San Francisco History

The Adventures of a Forty-Niner






Colonel Jonathan Stevenson,
Colonel John C. Freémont, and
Captain John A. Sutter,


Table of Contents



The discovery of gold in California, in 1848, with its other mineral resources, including the Alamada quicksilver mine at San José, which is an article of first necessity in working gold or silver ore; and the great silver mines of Nevada, in 1860, the Comstock lode, in which, in ten years, from five to eight hundred millions of gold and silver were taken out, a larger amount than was ever taken from one locality before, The Alamada quicksilver mine being the second most productive of any in the world, the one in Spain being the largest, said to be owned by the Rothschilds. Its effect upon the general prosperity and development of our country has been immense, almost incalculable. Before these discoveries the amount of gold in the United States was estimated at about seventy millions, now it is conceded to be seven hundred millions. The Northern Pacific coast was then almost unpopulated. California a territory three times as large as New York and Oregon and the State of Washington, all now being cultivated and containing large and populous cities, and railroads connecting them with the East. Why that country should have remained uninhabited for untold ages, where universal stillness must have prevailed as far as human activity is concerned, is one of the unfathomable mysteries of nature. It is only one hundred and twenty-five years since the Bay of San Francisco was first discovered, one of the grandest harbors in the world, being land-locked, extending thirty miles, where all the vessels of the world could anchor in safety. The early pioneers of those two years immediately after the gold was discovered (of which I am writing) are passing away. As Ossian says, “People are like the waves of the ocean, like the leafs of woody marvin that pass away in the rustling blast, and other leaves lift up their green heads.” There is probably not five per cent of the population of California to-day, of those days, scenes and events of which I have tried to portray. Another generation have taken their places who can know but little of those times except by tradition. I, being one of the pioneers, felt it a duty, or an inspiration seemed to come over me as an obligation I owed to myself and compatriots of those times, to do what I could to perpetuate the memory of them to some extent in the history of our country as far as I had the ability to do it.

image of Daniel Knower


image of the Building of The Society of California Pioneers


The California Pioneer Society was organized in August, 1850. The photograph of their building appears on the cover of this book. W. D. M. Howard was their first president. Among their early presidents, and prominent in the days of Forty-niners, were Samuel Branan, Thomas Larkins, Wm. D. Farewell, and James Lick--who liberally endowed it.

It was organized for the purpose of perpetuating the memory of the events of those days and for the benefit and mutual protection of its members. No person was eligible for membership except he had arrived in California before the 1st of January, 1850, and the descendants of Forty-niners when arriving at the age of twenty-one are eligible. At the opening of the World's Fair in San Francisco in January last, in the ceremonies in the marching of the procession through the streets of the city, they were received with the greatest enthusiasm and cheers, which was a marked manifestation of the veneration in which they are held by the people of California.


The writer was practising his profession in the city of Albany, his native place, in 1848, when reports came of the discovery of gold in California. In a short time samples of scales of the metal of the river diggings were on exhibition, sent to friends in the city in letters. Many of Colonel Stevenson's regiment had been recruited in that city. Soon these rumors were exaggerated. It was said that barrels of gold were dug by individuals named. Soon the excitement extended all over the country, and the only barrier to wealth, it seemed, was the difficulty of getting to the Eldorado. Why the discovery of gold there should have produced so much excitement cannot be fathomed. It seemed an era in human affairs, like the Crusades and other events of great importance that occur. Your correspondent became one of its votaries, and organized a company to go to the gold rivers and secure a fortune for all interested in it, and it seemed all that was required was to get there and return in a short time and ride in your carriage and astonish your friends with your riches. Suffice it to say, this company was fully organized (with its by-laws and system of government drawn up by the writer), and sailed from the port of New York on the ship Tarrolinter on the 13th of January, 1849, to go around Cape Horn, arriving in San Francisco on the following July. From that time I became absorbed in all the news from the gold regions, and losing confidence somewhat in the certainty of a fortune from my interest in the company, and reading of the high price of lumber, the scarcity of houses, and the extraordinary high wages of mechanics there, conceived the project of shipping the materials for some houses there, having all the work put on them here that could be done, thus saving the difference in wages, and to have them arrive there before the rainy season set in, and thus realize the imaginary fortune that I had expected from my interest in the company. In the following spring I had twelve houses constructed. The main point upon which my speculation seemed to rest was to get them to San Francisco before the rainy season commenced. I went to New York to secure freight for them in the fastest vessel. Fortunately for me, as I conceived at the time, I found the day before I arrived in New York, the Prince de Joinville, a Havre packet ship, had been put up to sail for the port of San Francisco, and as yet had engaged no freight. I made a bargain with them at once to take my houses at sixty cents per square foot, and had the contract signed, half to be delivered at the side of the ship by such a date and the other half at a subsequent date. I delivered the first half of the houses on the time agreed, sending them down the Hudson river by a barge on a tow. I sent the second half on a barge to get there on the day they were due, apprehending no trouble, I going down myself a few days in advance. They commenced complaining at the ship that they would not have room for the balance of my houses on board, although I had their written contract to take them at sixty cents per foot.

