more followed. Hundreds of Chinese lived in wood and canvas buildings in Sacramento or "Yee Fow" (second city). In 1854, the First Chinese Baptist Church and the Chinese Benevolent Association opened here, and they operate to this day. In 1856, the first Chinese-language daily in America, the Chinese News, rolled off the presses. The Canton Chinese Theater featured puppet shows and roving minstrels and in 1855 presented Chinese operas for an all-white audience. Gambling halls, temples, fortune tellers and laundries also abounded in Sacramento's "Chinadom." Though frequently crippled by floods or fire, it was quickly rebuilt. Minnick said, "The resilient nature of Chinese businessmen... (is) best tested after natural disasters." Four months after the July 1854 fire, five markets, one general store, a bar, a boardinghouse and three gambling houses received new business licenses. In 1863, California's 25,000 Chinese miners enjoyed their best year, pulling gold out El Dorado, Placer, Amador, Calaveras, Butte and Trinity counties. But by 1868, nearly all had left the mines. Some joined the new wave of Chinese immigrants who came to build the western leg of the transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869. They were hired by Charles Crocker, who figured if their ancestors could build the Great Wall over mountains and tundra, they could lay track over the Sierra Nevada. Chinese later played a huge role in California's agricultural development, building Delta levees based on the Pearl River Delta in Kwangtung province, planting orchards and raising potatoes, onions and asparagus. A smattering of East Indians, Malays and South Sea Islanders also made it to the Gold Rush. Chief among those were the "Kanakas" (native Hawaiians), great sailors who worked on many of the schooners that came to California. John Sutter, who sailed to Sacramento from Honolulu with a crew of 10 Hawaiians, said "I could not have settled this country without the aid of the Kanakas." Sutter's many wives included Manaiki, a gift from the Hawaiian king. Many Hawaiians, including members of Sutter's crew, married Maidu and other Indian women, and some were marched at gunpoint to Round Valley Reservation on California's Trail of Tears in 1863.
Kanaka colonies sprang up throughout the gold country, and California first "Good Humor" man, Charlie O'Kaaina, supposedly sold ice cream from his ice wagon in the Sierra foothills.
Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
In the rough and tumble justice of the mining camps, unpopular minorities invariably suffered under the violent and well-armed majority. Most mining camps sought to forbid certain minorities from competing for claims, in particular Chinese and Mexican miners were chased off claims and driven from mining camps. In 1849, a group of miners calling themselves the "hounds" rampaged through "little Chile," a tent city of Chilean miners outside of San Francisco, killing a woman and beating several men. A group of San Francisco businessmen, uncomfortable with the thought of independent gangs roving the countryside, sought to bring the Hounds to justice, and provided some assistance to the victims. Chinese were especially despised, embodying to the nativist American the ultimate foreigner. Almost 700 Chinese miners had responded to the earliest rumors of gold in ’48, accounting for roughly a seventh of the 48ers. By 1852, there were 25,000 Chinese in California, making them the largest ethnic minority. They were banned from the most current diggings. Many set about working claims that had been abandoned as unprofitable by white miners, patiently sifting out what gold remained. Others opened restaurants, laundries, and dry good stores, sometimes making more money performing services for miners than the average miner could hope to make in the diggings. Mexicans, many from the Mexican state of Sonora, formed another major minority groups. They too were banned from many diggings, or were relegated like the Chinese to exhausted diggings. Some worked as day laborers, willing to work for lower wages than white miners did. Yet in some areas, particularly in the Southern Diggings, Mexicans formed a majority. The mining camp of Sonora, for example, was named after the home state of its Mexican inhabitants. In 1850, the Legislature passed the first law taxing foreign miners, who were required to pay $20 dollars a month for a license to work the gold fields, obstinately to reimburse the state the costs of protecting them and keeping order. While a miner on a prosperous claim (a good claim returned about $16 dollars a day) could easily afford such a tax, foreign miners were already relegated to less prosperous claims, and could ill afford to pay. Some 10,000 Mexicans left the state in disgust. The Legislature repealed the onerous $20 tax in 1851, but instituted a $3 dollar a month foreign miners tax in 1852. The anti-foreigner sentiment of the state led to the dramatic success of the American or "Know Nothing" Party in the state election of 1855, where Know Nothing candidate James Neely Johnson, only 26 years old, was elected governor, and the Know Nothings gained impressive majorities in both houses of the legislature. The American Party, which enjoyed short-lived success nationwide in the 1850s, was in most parts of the country a response to the influx of Catholic immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s. Most Know Nothings emphasized the need to protect the jobs and votes of native born protestant Americans. In California, however, nativity and religions were secondary concerns of the American Party, which focused its tract against racial minorities. However, once elected, the Know Nothings carried out no comprehensive program. Johnson proved unable to deal with the real problems
California faced, floundering before the Vigilance Committees. The Know Nothing Party eventually died out in California, with most of its members absorbed into the freshly formed Republican Party. The anti-Oriental sentiment of the Know Nothings remained a constant in California politics for another century. Ironically, racial tensions played a major role in ensuring that California would join the Union as a free state. Such status was never guaranteed, and in 1849 many Southerners wished that the southern portion of the future state might by portioned off so that slavery might extend all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Few of the miners who came to California were abolitionists. However, they feared competition, and worried that slave-owning miners might use their slaves to work multiple claims, edging out free miners. When the Texan Col. Thomas Jefferson Green attempted to work his claim with slaves, the miners of the camp quickly gathered in a town meeting, resolving that no black, free or slave, could engage in mining. Similar codes were promulgated across California. There were few free blacks in Gold Rush California, for they were decidedly unwelcome, to the point that in 1858 the legislature attempted to pass a law banning the immigration of free blacks to the state. For the Indians of interior California, whose lives remained relatively untouched by the missions, the Gold Rush was a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. The miners brought a fresh wave of diseases that decimated their number, while miners overran their territories. Some Indians attempted to fight back; others attempted to make the most of the situation by stealing what they could from the miner’s. Numerous small but violent clashes ensued, in which the heavily armed miners, who were warned by their charlatan guidebooks to purchase rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and bowie knifes for defense against Indians, almost invariably were victorious. Miners organized themselves into gangs to drive natives from the diggings, while volunteer infantry companies sprang up to engaged in a series of Indian Wars, which sometimes ended in the massacre of a village by the poorly trained and ineptly led militia. It is estimated that some 4500 Indians suffered violent deaths between 1849 and 1870, while countless others perished due to disease. Victims of the gold fever, the Indians wandered the land that had once been theirs, homeless, despised, and miserable. The environment of the Gold Rush made mistreatment of minorities the norm. Part of it can be explained by the sudden influx thousands of whites uprooted from provincial communities, and exposed to the ethnic brew of California. Suddenly confronted by peoples with foreign languages, customs and religions, they naturally recoiled from the alien. Yet the Gold Rush was carried out in an atmosphere of panic conducive to violence. The hardships of the trail must have convinced even the most naïve of the life or death seriousness of their endeavor. Many Argonauts expressed a near paranoia that the gold would dry up before they had a chance to prospect. Thus foreigners represented intolerable competition in the scramble for limited resources and opportunities. Racism thus proved an instrument of economic allocation—ensuring that claims went to the numerically superior and politically enfranchised whites. The racial violence of the Gold Rush only emphasized the seriousness with which whites defended their privileges and purged the competition that minorities represented. ---------------------------------------------------------
Most of the gold extracted from California has since been returned to the earth, sealed in the well-guarded vaults at Fort Knox. At the time, the discovery of Gold in California, coupled with gold finds in Australia, significantly increased levels of circulating specie worldwide. But gold in 1849 was winding down a 5000 year long career as a medium of economic exchange. In 1862, the U.S. government issued its first unbacked currency —"greenbacks." The gold-standard ruled supreme briefly in the 19th century, protecting US currency against inflation, much to the chagrin of agrarian activists who clamored for free