There was great California excitement about this time, and other parties had come to the conclusion that the Prince de Joinville was probably the fastest ship taking freight for San Francisco. I saw them accept of offers at $1.50 per foot, when their contract with me was for less than half that price, which would make a difference of several thousand dollars in their favor. So, if the balance of my houses did not arrive within the time stated in the contract, they would not be taken on that vessel, and my speculation ruined. The time was up the next day at twelve o'clock. I was down on the Battery the next morning early watching for the tow, with the barge with my houses. The ship was at the dock in the East river. About ten o'clock, A.M., I had the good fortune to see the barge rounding the Battery. I cried out to the captain to cut loose from the tow, employ the first steam tug and I would pay the bill, which he did, getting on the side of the vessel by eleven o'clock, thus saving my contract by one hour. But they did not commence taking them on board, so the captain of the barge put a demurrage of 20 per day for detention. In the meantime, I had bought my ticket to sail by the steamer Georgia to the Isthmus to go on the 1st of July which was but a few days off. They, seeing that I had them on my contract, came to me and said that my houses should go on their ship according to contract, if they had to throw other freight out, and that they would sign a regular bill of lading for all the material deliverable to me upon the arrival of the Prince de Joinville at the port of San Francisco, and take my carpenters' specifications for the description of them, which seemed all right to me.

The following is an article from the Albany Evening Atlas of June 23, 1849:


“Our estimable fellow citizen Dr. Knower, who is to start for California by the Crescent City via Panama, is about to ship to that place twelve houses, complete and ready to put up on arrival at San Francisco. The venture is a costly one, the freight on the material approaching the cost of as many frame buildings in this quarter, and the projector, we think, has managed the speculation with great foresight and judgment. The best timber has been selected, and the best workmen employed, and a plan of architecture pursued, which is supposed to offer the greatest advantages with the most economical expenditures of material. Four of these buildings are 18 feet front and 25 feet deep. A partition running lengthways divides the buildings into two rooms, and the stairs leads to a second platform, which is large enough for bedrooms, or for storing materials and tools of miners. Two others are 18 feet front and 18 feet deep, with a small extension in the rear of 8 feet. Two are 16 feet in front and 22 feet deep, with the entrance on the gable front; and the four others are 18 feet front by 14 deep. The sides of the building will be composed of a double framework of boards planed, grooved and tongued, fitting air tight on each side of the timber, the interval between them being either filled with the moss of the country of left vacant, the confined column of the air being found sufficient to keep off the excess of cold or heat. The roofs of all the buildings shed from the front, except two of which are of gable shape. The roofs are to be made of solid, close-fitting planks, covered with fine ticking and coated with the patent indestructible fire-proof paint, and applications which our citizens have just begun to use here, and which they have found entirely successful.

“The houses can be easily transported to the placers or may be put up on the sea-board. We should suppose that the numerous land-owners who are speculating on the prospects of future cities would be glad to give the land necessary for the location of this village.

“The houses go by the Prince de Joinville, a first-class vessel, which leaves New York soon.”

I sailed on the steamer which left New York at 5 P.M., July 1, 1849. Friends were there to see me off, but there were no persons on the boat that I had ever seen before--I was wondering who would be my first acquaintance.

Being very tired, I retired soon to my berth, and woke up the next morning on the broad ocean. Two days of sea sickness and I was all right again. There were about one thousand passengers from all parts of our country. I tried to fathom the motives and standing of different ones. Colonel B. from Kentucky, an aristocratic-looking man, with his slave for a body servant, who could not have been bought for less than $1,500 in Kentucky, where slavery existed at that time. Why a man in his circumstances should be going to California to seek gold I could not fathom. One day a party of us were seated around the table talking matters over. It was proposed that each should reveal to the others what he expected to do and his motives for the expedition. We each related our expectations and the motives that had inspired us. My aristocratic friend was one of the party. My curiosity was at its height to know his views. He said: “Well, gentlemen, you have all been candid in your statements, and I shall be the same; I am going to California to deal Faro, the great American gambling game, and I don't care who knows it.”