silver. Yet the 20th century dealt gold heady blows, with Franklin Roosevelt taking the U.S. briefly off the gold standard, and banning domestic transactions with gold. In 1971, President Richard Nixon took the U.S. permanently off the gold standard, allowing the dollar to float unbacked on international currency markets. The worth of all the gold mined from California between 1849 and 1862, about $10 billion in 2002 dollars, pales in comparison to the current worth of California's annual agricultural output, in 1992 a heady 19.2 billion dollars. For the nation, the Gold Rush was merely an interesting news story, a pleasant diversion from the escalating sectional tensions that were tearing the nation apart. It may in the end have only exacerbated those tensions, as California's sudden demand for statehood as a free state in 1850 caught Congress illprepared to deal with the troubling problem of slavery in the territories wrought from Mexico. In 1849, many miners claimed that they had "gone to see the elephant," in the distant gold fields, an expression conjuring the awe and fear of seeing the massive circus beast. A dozen years later, a new batch of men wrote that they "had seen the elephant," this time on the battlegrounds of the Civil War. The impact of the Gold Rush on California was dramatic. Undoubtedly, California, so well endowed with the blessings of climate, soil, oil, timber, harbors and other natural resources would have developed its current prosperity without the Gold Rush. However, the dramatic population boom precipitated by the Gold Rush ensured California's early admittance into the Union, bypassing completely the territorial phase and becoming the 31st state in 1850. Had the population only been supplemented by a gradual filtration of hardy pioneers, rather than a sudden influx of miners, it's likely that California's admittance would have been significantly delayed. California agriculture was jump-started by the Gold Rush. Agriculture during the Mexican period had been sorely neglected, with the rancheros content merely to breed cattle. The Americans who arrived in California prior to 1848 seemed to continue this trend, raising cattle and practicing subsistence agriculture to meet their own needs. However, foothills filled with 100,000 hungry miners produced a demand for agricultural products, and California farmers, some busted miners who remained to till the soil, responded. The Gold Rush also ensured that the first transcontinental railroad would have its Western terminus in California. Had California remained in pastoral state, it is likely that the first railroad might have instead run to Oregon, in 1847 the preferred destination of crosscountry migrants. Three California cities were transformed by the Gold Rush. San Francisco went from being a quite hamlet with fewer than 500 inhabitants to a booming city and the commercial and financial center of the West Coast. Sacramento begun as a tiny settlement centered on Sutter's great estate of New Helvetia, developed into a modest metropolis that would become the state's capital in 1855. Sacramento growth sprang primarily from its position as a conduit for supplies from San Francisco up the Sacramento River to the northern diggings. Likewise, Stockton grew as the way station for goods heading up the San Joaquin River to the Southern Diggings. Ironically, the cities that grew and flourished in California were not those whose economies were based not on gold, but rather on commerce, business, and finance. Gold towns boomed, but their wealth evaporated once the precious ore was extracted. Today the Mother Lode region represents one of the most economically underdeveloped regions of the state, still relying on the legacy of gold to lure tourist dollars. People, and not gold, are the most precious asset of California. The siren song of gold brought those people. It brought the first wave of Chinese, who would eventually build the transcontinental railroad though the Sierra. It brought the Big Four to California, whose ruthless energy would make that road possible. It brought Samuel Clemens, who launched himself to fame with the colorful short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras
County." It brought 300,000 other people to the state, who once the gold ran dry turned their attentions to agriculture, industry, and business. In many ways, gold, and the greed it inspired was a grossly destructive force. It ravaged the environment, leaving areas that to this day are scared by piles of mining debris. It decimated the native population. It ruined thousands of lives, luring men away from their families, cajoling them to make the dangerous passage to California, corrupting them with the vices of mining life, and breaking them with brutal and often disappointing toil. But the Gold Rush did ultimately have a constructive end, other than contributing to the dank vaults of Fort Knox: it was the beginning of the flourishing and mature state of California.
State's Latinos lost in the rush
Mexicans stripped of wealth, status in land they once ruled By Ken Chavez Bee Capitol Bureau Published Jan. 18, 1998 In the California summer of 1846, José de los Reyes Berreyesa, the patriarch of a renowned homestead near San Jose, floated to the shores of Suisun Bay in a rowboat, escorted by his twin nephews. Upon landing, the trio was greeted by gunfire. It was the early days of the Mexican War, and a patrol headed by John C. Frémont, a U.S. Army captain, had mistaken the unarmed Berreyesa men for Mexican soldiers. One of the nephews, Ramón de Haro, died almost instantly. When his twin, Francisco, threw himself upon his brother's body, he, too, was killed. "Is it possible that you kill these young men for no reason at all?" their enraged uncle shouted. "It is better that you kill me, who am old, too!" The Americans didn't wait for an engraved invitation. The old man was dead within seconds. The Berreyesa clan's fate is a prime example of how the Californios -- the colonists who populated the state under Spanish and Mexican rule -- lost power and prestige to AngloAmerican migration, which began as a trickle during the Mexican War and ended as a flood after the discovery of gold in 1848. Once proud rancheros, the Berreyesas were penniless just 30 years after the shootings at Suisun Bay. Their grand Milpitas estate was overrun by squatters, whose belated claim to the land ultimately was sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court. "The Mexicans went from the owners of wealth, which was the land, to workers who only had their labor to sell," said Gregorio Mora, professor of Mexican American Studies at San Jose State University.
Not only that, the Gold Rush precipitated an era of unprecedented animosity toward Mexican people living in the state, a xenophobia that trained its stare not only on Californios and newer arrivals from Mexico, but on other Latinos, such as the Chileans and Peruvians, as well. Most of the trouble began around 1850, in the so-called "southern mines" of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. Many Mexicans from the rich mining state of Sonora had come to the area east of Stockton -- where the foothill town of Sonora, not coincidentally, now sits -- to try their luck in the mines. At first, they staked their claims and mined in relative peace alongside all of the other goldseekers arriving daily in California. They were admired for the well-honed "dry digging" skills they had developed in their native land, techniques that brought them a modicum of early success. But it wasn't long before Anglo miners and eastern politicians, their own numbers growing in California, launched a campaign to force the Sonorans from the mines. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War, had given the United States official possession of California just nine days after James Marshall had discovered gold in Coloma on Jan. 28, 1848. In a little over two years, Americans came to resent the fact that foreigners -- particularly those from a country the United States had just defeated in war -- were making it rich off land that they now considered exclusively theirs. The Gold Rush of 1849 brought "a very large contingent of Anglo Americans with no experience in the Mexican Southwest" to California, said Albert Hurtado, a history professor at Arizona State University. "They bring with them animosities that are related, in part, to the recent war with Mexico. They regard Mexicans as unwanted foreigners and drive them out of the mines as much as possible." This was done by brute force -- and by force of legislation. Anglo miners began posting signs declaring that foreigners had no right to be there. Spanishspeaking "greasers," whether Mexican, Chilean or native Californios who had been granted U.S. citizenship under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, were often victims of violent attacks. One group of ex-New Yorkers who called themselves the "Hounds" took particular pleasure in assaulting Chileans who had settled in San Francisco after fleeing the increasingly inhospitable Sierra. In the vigilante system of justice that pervaded the Western frontier, Mexicans also found themselves to be frequent targets of the hangman's noose. Juanita, a prostitute living in what was once the saloon-rich mining camp of Downieville in Sierra County, was one of them. In 1851, she became the only woman to be lynched in the mines after a kangaroo court convicted her of killing a man who had broken down her door one night and returned to insult her the next. Leonard Pitt, who gives an account of the story in his book, "The Decline of the Californios," quotes one lyncher as saying, "To shoot these greasers ain't the best way. Give them a fair jury trial and rope 'em up with the majesty of the law -- that's the cure." State lawmakers found an equally effective cure for ridding the mines of Mexican gold seekers when they adopted the Foreign Miners' Tax Law of 1850.
The statute required non-U.S. citizens to pay $20 a month -- a costly sum at the time -- for the privilege of panning or digging for gold. Many Mexican and some French miners protested the new law, almost to the point of violence, but in the end, most simply left the Sierra. Their departure left a gaping hole in the economy of the Central Valley, particularly in Stockton, where civic leaders demanded a repeal of the tax, which was adopted in 1851. Still, it was too late. The Mexican miners would not come back. In that same year, upper-crust Californios came under legislative attack. Eager to help would-be Yankee homesteaders, lawmakers passed the Land Law of 1851, which established a tribunal in San Francisco to rule on the validity of Spanish and Mexican land grants. Those found to be invalid were declared public property and made available to squatters. While some Californio families succeeded in holding their land, others were forced to appeal a negative ruling by the Land Commission -- a court process that took years and often drained a family of its wealth and, subsequently, the ability to maintain its property. Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican general and California native who is portrayed by history as an early friend of the Americans, summed up the feelings of many Californios whose land was usurped by squatters when he wrote: "It was our misfortune that these adventurers of evil law were so numerous that it was impossible for us to defend our rights in the courts, since the majority of the judges were squatters, and the same could be said of the sheriffs and the juries. I believe it would be superfluous to say that to all these, justice was only a word used to sanction robbery." Well into the 1850s, tensions between Anglo Americans and people of Mexican descent grew. Some Mexicans formed roving bands of robbers and thieves, giving rise to the moustachioed, gun-slinging "bandito" stereotype. In 1885, the lawmakers passed a statute banning bull- and cockfighting, as well as "greaser" law against vagrancy, and they refused to translate new laws into Spanish, as required by the state constitution. But relations between the two groups weren't always this bad. Before the Gold Rush, even as the Mexican War raged, Californios and Anglo settlers co-existed in relative peace. The Mexican colonists, who had established a string of small pueblos along the California coast, from San Diego to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco, were regarded as highly hospitable hosts, fun-loving and eager for the company of visitors. Anglo settlers, who by and large gravitated to John Sutter's Sacramento encampment, took up residence in the Central Valley and, for the most part, adapted to Mexican rule. Since both groups were far from the nerve centers of the native lands, at one point or another each took steps toward making California an independent nation, but their efforts never took hold. "There was always conflict between the two, but chances for cooperation were more likely before 1849," said Michael Gonzalez, a University of California, San Diego, history professor. "After that, things got pretty dicey. That's when the groups start to compete for gold dust and the result is pretty predictable." Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
Indians' misfortune was stamped in gold
By Stephen Magagnini Bee Staff Writer Published Jan. 18, 1998 In 1847, an Indian scout took James Marshall to the Maidu village of Koloma, and California was changed forever. It was here that Marshall decided to build a sawmill among the evergreens and smooth rocks along the American River 45 miles northeast of Sacramento. And it was here that gold was discovered. Marshall generally gets the credit, but some say the first nugget was found by "Indian Jim," one of the Maidus enlisted by Marshall to dig a channel to power the sawmill. Gold had probably been discovered centuries earlier by California's Indians, who considered it worthless compared to flint, salt, obsidian, turquoise and slate. But gold was to cost them nearly everything -- their streams, their land, their game, their freedom, their lives. In a sense, Indians signed their own death warrant when they went to work for Marshall's boss, John Sutter, who could never have made a go of it in New Helvetia (Sacramento) without them. Within a decade, as many as 100,000 of the 170,000 Indians living in California had died, "the majority from violence, the rest from disease and starvation," said Dr. Edward Castillo, a Cahuilla Indian who teaches at Sonoma State University. "The spirit that owns the yellow metal is a bad spirit," a Nisenan chief supposedly said. "It will drive you crazy if you possess it." But in those euphoric first months of 1848, Indians were among the first to catch gold fever. About 1,000 Indians panned for gold with baskets and wooden bowls at Dry Diggings (Placerville). That summer, Indians struck gold on creeks in Stanislaus and Calaveras counties, and the rush to the Southern Mines was on. By year's end, 4,000 Indians were working the gold fields, compared with 2,000 whites. In 1849, Indians invented the "Long Tom" (later known as a "sluice box"), an oblong box that caught gold particles. A Miwok found a five-pound nugget at Murphy's Camp, and many Indians earned food, clothes and blankets for their families. But elders feared that Indians would forsake their traditional lifestyle, which generally placed community welfare over individual enrichment and relied on the earth's bounty -- not gold or money -- for survival. A German miner was panning gold near Grass Valley while several Maidu maidens were digging up roots and wild onions. Each began laughing at the other -- the miner thought the "diggers" (a scornful name for Indians) were fools for digging for gold on shore, while the Indians figured only a fool would dig for food in the stream. James D. Savage, whose "Mariposa Battalion" drove 350 Miwok and Yokuts out of the Yosemite area in 1851, made as much as $500,000 trading goods for their weight in gold with Indian miners. By 1850 California, once a relative paradise, had become purgatory for many Indians. About 100,000 gold-seekers swarmed over every mountain range, stream and hill from Keysville to the
Trinity Alps, Castillo said. "Most were unmarried men who may have started out with the best intentions but ended up being crazed vagabonds with no females. This is an absolute formula for disaster." Between 1850 and 1863, Indians and other non-whites could not testify against whites in California courts, thereby subjecting them "to the worst and most brutal treatment," wrote U.S. Indian agent E.A. Stevenson in an 1853 letter from El Dorado County. "The poverty and misery that now exists is beyond description and is driving the squaws to the most open and disgusting acts of prostitution, thereby engendering diseases," Stevenson wrote. Two Indians who tried to reclaim their brides from miners near Buckeye Flat were shot, one fatally, "yet there was nothing but Indian evidence that could be obtained to punish these villains ... they could not be convicted." More than 3,000 Indian children were captured in Northern California and sold into slavery for $50 to $200 apiece. California's legal "apprentice" system allowed settlers to keep homeless or jobless Indians indentured until they were 30. One Nisenan woman said she and others would blacken their children's faces to keep them from being kidnapped into sexual slavery. "A good-looking Indian girl cost $100, according to the Marysville Appeal," Castillo said. In 1851, Congress ordered three federal Indian agents to negotiate 18 treaties of "peace and friendship" with 402 California tribal leaders. The Indians were promised 8.5 million acres on 10 reservations in exchange for the rest of California. Shasta and Wintu oral historians tell of hundreds of Indians being poisoned at a banquet in November 1851 after signing a peace treaty with white settlers. Ironically, Congress -- under pressure from California legislators who feared the promised lands still held riches -- never ratified the treaties. After the 18 treaties were "lost," an 1852 California Assembly report proposed that Indians be removed "beyond the limits of the state in which they are found with all practicable dispatch." Suggestions included Oklahoma, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah and Catalina Island. State Sen. J.J. Warner went even further: " ... there is no place within the territory of the United States in which to locate them ... .better, far better, to drive them at once into the ocean, or bury them in the land of their birth." Native oral historians tell of Indians being shipped to Alcatraz and Goat Island (now Treasure Island) or being dumped into the icy ocean off San Francisco, though there is little written documentation, Castillo said. In the 1850s, newspaper editors and politicians -- not content to put Northern California Indians on reservations -- called for their immediate extermination. The Legislature reimbursed the Eel River Rangers and other volunteer militias to do the job. Indian families were massacred in Auburn and the Napa Valley. Many Indians -- forced to scrounge for food and shelter -- were arrested for vagrancy or trespassing. Jailed Indians were bought at auction by non-Indians, then forced to work off their bail like indentured servants. When an Indian's indenture was up it was not unusual for his white master to supply him with liquor -- then have him arrested for public drunkenness, thus renewing the cycle of servitude.