Later on in my narrative, I shall have occasion to refer to Colonel B. again under other circumstances. The fourth day out being the fourth of July, was duly celebrated on the steamer in true American style. Our course was to the east of Cuba. We passed in sight of the green hills of San Domingo to our left, and in sight of Jamaica to our right, crossing the Caribbean sea, whose grand, gorgeous sunsets I shall never forget. I could not buy a ticket in New York for the steamer from Panama to San Francisco, but was informed at the office in New York that sixty tickets were for sale in Panama by Zackery, Nelson & Co., the American Consul, who were agents for the steamer on the Pacific side. I naturally supposed that those who offered their money first for those tickets could buy them.

The price was $300 for the first cabin, and $150 for the second, from Panama to San Francisco; but a fraction of the passengers had a ticket for the Pacific side.

The objective point was to get to Panama to secure a ticket, so I made an arrangement with four others; three were to take charge of the baggage of the five, and take it leisurely, and Lieutenant M., of South Carolina, and myself were selected to run an express across the Isthmus and get there ahead of the other passengers and secure tickets for the five, and try and be the first to land at Chagres. We came to anchor in the bay. The captain announced that no passengers would be permitted to go ashore until the government officials had inspected the vessel. A boat came from shore with the officials. After a short stay the officials went down the side of the steamer to their boat to return to the shore. There was a guard to keep all but the proper persons from getting into the boat. I had a small carpet bag in my hand, passed the guard, slipped a $5 gold piece in his hands, and took my seat in the boat, and, of course, passed as one of the officials, and was the first passenger to land from the steamer. The first point to be made was to secure a boat for passage up the Chagres river. I was recommended to Colonel P., who was the head man in that business there. He was a colonel in the Granadian army. I found him a full-blooded African, but an active business man in his way. I got his price for a boat and two of his best men, and then offered double the price if they would row night and day, and an extra present to the men if they made good time, for every thing seemed to depend on securing those tickets on the Pacific side. By the time I had all my arrangements made, Lieutenant M. made his appearance. He said he was the second passenger that landed from the steamer. Then behold us in what they called a dug-out, a boat somewhat similar to a canoe, with a little canopy over the center that you could crawl under to lay down with the two naked natives, with the exception of a cloth around their loins, neither understanding each other's language, to whom we could only communicate by signs. At 4 P.M., starting for Gorgona, fifty-five miles up the river, where we were to land and take mules for Panama. Eight miles was the first stopping place. We felt elated that we had got so good a start of all the other passengers. The denseness of the vegetation first attracted our attention on the banks of the river. The trees, the vines, the shrubbery, the vines clinging to the trees, hanging in all fantastic shapes, it seemed to be impenetrable, an ocean of green, unlike any thing we had ever seen before.

Early in the evening we arrived at the first stopping place, eight miles on our way up the river, where we both made ourselves at home, excited at the strangeness of the scene, surrounded by the thatched huts of the natives, who were having a dance on the square in the village. After we had been there an hour, we thought our men had their rest, and it was time to go on according to our contract, to be rowed night and day.

In the meantime it seems the natives had taken some offense at Lieutenant M.'s familiarity, and they appeared with handles of long knives projecting back of their necks in a threatening manner. We likewise learned that that was the home of one of our men, and that he proposed to stay there all night in violation of the contract. So we had a consultation to decide what to do to get away. It was pitch dark; we laid our plan. Lieutenant M. beckoned one of the men away from the dance as if he wanted to give him something, and drew his pistol on him and marched him down to the boat, while I, with a pistol, kept him there while he went for the other man.

After a while he came with him and we got them both in the boat and started. About this time there was a storm came up with the rain, and thunder and lightning, as the elements can only perform in that way in the tropics, surrounded by impenetrable darkness, and to us an unknown river, with its serpents and alligators, with our two naked savages, that we only got in the boat by force, and, of course, could not feel very friendly toward us. Expecting to be fired on from the shore, if they could see us through the darkness, we took our departure from our first landing place on the Chagres river, surrounded by romance enough to satisfy the most romantic imagination in that line. Our men kept steadily to work. After a while the clouds broke away, the moon showed itself, and we made good progress that night. We had no trouble with our men after that. The colonel at Chagres had evidently given us his best man. They found that we were masters of the situation, and it was for their interest to submit. We treated them kindly after that, and all went well, for we passed every boat we came to. I shall never forget the look of despair at two Frenchmen, evidently gentlemen, as we went by them, and they informed us the length of time they had been coming up the river, and that they could do nothing with their men. That afternoon we came in sight of a thatched hut on the banks, evidently a ranch. We thought it for our interest to rest. We saw a man whom we took for the proprietor, entirely naked, rubbing his back against a post. On landing and approaching him he excused himself for a short time, and returned dressed, walking with the air of a lord of a manor, which dress consisted of a coarse bagging shirt, coming down to his knees. We arrived the next day at 11 A.M., at Gorgona, and took our dinner at the hotel kept by the Alcalde of the place, and bargained with him for a guide and three mules to continue our journey to Panama. As soon as our guides and mules were ready, about 1 P.M., we started for Panama. We soon got enough of our mules by being thrown a number of times over their heads. They did not understand our language. “Get up and go along,” was Greek to them, but when the guide said “mula vamous” they knew what it meant. On reaching the place where we were to stay all night, we arose in the morning refreshed, but concluded to leave our mules and make the rest of the way a-foot, as we considered them a nuisance, and as we had no baggage but my little satchel previously referred to, in which I had bills of lading of my houses, they being consigned to me, the specifications of my carpenter's schedule, my letters and a gold chronometer watch, worth $250, belonging to H., a broker in New York, a friend, and a bottle of the best brandy, which he presented to me to keep off the fever in crossing the Isthmus. This bag I handed to the guide boy, about seventeen years of age, taking out the brandy bottle. The watch I was to sell, for he had two nephews who had gone to California, and if they were in need, to supply their wants. I did not meet them; sold the watch for $500 to Mr. Haight, one of the owners of the Miners' Bank in San Francisco, and remitted the money to my friend, so I shall not refer to the watch again.

We were walking on at a free pace, our guide boy following behind. Looking back after awhile we could not see him. We stopped and waited some time, but he did not come, so we thought we would go on and he would follow. The result was we lost our way and craved for a sight of the Pacific ocean with all the ardor that Gilboa could have done, the first Spanish discoverer of it, and on the same route, after our wanderings all day, almost without hope, until four in the afternoon, we came to a stream of water; oppressed with the heat of the tropics and fatigued I threw myself in the water.

Lieutenant M. exclaimed: “Do not give up in that way.” “I am not giving up,” I replied; “only refreshing myself.” In a short time he did the same thing. As we lay there we thought we heard voices. In looking back who should we see but one of our countrymen, the most gladdening sight to us. We felt saved at once. We asked him if he had any provision. He said he thought not. Then he said one of his companions might have a little piece of ham left and some crackers. He said there were three of them, and they would soon be there, and when they came one of them had some bacon and a few crackers, which he gave to us. The eating of it soon refreshed us. As I had some of the brandy left in the bottle, I extended it to them, which they were very glad to receive. Explanations ensued. We, by chance, had struck the Crusos road, and were but ten miles from Panama. They had come from Philadelphia in a brig, and had started across from Crusos, the head of boating on the Chagres river, and had been from two to three weeks getting so far across the Isthmus, and were perfectly astonished at the rapidity with which we had come. So we joined them and arrived in Panama that evening. Lieutenant M. and myself were the first of the one thousand passengers of the Georgia to enter the city. The office of the agents of the Pacific steamers was closed. I went, the first thing in the morning, to purchase the five tickets for our party. Alas for human expectation! I was informed it would be several weeks before the steamer would sail. She had not yet returned from the first trip to San Francisco. They said there were but sixty tickets for sale, and they would not be offered until a few days before the departure of the steamer. Of course, all we could do was to abide our chances of getting them. The city was walled around and dyked like those of the Middle Ages. Toward the bay the wall was one hundred feet high by twenty broad. The city had been on the decline for most a hundred years. We could see the ruins of what it once had been. At one time Spain owned all South American, Mexico, California, Louisiana and Florida. Panama was the only port of entry on the Pacific coast, and controlled its commerce. As you enter the gates of the walled city there is a chapel just inside, where the lights are always burning on its altars. The first thing on entering all good Catholics enter, kneel and make their devotions, seeking the protection of the patron saint of the city. The head alcalder of the city was a Castilian Spaniard a venerable-looking gentleman, white as any Northern man, evidently of Scandinavian descent, who ages back conquered Spain and divided the land up among themselves and became its nobility, from whom the present rulers of Spain are descendants. It is said that when conquered, the original inhabitants of Spain, to a great extent, fled to their vessels, put to sea, and found the island of Ireland, from which the present inhabitants are descendants. The second alcalder was a negro as black as I have ever seen.