Even Indian gold-seekers from other states looked down on the "diggers." John Rollin Ridge, a self-described "wild half-breed" Cherokee Argonaut, called California Indians "a peculiar and strange race ... illustrating the absolute primitive state of mankind ... peaceable, friendly, kind-hearted, not brave but timid and yielding... (they) permit themselves to be slaughtered like sheep in a shambles." This was not true of many Indians -- the Modocs and other northern tribes fought on for decades. In 1866 the Chico Courant editorialized: "It is a mercy to the red devils to exterminate them, and a saving of many white lives ... there is only one kind of treaty that is effective -- cold lead." Ridge, who mortgaged a slave to finance his trip west in 1850, was a man of deep contradictions. As a boy, he witnesses his father butchered to death by bitter Cherokees who considered him a sell-out for willingly leading the "Trail of Tears" that cost Cherokees their native soil. After three months, he gave up mining and, writing under the pen name "Yellowbird," became a famous poet and author whose works include "The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, Celebrated California Bandit." In 1857, he became the first editor of The Sacramento Bee, a name "emblematic of the industry which is to prevail in its every department." Indians worked as carpenters, farmers, ranch hands and servants during the Gold Rush, but few prospered. By 1900, fewer than 16,000 remained. "It has been the melancholy fate of California Indians to be more vilified and less understood than any other of the American aborigines," said Stephen Powers in his 1877 book "Tribes of California." "They were once probably the most contented and happy race on the continent ... and they have been more miserably corrupted and destroyed than any other tribes within the Union. "They were certainly the most populous, and dwelt beneath the most genial heavens, amidst the most abundant natural productions, and they were swept away with the most swift and cruel extermination." Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
Fortune smiled on many black miners
Gold dust allowed thousands to gain freedom, influence By Stephen Magagnini Bee Staff Writer Published Jan. 18, 1998 For thousands of African Americans, California gold was the great equalizer. Some came as slaves and bought their freedom with gold dust. Others were freemen who used gold to free their families, fight discrimination and start newspapers, schools and churches. "This is the best place for black folks on the globe," a miner at the Cosumnes diggings wrote to his wife in Missouri. "All a man has to do is work, and he will make money." African Americans hit plenty of California pay dirt -- by 1863, they were collectively worth about $5 million (the equivalent of $100 million today). But their real gains came outside the
gold fields -- some of Gold Rush California's most influential, educated, daring pioneers were African Americans. "You had African American newspapers and a number of national leaders," said state librarian Kevin Starr. California's first African American success story was William Leidesdorff, who set the tone for those who followed. Leidesdorff -- son of a Danish sailor and an unmarried mulatto woman in St. Croix -- came under the wing of a New Orleans cotton planter who made him a rich man. He fell in love with a French girl who broke off the engagement after her parents learned of Leidesdorff's mulatto roots. The girl died of a broken heart; Leidesdorff ran away to sea and began a new life in Yerba Buena (San Francisco) in 1841. The ever-resourceful Leidesdorff smuggled coffee into California in biscuit barrels, built the first hotel in San Francisco, helped establish the first public school, launched the state's first steamship and staged the first horse race. By 1844, he owned waterfront property and the biggest house in San Francisco. Then he became a Mexican citizen, which allowed him to acquire a 35,000-acre land grant on the south bank of the American River encompassing modern Folsom. Leidesdorff turned "Rancho de los Americanos" into a cattle empire that employed whites, African Americans and Chinese. But he died of typhus at age 36, a few months after his neighbor and trading partner John Sutter announced the discovery of gold. A savvy U.S. Army quartermaster, Lt. Joseph Libby Folsom, went to St. Croix and bought all of Leidesdorff's holdings, which included modern-day Folsom, from Leidesdorff's mother for $75,000. But the property was worth far more than that. In 1849, Samuel Smith, an African American, found gold on the south bank of the American River at Negro Bar (Folsom). Smith and others were soon panning 2 ounces of gold a day, and 700 argonauts of all races came to Negro Bar. Leidesdorff's mulatto relatives -- realizing they'd been swindled -- filed a lawsuit, but they were foiled by an 1850 law that forbade blacks and other non-whites from testifying against whites in court. Still, in 1849, California declared itself "free" and an all-black mining company left New York for the Golden State. "The whole country ... is filled with gold (and) there are but three kinds of individuals that can even work these mines, the Negro, Indian and Irish," said a correspondent to an abolitionist newspaper. "There are no gentlemen here -- labor rules capital," wrote another. "A darkey is just as good as a polished gentleman and can make more money." Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass challenged the separatist American Colonization Society to send blacks to California instead of Liberia. As early as 1848, white and black abolitionists were staking claims in California. They were joined by black sailors who, like other seamen, deserted en masse and rushed to the gold fields when their ships hit port.
In 1848, a cook named Hector jumped ship in Monterey and returned several weeks later with $4,000 in gold. Another African American made $100,000 in the Tuolumne mines, only to lose it at the gaming tables, one place where blacks were welcome. In 1851, shortly after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, the New Bedford, Mass., Mercury urged its black readers to seek refuge in California. Among those who heeded the call was Jeremiah B. Sanderson, a minister from New Bedford. Sanderson came west expressly to teach black children, who had no schools. He opened the first black schools in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and Stockton. In 1855, he opened a school for 30 black children in Sacramento, saying, "They must no longer be neglected, left to grow up in ignorance." Soon after, the Sacramento school board capitulated and built a school for black children. Sanderson didn't stop there. Backed by other prominent African Americans, he fought hard for the 1874 California law allowing children of all races to attend the same schools. Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, a friend of Douglass', arrived in San Francisco in 1850 with 10 cents -enough to buy a cigar -- and the following credo: "Fortune ... may sometimes smile on the inert, but she seldom fails to surrender to pluck, tenacity and perseverance." Gibbs helped start the city's first shoe store, established California's first black newspaper in 1855, and became the first black judge in American history. His militant "Mirror of the Times" urged blacks to give up servile jobs and start their own ranches or businesses. Perhaps the most famous Gold Rush-era freedom fighter was Mary Ellen "Mammy" Pleasant, a Georgia-born slave who arrived in San Francisco in 1849 a free woman and opened a chain of brothels. In 1858, she went to Canada to give the legendary abolitionist John Brown $30,000 to finance his ill-fated raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Va. She fought tirelessly to gain blacks the right to testify in California courts, finally winning in 1863. The next year she filed a suit against a street car company that mistreated her -- and won. Many of California's black pioneers arrived as slaves and worked double-time until they had earned the $1,000 necessary to buy their freedom. George Washington Dennis of Alabama also bought his mother's freedom. She cleared $200 a day selling home-cooked meals to miners in 1849 while her son got rich off San Francisco real estate. By 1852, more than half of the 338 African Americans in Sacramento were free people. African Americans operating the Sweet Vengeance mine in Yuba County fought off white claim jumpers, and a delegate to the 1849 statehood convention feared "a black tide over the land -greater than the locusts of Egypt." One who struck a blow for justice in California's lawless mining camps was James Pierson Beckwourth -- lover, fighter, singer, trapper, trailblazer, horse thief, Indian chief and bullchip artist. Beckwourth, a husky 6-footer, was the son of a Revolutionary War officer and his slave mistress. In 1829, the mountain man was captured by Crow Indians in Wyoming, but convinced them he was one of their own who had been stolen as a child by the Cheyennes. By 1833, he had become chief of the Crow nation. In search of new adventures, Beckwourth arranged the theft of 5,000 horses in Southern California in 1840, then helped overthrow Mexican Gov. Manuel Micheltorena in 1845.