In the city of Panama in its days of prosperity, when under Spain, the higher classes must have lived in great luxuries, the negroes their slaves. The natives the peons were in a condition similar to slavery, they could not leave the land as long as they owed any thing. But the despotism of old Spain became so great that when they struck for freedom, all classes united. They gave freedom to the negroes and the peons, and even the priests of the Catholic church had been so tyrannized over by the mother church in Spain that they joined the revolutionists and all classes are represented in the government. I called at a watchmaker's to have a crystal put in my watch. Two brothers had furnished rooms like a parlor. I could not speak Spanish, nor they English. I could speak a little French. I found they could speak it fluently. I asked them where they learned it. They said, “At the Jesuit college at Granada.” Then one of them, when he learned that I was from the United States, went to the piano and played Hail Columbia as a compliment to my country, which would trouble most of us to do the same for their country.

There are now great trees growing up in the ruins of what was once its great cathedral. The freebooter Morgan is said to have plundered one of its altars of a million of gold and silver, and massacred many of its inhabitants, perpetrating on them the atrocities that their ancestors had upon the original natives. It is said that when Pizarro captured Peru and took the Inca, their king, prisoner, he issued a decree that if his subjects would fill a room with gold, he would release him, which they did. Instead of doing it, he sentenced him to be burned at the stake, and only commuted it to hanging on condition that he confessed the Christian religion. Madam Roland, when she was about to be guillotined in the French revolution, exclaimed, “O Liberty, what crimes have been committed in thy name.” O Christianity, what terrible atrocities have been perpetrated in thy name!

Panama is a healthy city to those acclimated, facing a beautiful bay, unlike Chagres, on this side of the Isthmus of Darien, which is the most unhealthy spot on this continent. Excuse this diversion, I must get back to my subject, the days of the forty-niners.

I stopped at the American Hotel. I was somewhat in a dilapidated condition from the experiences of my trip from Chagres. The waiter in my room at the hotel took the best of care of me. I soon found he was no ordinary waiter. He had resigned a position in Washington of $2,000 a year to go to the gold Eldorado. He had been in Panama several months, and had been taken down with the fever twice, which had exhausted his funds and was working at the hotel for his board, but never thought of turning back.

He was bound for California. He was quite enfeebled from the effects of the fever. He got hold of my sympathies and secured my friendship. (More of him anon.) I had been here four or five days without seeing our guide, the boy with my satchel, containing my valuables, particularly the bills of lading of my houses. I was in a quandary and anxiety about it, not knowing what to do, when one day as I was going to dinner, something pulled my coat from behind, and looking around, what should I see to my great joy and satisfaction but the native boy with my satchel, contents there all safe. It was an instance of honesty that would do honor to any nation. I gave some honest Catholic priest credit for it. The boy had evidently been instructed what to do.

The great objective point now was, how to get to San Francisco. There was no hope for a sailing vessel from this place, for we saw one return for water that had been chartered by a party that had been out three weeks, and scarcely got out of sight of the city. There is very little chance for a sailing vessel from there until they get west several hundred miles, and strike the trade winds. The chances were better with the sailing vessel to start from New York and go around Cape Horn. So the only hope seemed to be the steamer with its sixty tickets and with from one thousand to fifteen hundred passengers waiting to buy them, all seeking to bring some influence to bear to secure one. I saw in the office of the steamer agent a young man, the book-keeper, whom I took a fancy to, and sought his acquaintance. I found he was from Hudson, N.Y., and I, from Albany, both from the banks of the Hudson river. It ripened into a warm friendship. I explained my situation to him, and my desire, if it was possible, to get off on the steamer, but did not venture to ask his influence to try and get me a ticket. At this time the cholera and Panama fever was raging in full force. The unacclimated Americans were dying in every direction. I was conversing at 8 A.M. with a healthy looking man, one of our passengers, from New York. At 5 P.M., the same day, I inquired for him and was informed that he was dead and buried. He had been attacked with the cholera. It was a law of the city that they must be buried within one hour after death from a contagious disease. I was finally myself taken down with the Panama fever, lay unconscious and unnoticed in my room at the hotel for a long time, and then came to and found myself burning with the raging fever, had a doctor sent for, and after a time recovered so I could venture out. In the meantime, the steamer Panama had arrived, and its day of sailing for San Francisco announced. Zackary, Nelson & Co. had issued an order that the sixty tickets would be put up to be drawn for. Those having the winning numbers could have the privilege of purchasing them; that they must register their names on such a day. Probably one thousand names and but sixty tickets. The chances were small, but the only hope. On that day, I went early to register, as I was still very weak from the effects of the fever, and at my best in the morning. As I entered, there was a great number there registering. When my turn came, and I was about to put down my name, I looked behind the desk and saw my friend, the book-keeper. He shook his head for me not to. I knew that meant something favorable. I backed out. I returned at once to the hotel. In the evening, about 8 o'clock, my friend came to my room with a second cabin ticket. The joys of Paradise centered into my possession of that ticket. I asked him how did he obtain it? He said he was about to resign his position, and was going up on the same steamer to California. The night before the drawing he asked Mr. Nelson if his services had been satisfactory to him. He said they had. He then said if he should ask him a favor on leaving him if he would grant it? He replied certainly. He then said that he wanted one of those sixty tickets for a particular friend. Mr. Nelson said, “If I had known what you was going to ask for, I could not have granted it; but since I have pledged my word, I shall give you the ticket.”