He joined the Gold Rush in 1848 and, in 1851, found a new route over the Sierra far less treacherous than Donner Pass. Said historian Hubert Howe Bancroft: "No resum can do justice to his adventures (but not) the slightest faith (can) be put in his statements." The Legislature in 1858 nearly outlawed further black immigration to California. Gibbs and several hundred other African Americans left for a gold strike in British Columbia. There Gibbs was elected to the common council. He later became U.S. consul to Madagascar. Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
'Real women' who defied stereotype
In a variety of roles, they often earned more than miners By Kathryn Doré Perkins Bee Staff Writer Published Jan. 18, 1998 Historians have painted colorful Gold Rush landscapes peopled with scruffy, flinty men and a sprinkling of easy, frowsy women. But something is wrong with that picture. Missing are the wives, daughters, sisters and single women who with awesome courage and a high sense of adventure joined that army of men and carved out lives with their ingenuity and perseverance. "These are women who are quite the opposite of the stereotypes we have been led to believe were there," said Jo Ann Levy of Sutter Creek, who has researched the role of women in the Gold Rush era. "These are real women with real experiences and they are stunning," said Levy, who scoured letters, diaries, reminiscences, newspapers, court records and census reports, and detailed some of those lives in her book, "They Saw the Elephant -- Women in the California Gold Rush." Levy writes of Luzena Wilson, who with her husband, Mason, and two young sons endured a perilous overland journey and terrible hunger and thirst crossing the desert and ascending steep Carson Pass. They reached the mines 50 miles east of Sacramento "in rags and tatters" in September 1849. That night, as Luzena was cooking dinner over a campfire, a miner approached, lured by his longing for bread baked by a woman. "I'll give you five dollars, ma'am, for them biscuits," he said. Luzena was speechless; $5 seemed a fortune. The miner, misunderstanding her silence, doubled the offer and slipped a $10 gold piece in her hand. Luzena had discovered her gold mine. The Wilsons moved on to Sacramento and prospered, running a hotel with Luzena in the kitchen, only to lose everything in the 1849-1850 floods. Hearing of a gold strike near Nevada City, she persuaded a teamster to transport her, her children and stove, promising to pay him $700 when she could. Luzena installed her kitchen under a pine tree, bought two boards, set them on stakes she chopped, and offered meals for $1. When her husband returned from mining that night, he found 20 miners eating at the table.
Not only did Luzena earn enough money to repay the teamster, she took her husband into partnership, replaced the family's brush house with a frame one and opened a hotel and store. But in 1851 they again lost everything when a fire roared through town. Undaunted, they leased wheat land between Sacramento and Benicia from Emmanual Vaca and Luzena set up her stove once more. She bore two more children, established another inn and watched the town of Vacaville emerge around them. Like Luzena, most women mined their gold by working for others. "Aunt Maria," a former slave in Sonora, earned $100 a week cooking for a family and managed her own boardinghouse. Mary Jane "Jenny" Megquier, a 40-year-old woman of spunk and endurance, and her husband, Thomas, came to California in 1849 intending to stay two years, "make a pile" and return to Maine, where they had left their three teenagers with relatives. Jenny and Thomas, a physician, envisioned getting rich by opening a pharmacy and medical practice in remote mining towns. When that plan failed, they moved to San Francisco, where Jenny ran a boardinghouse. She gave this account of her day: Upon arising made coffee, biscuit, fried potatoes, broiled three pounds each of steak and liver. Baked six loaves of bread, four pies, cooked all day for dinner, made beds, washed, ironed. "If I had not the constitution of six horses I should have been dead long ago," she wrote. Jenny Megquier loved her new life, penning: "The very air I breathe seems so very free that I have not the least desire to return (to Maine)." Life was exhilarating for women cut loose from the social constraints of the East. One wrote: "A smart woman can do very well in this country. True, there are not many comforts and one must work all the time and work hard, but there is plenty to do and good pay. ... It is the only country I ever was where a woman received anything like a just compensation for work." In the mining towns, women earned as much or more than miners by baking pies, sewing, cleaning, ironing, washing, running hotels, dealing cards or pouring drinks in gambling houses. At Sutter Creek, to earn money for food, Charity Hayward carried her cracked washboard to the creek each day and washed other miners' shirts, unbeknownst to her proud miner husband. Women worked in unconventional roles, as well. Levy's research revealed a photographer, a French woman barber, a Mexican woman who ran a string of mules and brought flour to the camps, a woman bullfighter who was showered with gold dollars for her performances, and a stagecoach driver who for years disguised herself as a man. In fact, Anglo American women were not the first women to prosper in the mining towns, said Susan L. Johnson, an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado. Miwok Indian women were the first of their gender to pan for gold. Mexican, Chilean and Peruvian women initially worked in the boardinghouses and in the "leisure sphere of dance halls and gambling saloons," Johnson said. Isabel Ortiz, for example, managed two dance halls, in Calaveras and Amador counties. "There was more fluidity," Johnson said. A woman might do laundry for a while and then work in a saloon -- whatever was required and earned the most. There wasn't the clear-cut division of classes that later separated upstanding middle-class women from women of vice. In the early years of the Gold Rush some white prostitutes did well, particularly in the larger towns such as San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton. In Placerville, a young woman from
New Orleans imported about a dozen Hawaiian girls, and in less than a year she was worth $100,000, estimated Edward Ely. He wrote that an evening with the madam cost $100; time with one of the girls, $50. Men particularly favored French women, but women whose skins were not white, "those of a tawny hue," were treated poorly. Hundreds of Latin women recruited in San Blas and Mazatlan were indentured for their passage and housed in fandangos, poor men's brothels, Levy found. Chinese girls were enslaved in houses and many died young. Early on, men treated white prostitutes with some measure of respect. But that changed as more families arrived in some of the mining districts. By 1851, Louisa Clapp wrote from Indian Bar, on the Feather River's north fork, "These thousand men ... looked only with contempt or pity upon these, oh so earnestly to be compassionated, creatures!" The prostitutes were driven away from the town in a few weeks, she said. "A house of ill fame" was destroyed the next year at Cold Springs, about three miles northwest of Placerville. Louisa Clapp was raised in an upper-middle-class New England family and was extraordinarily well-educated. But she relished the rough existence of the camps and wrote long letters to her sister, letters now invaluable for the intimate style and detail with which she described life and death in the mining towns. As gold gave out in Indian Bar and miners deserted the district, Louisa packed to leave and wrote, "Really, everybody ought to go to the mines just to see how little it takes to make people comfortable in the world." She added, sadly, "My heart is heavy at the thought of departing from this place. I like this wild and barbarous life; I leave it with regret." Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
His path back to Japan was paved with gold
By John D. Cox Bee Staff Writer Published Jan. 18, 1998 What in the world drove Manjiro Nakahama to Sacramento in the spring of 1850? It was the gold, naturally, but there could not have been a more improbable miner in those rough-andtumble days. Manjiro was one of a kind. He was the first citizen of Japan to set foot in the United States, first to be educated in Western mathematics and navigational skills, a seasoned whaler, a world traveler, a man on the road into history. In his own country, what Herman Melville at the time called "the double-bolted land," his mere presence here was a crime punishable by death. Yet "John Mung," as he called himself in these parts, was yearning to go home. When he arrived in Sacramento by steamboat from San Francisco the morning of May 23, Manjiro was working on a plan to get back to his village of Nakanohama.