The next day passengers would be received on the steamer, which was anchored out in the bay, some distance from shore. It was announced that no sick persons could go on the steamer. As I was quite enfeebled from my sickness, and was at my best in the morning, I thought I would make an early start, so as to be sure and be aboard, as they were all to be on board the vessel to sail early the next morning. I started out for a boat to take me out to it with the highest elasticity of feelings, not so much from the prospect of financial success as the idea that if I could get North again my physical health would be restored, and the steamer was going North. It seemed at times that I would have given $1,000 for one good breath of Northern air. As I was going along, some distance ahead of me, sitting at the doors of a doggery, with his head almost between his knees, the picture of despair, was my Washington friend, who waited on my room at the hotel when I first arrived, did me many favors, and got hold of my sympathies. I said to myself, poor fellow, I can do nothing for you. I must not let him see me, so I dodged and passed him. When I got some distance by him my conscience smote me. I will go back and speak to him; so I did. I had advised him a few days previous to go and see some officers of the boat and offer to go up as waiter without pay. I asked him if he had done so, and what luck? He said there was no hope. They told him they had been offered $300 for the privilege of going up as waiter. I then told him I had a ticket. I was going then for a boat to go on board. That his case was desperate, and that desperate cases required desperate remedies; that he had been down twice with the fever, and the next time he would probably die; that he had no friends there nor money; if he would do as I told him I would stand by him and he must have nerve. He said to me: “How can a man have nerve without a dollar in his pocket?” which exclamation has occurred to me many times since. I asked him to hire a boat to get him out to the vessel, and what it would cost. He said $2. I gave him the money and told him to get his baggage. He said he had none. I told him to come about 11 o'clock and go to work among the hands as if he was one of them; that all were new hands and officers, and they would not know the difference. He said that the captain had said if any person was caught on board without a ticket they would be put on shore at the first uninhabited island. I told him I would attend to that in his case. I went on board and got my berth and baggage all in. About 11 o'clock I saw my friend coming over the water making for the vessel. There was considerable confusion on board at the time, passengers constantly arriving, and he was not noticed, and he went to work among the hands as if he had been regularly employed. In a short time the officers were arranging the men in line to pass the baggage, and said to him: “You stand here and help pass it,” of course, taking him for one of the men of the boat. In the evening he came and spoke to me. I said all right so far. But in the morning, he said, they are going to examine every person, then they will put me ashore. I said, keep a stiff upper lip. If you get in trouble, come to me.

The next morning the gun fired, the anchor was raised, and we sailed down to Bogota, an island similar to Staten Island in the New York Harbor. The health officers came out. Then my friend trembled and thought the day of judgment had come to him, but the health officers were on board but a short time. No examination of those on board took place. The signal gun for departure was fired. We passed out of the harbor. The bow of our vessel was pointed north, and we felt extremely happy. I said to him, “This vessel is bound for San Francisco, and you are aboard, and will get there as soon as I will.” A few days after that the mate was arranging the employment of the men, and when he came to my friend's turn he said to him, “Who employed you? You are not an able-bodied seaman.” He made no reply. They could see he was a man of intelligence, and his pale look showed he had been sick. It may have moved the sympathies of the officer, who said to him, “This vessel is crowded with people; it wont do for us to be short of water, and I will put the water in your charge, and you must not let any passenger, or even the steward, have any except according to the regulations, and if you attend to that properly no other services will be required of you.” That took him off the anxious seat and put him on the solid. In all his adverties he never thought of turning back. That commanded my esteem. His attentions to me, when sick, aroused my sympathies for him, which good action on his part saved him. Of one thousand passengers desirous of getting on that steamer, and there was room but for sixty on the day of its departure; his chance looked the most hopeless, being penniless, but he was one of the fortunate ones, while those who had plenty of money were left. It illustrated the old maxim, “Where there is a will there is a way.”