It had been more than nine years since the 14-year-old boy had said goodbye to his widowed mother and left to go fishing off the southern coast. And still he was haunted by a sense of personal failure for the casual circumstance of his farewell to her. The five fishermen had been caught in a fierce storm. It snapped the little boat's rudder and tore off its sail. The dreaded Black Current, twisted by the storm, carried them far out into the Pacific Ocean. At long last they landed on a small volcanic island, their little vessel smashed to pieces in the surf on its rocky shore. They found shelter in a cave. They ate raw albatross and seaweed and strictly rationed the scant fresh water that collected in the crevices of rocks. For six months they endured it, withering away. On the afternoon of June 27, 1841, a vessel appeared on the horizon like an apparition. Miraculously, the John Howland, an American whaler, anchored near the island. Sailors rowing toward shore in search of sea turtles spotted Manjiro's frantic waving. Capt. William H. Whitfield of Fairhaven, Mass., noted in his log: "Sent in two boats to see if there was any turtle, found 5 poor distressed people on the Isle, took them off, could not understand anything more than that they were hungry." After six months of whale hunting, the schooner put in at Honolulu, where four of the castaways -- all but Manjiro -- were put ashore. Whitfield and his crew liked the boy, his cheerful countenance, his eagerness to learn English and the ways of whaling and sailing the high seas. Manjiro accepted the captain's invitation to accompany him to Massachusetts and receive an American education. The crew of the John Howland christened him "John Mung" and Whitfield virtually adopted the boy. On May 7, 1843, two years after Manjiro's rescue, the vessel sailed into New Bedford harbor, and Whitfield and John Mung crossed the bridge into Fairhaven. Manjiro learned to write English. He learned mathematics and navigation. He became a cooper's apprentice. Three years later he set sail again, as a crew member on another New Bedford whaler. He spent 40 months on the high seas, circumnavigating the globe, eventually becoming first mate on the vessel. The voyage included a stop in Honolulu and a reunion with his shipwreck comrades. They talked of their longing to return to Japan. The young man returned home to Fairhaven as news of the Gold Rush was spreading across the land, and Manjiro determined to go. He signed on as crew of a lumber ship, the Stieglitz, that left New Bedford on Nov. 27, 1849, came around Cape Horn and arrived in San Francisco on May 20, 1850. The Stieglitz was one of hundreds of vessels abandoned by its crew in those gold-crazy days. The city was booming, its streets crowded with miners and confidence men and bandits. Manjiro noticed many Chinese laborers who often were victims of violence and greed. Three days later, he took an overnight steamboat up the Sacramento River, marveling at the speed and engineering of the thing. Manjiro left no detailed account of the time he spent in the Mother Lode, and apparently he left no trail to follow after 150 years. He described his experience later in faulty Japanese, a language he had not used in 10 years, to people who had no idea of the place.
He mined on the north fork of a river, probably the American. On the advice of an agent in a government assay office, he first went to work in a pit mine for a mine operator who lost the payroll gambling. Then he struck out on his own, with pick and shovel and pan, placer mining at the side of the stream. In an official account for a Japanese court, he described the treachery of a mining town, perhaps Grass Valley or Nevada City, that could have seemed especially treacherous for a miner with strange Asian features and gold in his pocket in the summer of 1850. "A great many people organized cliques, calling themselves chivalrous men," he said. "... They cheated people out of their money, and the extreme case was that they killed them with their guns. A great many of the men were so violent and wayward as to be ungovernable." In 70 days he made more than $600. It was time to go, and time to try to go home. "Manjiro thought that one should not make a repeated attempt at earning such an enormous sum of money," said the court document. Back down the mountain he came. He left Sacramento on Sept. 13 and arrived in San Francisco the next day. He spent 10 days in San Francisco before securing passage aboard the Eliza Warwick, which arrived in Honolulu on Oct. 10. One of his fellow shipwreck victims had died of lingering effects of a leg injury suffered when jumped from the sinking fishing boat onto the rocks of the island 10 years earlier. With his gold mining proceeds and the help of friends in Honolulu, Manjiro outfitted a small boat, christened the Adventurer, which was taken aboard a sailing vessel that took the four men within rowing distance of Japan. For several months, he was imprisoned and interrogated. The suspicious lords of the feudal Tokugawa Shogunate questioned the young fisherman, who had the social status of a peasant, and tested his loyalty. In the end, they suspended the Tokugawa Shogunate's exclusion law that decreed death to any citizen who left the country and returned. After just a few days' reunion with his mother in Nakanohama, Manjiro was called into service of the lord of Tosa province, who appointed him a lecturer. He was permitted to take a second name, and chose Nakahama in honor of his village. He was granted the status of a samurai and permitted to wear a sword. He was summoned to the capital as Commodore Matthew C. Perry's ships appeared in the harbor in 1853 and counseled for the opening of Japan to foreign vessels. He became a personal retainer of the shogunate and an instructor in the government's naval school. He wrote the country's first conversational English book and translated into Japanese Bowditch's "Practical Navigator." In 1860, Manjiro accompanied the first Japanese diplomatic delegation to the United States as interpreter. In 1870, he accompanied another Japanese diplomatic mission to Europe, and on that occasion he was able to leave New York for a reunion with Capt. Whitfield in Fairhaven. Manjiro died at the age of 71 on Jan. 12, 1898, in Tokyo, at the home of his eldest son. His descendants and those of Whitfield maintain a correspondence that has lasted 150 years. President Coolidge paid tribute to Manjiro's role in opening up Japan at the time. "When John Manjiro returned to Japan, it was as if America had sent its first ambassador," he said. The man who seems to have slipped into and out of the Gold Rush without leaving a trace has not been forgotten by American presidents.
"The story of Manjiro Nakahama has particularly interested me," wrote Woodrow Wilson in a letter in 1918 to the ambassador of Japan. "Such links between Japan and America are delightful to remember." In a letter in 1933 to Manjiro's grandson, Franklin Roosevelt, recalled that his grandfather, Warren Delano, lived across the street from a house where Manjiro stayed in Fairhaven. "When I was a boy I well remember my grandfather telling me all about the little Japanese boy who went to school in Fairhaven and who went to church from time to time with the Delano family," he wrote. In April 1996, in remarks at a luncheon in Tokyo hosted by Prime Minister Hashimoto, President Clinton referred to the saga of Manjiro and the role it has played in the relations between the two countries. "He was shipwrecked in 1841, rescued by an American whale boat, sent to school in Massachusetts," said Clinton. "Now, Mr. Prime Minister, some of our delegation think it's a pretty good thing to be sent to school in Massachusetts." Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
Culture took hold despite tough crowds, conditions
By Dixie Reid Bee Staff Writer Published Jan. 18, 1998 Bayard Taylor and Stephen Massett spent the afternoon together at Sutter's Fort and made their way to Front Street by early evening. They arrived just in time for Sacramento City's first night of culture. The occasion -- on Oct. 18, 1849 -- was both highbrow and historic. "The Bandit Chief" was the first English-language play ever presented in the West, and it unfolded inside the Eagle, California's first professional theater. Box seats were $5 apiece; pit seats were $3. One newspaper wag called the Eagle Theatre an "oasis in a great desert of the mind." It was just canvas stretched across a wood frame and secured under a tin roof. The city had no river levees then and the Eagle flooded so often, even on opening night, that it was closed down two months later. But civility was here to stay. Actors, singers, dancers, musicians, minstrels and even circus performers came to Sacramento City, as it was called then, seeking a fortune made more easily than by wresting reluctant ore from rocks. A top-notch actor, for instance, might earn $500 a week. Later on, Taylor and Massett wrote about the Eagle's opening night. Massett was less impressed with the play than with the storm's consequences. "It had been raining hard and blowing a gale of wind the whole day, and the strength and durability of the building had been sorely tried," he wrote in "Drifting About," a book he wrote in 1853. "However, as the hour drew near for the opening of the doors, crowds of anxious miners thronged the entrance, and despite the winds and torrents of rain, the place was immediately filled.
"By the time we arrived," he wrote, "we found that those fortunate to have secured pit tickets had the pleasure of enjoying a freshwater bath for the same money -- a luxury unknown almost in those days as people rarely washed themselves -- for by that time, the water was on a level with the seats." His friend Taylor wrote in the 1850 book "El Dorado" that spectators, mostly miners, wore heavy overcoats, felt hats and knee-high boots. The drenched canvas offered no ventilation, so the theater was stifling hot. And Taylor also recalled the unscripted antics of the sole female cast member, Elizabeth Ray. He wrote that she repeatedly "threw herself into an attitude" on stage. "The miners to whom the sight of a woman is not a frequent occurrence, are delighted with these passages and applaud vehemently," he wrote. The smelly, unwashed miners -- their pockets bulging with gold dust -- sometimes left the diggings upriver to entertain themselves in Sacramento City. Early on, the canvas settlement offered them not only theater but the services of "soiled doves" and gaming houses. Games of chance reportedly were more popular than prostitution and were practiced anywhere, even in the genteel lap of dramatic theater. In an 1875 essay, theatrical agent John H. McCabe shared this anecdote about the Eagle: "When the curtain was down, some of the audience would produce a deck of monte cards and give their neighbors a "lay out.' Considerable sums sometimes changed hands by this operation and, not unfrequently, a fight. Revolvers and knives would make their appearance freely, but nothing serious ever resulted." Gold Rush Californians gambled on anything -- "in effect, everything which could be thought of to while away an idle hour or on which bets could be made," according to an 1880 Sacramento County history. Among the most popular gaming opportunities around here were bear-and-bull fights, cockfights and horse racing. The Sacramento Jockey Club, founded in 1850, maintained a quarter-mile track at Brighton, a settlement east of town. The miners who couldn't make it into town didn't lack for entertainment. Gaming was a regular diversion for them, too, and a fortune made one day was often lost that night. Variety-show performers sometimes traveled to the camps. In Marysville, local residents offered visiting players a crude theater consisting of a bedsheet curtain and footlights made by sticking candles into holes bored in the floor. The bulk of Gold Rush earthly pleasures, though, was centered in Sacramento City and San Francisco. San Francisco's first-known cultural event was a June 1849 concert by musician Stephen Massett, who later attended the Eagle Theatre on opening night. He billed himself as Jeemes Pipes of Pipesville. These entertainers traveled the same routes to California as did the gold seekers, and suffered the same discomforts and dangers en route. Actor John B. Atwater was both barefoot and destitute when he reached Sacramento City in 1849. However, he would go on to operate the Eagle Theatre and, later, San Francisco's first theater, Washington Hall. It was at Washington Hall in January 1850 that Atwater staged San Francisco's first play, "The Wife." The San Francisco Call reported: "The only thing worthy of note on that occasion was the high price charged for admission, the large attendance and the poor performance." High prices didn't discourage Gold Rush wildcatters from amusing themselves. They proved that in 1853, when the famous opera singer Catherine Hayes booked a "grand concert" at Sacramento's Presbyterian Church. The "choice seats" were to be auctioned off, and bidding for
the first one started at $100 and rose to $1,200 (about $20,000 today.) The Sutter Rifles presented the ticket to Gen. John Sutter. The balance of choice seats went for as much as $50. Apparently, though, even cheap tickets wouldn't ensure a sellout for the notorious Lola Montez. She had traveled the world as a Spanish dancer and lived in Grass Valley. She danced only once in Sacramento City, in 1854, and a newspaper reported that she "made herself very unpopular by her violent and uncontrolled temper." She soon left California forever. Throughout the Gold Rush, Sacramento's theater companies provided most of the top-notch entertainment. And it wasn't always flooding that confounded the upstart culture. San Francisco's Washington Hall closed seven days after it opened to critical reviews of "The Wife," because the theater's treasurer had wagered, and lost, the week's receipts on a game of monte. That caused the company to break up and the actors to scatter. Elizabeth Ray, the performer who'd made such a spectacle of herself at the Eagle, left for the Sandwich Islands with her husband. And John B. Atwater operated a traveling show for a while. He was last heard of living in Wisconsin, where he made a fortune developing firearms for the Civil War. Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
Religion reclaimed souls as mining camps expanded
By Bill Lindelof Bee Staff Writer Published Jan. 18, 1998 Into the moral abyss came the forty-niners, tempted by saloons selling rotgut, hoodwinked by card sharks dealing monte and enticed by prostitutes in brothels. It was said that while traveling by wagons to Sacramento, the immigrants abandoned religion, leaving their souls on the plains like steamer trunks deemed too cumbersome for the journey. Once in El Dorado, secular employment, with its promise of instant wealth, was so enticing that even clergy grabbed a gold pan. Of the 46 Baptist preachers in good standing in the Sacramento region in 1849-50, not one chose to do God's work. But not all was lost. As the population increased, the social chaos was to sort itself out. Churches, synagogues and temples were erected -- or congregations simply made do. Missionaries held services in rented rooms, above gambling houses, in the streets, or anywhere else they felt they could gain an attentive audience, wrote Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp in "Religion and Society in Frontier California." Church "disrupted the otherwise seamless garment of sinfulness," she wrote. For eons, American Indians had practiced their own religion in harmony with the natural world around them before the forty-niners came. The earliest European spiritual leaders in California were Spanish-speaking priests who began a string of coastal missions in the late 18th century, but had limited influence inland. Six members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were hired to build John Sutter's sawmill at Coloma. Five were at the site the day gold was discovered, according to Norma Ricketts, author of "The Mormon Battalion: U.S. Army of the West, 1846-1848."
It was not until the journal of Henry Bigler, a Mormon, came to light that the actual discovery date of Jan. 24 was established: "This day some kind of mettle was found in the tail of race that looks like goald," Bigler wrote. Sam Brannan, California's first millionaire, and leader of a group of Mormons who staked a rich claim on what came to be called Mormon Island, broke with the church when Brigham Young asked that he tithe the found gold. "Bring me a receipt signed by the Lord and I'll gladly hand over to you the Lord's money," he said. By 1850, the Valley was being populated by Baptists, Catholics, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Jews, Mormons, Methodists and Presbyterians who made their way to the new city and organized themselves into groups. Into this nearly all-male society, Christians, Jews and adherents of the three main religions of China -- Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism -- endeavored to bring moral order with their religious beliefs and practices. So it was that the Rev. Peter Augustine Anderson, a Presbyterian convert to Catholicism born in New Jersey, arrived in Sacramento in 1850 -- the first American priest in California. When Anderson arrived in 1850, he held Mass at 5th and L streets where Macy's stands today. A total of 60 men -- all armed -- and 12 women attended. The same year, on land donated by a congregation member, Gov. Peter Burnett, a church was built at 7th and K streets. Anderson was to travel among the mining camps that year, celebrating Mass and baptizing. Pioneer life, with all its dangers, did not spare the men of the cloth. Anderson's life would end the same year he came to Sacramento when the priest was stricken with cholera during an epidemic that swept the city. Anderson had been helping out in the tent hospitals when he contracted the disease. "He died a martyr," said the Rev. William Breault, diocesan archivist. "Even though sick, he didn't pay any attention to doctors. He kept anointing, hearing confessions and probably even emptying bed pans on visits to the tents." Other Roman Catholic leaders were to follow in short order: Bishop Eugene O'Connell established the forerunner of the current diocese in Marysville in 1860; the Sisters of Mercy schooled youngsters and healed the sick after their arrival in Sacramento in 1857, and minerturned-bishop Patrick Manogue built the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Among the earliest church people were African Americans. They had no choice but to be locked in a struggle, wrote Kevin Starr in "Americans and the California Dream." While the state offered them some prosperity, they were persecuted: Southerners could still bring in slaves and free African Americans were prevented from voting, forbidden to testify in court and were limited to segregated schools, Starr wrote. St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church, established in 1850, became the focal point of African American political and social activity for Northern California. On three occasions, the church, now located at Southside Park, hosted the "California Colored Citizens State Convention."