Nothing of interest occurred until we got to the port of Acupulco, the largest place on the west coast of Mexico. We were about to enter the harbor when a government boat with officials came out and ordered us to stop. If we proceeded any further there would be “matter trouble” in broken English. There were Americans on shore who had crossed over from Vera Cruz for the purpose of taking this steamer. It would be a month before there would be another one, and then there would be no certainty of their getting aboard of that. The captain held a consultation of the passengers, who all decided to have them come on board. They were our coutrymen and we would share our berths with them, although the vessel was then crowded, and some of the passengers volunteered to row ashore with the small boats to bring them aboard, which they did. When they approached the shore there was a company of soldiers waded in the water with pointed guns, forbidding them to approach any nearer. The Americans who were on the bank informed them that the soldiers would fire, and warning them not to approach any nearer, while bewailing their fate that they had to be left, so they returned. Then the captain received notice to leave in half an hour or the guns of the fort would open fire on us. It was a bright moonlight night. The fort was on a high knoll just above us, and could have blown us out of the water. So we thought discretion was the better part of valor, and we had to leave. The laws of nations were on their side. We were from an infected port, Panama, where cholera prevailed.

On board the steamer were some men of prominence. W. F. McCondery, from Boston, a retired East India sea captain, a man of wealth, who had been out of business for three years and craved for a more exciting life; who started the largest commission-house in San Francisco, and had consigned to him about all the shipments from Boston, and likewise the Prince de Joinville with my houses; Mr. G., from Liverpool, an Englishman, who had about all the consignments from that city; Rothschild's nephew, who had represented that house as a banker in Valparaiso, Chili, was going to establish a branch of those great bankers' house in San Francisco; Judge Terry, from Louisiana, who had the reputation at that time of being a dead shot with a pistol, who afterward challenged United States Senator Broderick to fight a duel, from political influences, and killed him, and some years afterward was assassinated himself from a disagreement with parties about a lawsuit. We came opposite Mazland at the mouth of the Gulf of California, and took on board some passengers and freight.

The next incident in our voyage wa when we came in sight of San Diego, California, and saw the American flag floating from the flag staff. There was an instantaneous shout went up from every American on board. We were once more to be under its protection in our own country.

    Love of country, mystic fire from heaven,
    To light our race up to stateliest heights 'tis given

We were entering the Golden Gate. It was but four miles to the harbor where we cast anchor, opposite the city of San Francisco, which was the goal of our hopes for so long a time, and which was about to be realized; which was also the objective point from almost every part of the world where adventurers are seeking to get. We had come three thousand, five hundred miles since we left Panama. We engaged a row-boat to take us ashore. My friend attended to getting my baggage out of the boat, and went with me to the shore. He had signed no papers, and entered into no bonds not to desert the vessel at San Francisco, as the other sailors had. He was free to do as he pleased.

I had the chills and fever all the way up, from the effects of the Panama fever. My first idea was to get in good quarters, whatever expense, to regain my health. I was informed that there was a good hotel kept by a widow woman on Montgomery street, where we landed. Some of the other passengers were going to stop there. I inquired the terms. They said $5 per day. I thought I would try it for a while. My sleepingroom was a mattress laid on the floor, with muslin partitions to separate us from the next room. The table was very indifferent, no vegatables, which I required, which we lacked on the ship coming up. Being in poor health, I needed them. After being there a few days one of our passengers asked me if I knew what the charges were. I said yes, $5 per day. He said it was more; I had better ask again, which I did. I was informed it was $5 for the room and extra for the meals. I paid my bill and looked out for other quarters. I had brought in my baggage an Indian rubber mattress and pillow which was folded up in a small space and could be blown up with your breath and filled with air, made a soft bed, a pair of new Mackinaw blankets and other things to provide for any contingency, and took my meals at a restaurant, which were numerous, including the Chinese which we often patronized, and found myself satisfactorily quartered. It may not be inappropriate to make some general remarks about the history of California.