Temple B'nai Israel also traces its past to the Gold Rush. Moses Hyman gathered a handful of Jews in his Sacramento store for the High Holy Days in 1849. Three years later, Temple B'nai Israel was consecrated. Jewish immigrants from Europe became merchants and prominent citizens, but they also tried their hand at gold mining. Robert E. Levinson, author of "The Jews in the California Gold Rush," cites newspaper clippings to show that Jewish immigrants mined gold as late as the 1860s: "Mr. A. Levy washed out eighteen pans of dirt, on Thursday last, and obtained $6.50 in gold." For the most part, Jews in the Gold Rush were accepted as citizens of their towns -- on equal footing with other European immigrants, concluded Levinson. The Chinese were not so lucky: Political and labor leaders complained of a Chinese invasion. Still, the Chinese put down religious roots, erecting temples. Chinese temples were called Joss Houses, Joss evolving from the Portuguese word "Deus" or God. The houses of worship were temples of the Chinese gods, wrote Alexander McLeod in "Pigtails and Gold Dust." "In every major gold mining town -- Weaverville, Sacramento, Downieville and Marysville -the Chinese miners had their houses of worship," said University of California, Berkeley, professor Ling-chi Wang. Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
Boring diet gave miners appetite for dining out
By Mike Dunne Bee Food Editor Published Jan. 18, 1998 Mark Twain wrote of the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County, not the celebrated sauteed frog legs. Maybe his timing was off. Such delicacies weren't uncommon in the Mother Lode during the Gold Rush, especially by the time Twain arrived at Angels Camp, in the winter of 1865. He even patronized a boarding house with a French chef. But perhaps streams were high, interrupting supplies, throwing prospectors back on their standard diet of dried pork, boiled potatoes, bread and beans. Especially beans. "Beans and dishwater for breakfast at the Frenchman's; dishwater and beans for dinner; and both articles warmed over for supper," groused Twain in his journal for Jan. 23, 1865. Soon after James Marshall in 1848 spotted the first glimmer of gold at John Sutter's sawmill on the American River, grub available to prospectors gathering along the Sierra foothills was coarse, erratic and generally unvaried. "Mother wants to know what we eat, drink and wear," wrote one Argonaut in a letter home. "First we eat bread, meat, rice, molasses, our drink is water, tea, coffee, and some times a snort of brandy." Malcolm J. Rohrbough, author of "Days of Gold, The California Gold Rush and the American Nation," writes: "The basic diet seems to have been the same everywhere: meat (fresh or preserved), bread or biscuits, and coffee or tea with plenty of sugar."
Deprivation and malnutrition, particularly scurvy, were not uncommon among miners, but tended to be suffered more by the "extremely imprudent and the grotesquely unlucky," observes historian Joseph R. Conlin, author of "Bacon, Beans, and Galantines," a study of eating habits in mining settlements of the Western frontier. In the foothills, prospectors were surrounded by antiscorbutic native wild plants -- wild onion, wild garlic, watercress, lamb's quarters and the like -- but often either didn't recognize them or didn't know what to do with them. The exodus to the gold fields was largely male, from a society where women and servants did the cooking. "I feel greatly the want of counsel and advice from you or others in biscuit-making and in some approved, or improved, method of brewing coffee," pleaded one gold seeker to his wife. "I have always been inclined to deride the vocation of ladies until now." Conlin noted that "some miners told of filling a pot with rice but no water, placing it on the fire, and wondering why the result was not an edible fluffy piece." This ineptitude at cookery provided restaurateurs their own bonanza, and restaurants and boarding houses flourished through the region. And when Argonauts ate out, they had an inordinately fond appetite for fancy French food, then emerging as a cachet of wealth and status in the United States. Even if they hadn't already hit pay dirt, they were wildly optimistic that they would, and didn't hold back their hunger for the likes of Champagne and oysters. Oysters were so much a part of the Argonaut diet, the oyster beds of San Francisco were depleted by 1851 and schooners had to sail farther and farther north to net the prized mollusks. Exorbitant food prices often associated with the Gold Rush -- $1 for a slice of bread in Placerville, $2 if it was buttered -- were common early on, and subsequently shot up during sporadic periods of high demand and low supply. According to Gold Rush lore, a farmer at Coloma sold her pears when they still were blossoms, tagging each flower with the name of the purchaser; at the time, ripe pears sold for $2.50 each. The food and drink trade was so lucrative early in the Gold Rush that even James Marshall gave up the search for gold. He applied his carpentry skills to assembling barrels, planted a vineyard behind his Coloma cabin, and started to make wine. For the most part, however, shipments and prices soon stabilized. "Into the summer of 1850 prices shot up and down like a volatile stock market. There were shortages, but there also were many gluts. Sacramento had so much bacon coming in that they couldn't sell it, and it was used for landfill," said Conlin in an interview from his horse ranch in Oregon, where he retired from California State University, Chico, two years ago. "In the 1850s prices still went up and down, but not to ridiculous levels. That was over by the summer of 1850." Ships' logs, miners' journals and hotel menus indicate the rich abundance of edibles available to prospectors. The bill of fare for the Columbia Hotel in Sacramento on July 29, 1850, listed 14 entrees, nine kinds of vegetables, six kinds of fruits and four kinds of pie. Even far inland, the repertoire of foods expanded quickly. As early as January 1850 grocers along the foothills were tacking broadsides to oak trees to boast of their stocks of smoked halibut, dried cod, eggs, ham, beef, molasses, coffee, cheese, chocolate, spices, fresh figs, butter crackers and preserved vegetables, fruits and meats.
Although foods arrived from throughout the world, the cross-cultural blending of ingredients and cooking techniques so popular today was unheard of then. Historians attribute this isolation to differences in language, a tendency among different races and cultural groups to stay within their own communities, and lingering animosities from wars of the recent past, such as between the United States and Mexico. But in one notable respect, the lure of flavorful, diverse and cheap food shattered barriers of unfamiliarity and suspicion. Caucasian miners feared, ridiculed and discriminated against the Chinese, but loved their food, notes Conlin. Many Chinese excluded from the mines stuck around to open restaurants, designated by triangular yellow silk flags on the front of their shops. A Chinese cook is believed responsible for the one dish most closely identified with the Gold Rush, though it may not have been so much indigenous as adapted. That would be "Hangtown fry," a scramble of eggs, bacon and oysters. While historians concur that the dish originated in Placerville, known early on as Hangtown, no one knows for sure what inspired it. One account claims that a prospector who just struck pay dirt wanted to celebrate with the most offbeat and costly meal that could be created in the camp. Another yarn says a weary miner stumbled into his dark tent, tossed some bacon and eggs into a frying pan and grabbed what he took to be a can of beans, only to find later it was oysters. It wasn't what he expected, but not bad, either. A third tale attributes the dish to a condemned man who asked that his last meal be of oysters, bacon and eggs, purportedly the most difficult victuals to find in the camp, thus providing him a stay of execution, however fleeting. Conlin subscribes to the story of the newly rich prospector, and traces the original dish to the Cary House, a Placerville hotel and restaurant. The cook, says Conlin, surely was Chinese, for Hangtown fry is nothing but a variation of the Cantonese staple egg foo yung, and most Chinese in the diggings were from Canton. Though simple, historic and once so popular it could be found at several restaurants in Placerville and Sacramento as recently as a decade ago, Hangtown fry now is out of favor and has disappeared from local menus. Indeed, it's easier these days to find frog legs. Copyright © The Sacramento Bee
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