Although my subject is strictly on the days of forty-niners, which consisted of about two years from the discovery of the gold, when it was supposed that the future prosperity of the country depended exclusively on the mining interest. How different it has turned out since has nothing to do with my subject. I want to try to paint to the mind of the reader the condition of California at that time, and the views of the pioneers in those days. I am doing it in the form of a personal narrative, as it enables me more distinctly to recall to my mind the events of those days in which I was participant. Such fluctuations of fortune as then occurred, the world never saw before in the same space of time, and probably never will again, where common labor was $16 per day. There were some very interesting and truthful articles published in the Century magazine two years ago from the pen of the pioneers, but there has been no book published as a standard work for the present and future, and the participants in it are passing away, for it is forty-five years since they occurred. California is three times larger in territory than the State of New York. Its population before the discovery of gold, including Indians and all, was but a few thousand. Cattle could be bought for $1 per head, and all the land they ranged upon thrown in the bargain for nothing. They were killed for their hides, and the meat thrown away, as there was no one to eat it.


San Francisco bay, first discovered the 25th of October, 1769. The first ship that ever entered the harbor was the San Carlos, June, 1775. The mission of Dolores founded by the Jesuit Fathers in 1769. Colonel Jonathan Stevenson arrived at California with one thousand men on the 7th of March, 1847. The treaty of Hidalgo ceding California to the United States by Mexico, officially proclaimed by the president, July 4, 1848. Gold first discovered by Marshall, January 9, 1848. January, 1848, the whole white population of California was fourteen thousand, January, 1849, the population of San Francisco was two thousand. The three most prominent publicmen at the time of my arrival in California were Colonel Freemont, who had conducted an expedition overland; Colonel Stevenson, who came by sea with one thousand men, appointed by William L. Marcy, who was secretary of war during the conflict with Mexico, from whom I had a letter of introduction as a family connection of Governor Marcy, similar to the following letter to Brigadier Major-General P. F. Smith, which was not delivered:

ALBANY, June 24, 1849.

MY DEAR SIR--I desire to present to your favorable notice, the bearer hereof, Dr. Daniel Knower. He is on the eve of departing for California. He is a family connection of mine, a gentleman of talents and respectability, and I commend him to your favorable notice.

Yours truly,



I soon found the colonel one of the warmest of friends. Captain John A. Sutter, who was a captain in the Swiss Guards of Charles the Tenth of France, after the revolution of 1830 in that country, came to the United States, who some years previous had wandered across the country to Oregon, and the Russian Fur Company secured for him a large grant of land from Mexico in California, on which the city of Sacramento now stands, extending back from that city many miles to where the gold was first discovered. He was having a raceway dug on the American river for the purpose of erecting a saw-mill, as there was no lumber in the country. He had constructed a fort some miles back from the Sacramento river, where he made his home. The object of the Russian Fur Company was to have a place where they could purchase grain, as there was none raised there at that time, and they had a contract with him, and that they were to send a vessel at such a time, and he was to settle up the country and cultivate it. Sutter was the most social and generous of men. The latch-string of his cabin was always on the outside, and all callers were welcome, and the hospitalities of the fort extended to all callers.

At the time of my arrival, on August 18, 1849, there were several hundreds of ships anchored in the bay deserted by their crews, who had gone to the mines. They could make more in one day there than their wages would amount to in a month on the vessel.

In the city a large portion of its population were living in tents. There were not buildings enough. Vessels were constantly arriving loaded with people from all parts of the world. As my health permitted I investigated matters there. I took a walk out. I met what looked like a laboring man. I asked him how long he had been there? He said two months. I said to him: “And not gone up to the mines yet?” He said to me he was in no particular hurry. He said he had a row-boat and made $20 a day rowing passengers to and from the vessels (there was then no dock). He had his boy with him, who gathered mussels and sold them. Between the two they averaged $30 per day, which explained why he was in no hurry to go to the gold diggings.

Lumber was bringing fabulous prices. It looked very favorable for my house ventures. Mr. G., the Englishman, had been very anxious to buy them. He had seen the specifications of the carpenter on the steamer coming up. On Saturday P.M. I called at this office. He asked me if I had made up my mind to sell him the houses. I said to him: “If I should put a price on them you would not take me up.” He said “try me.” I named a price. He said he would take them and go to my lawyer to draw up the contract. I said I would just as soon go to his (which was a fatal mistake). I knew his was a State senator from Florida, and had come up on the steamer with us. We found the lawyer in his office, and he commenced drawing up the contract. I made my statement that I sold the houses from my carpenter's specifications (not from any representations I made myself), and from the bills of lading and from my insurance policy, which ranked the ship Prince de Joinville, formerly a Havre packet, classed A, No. I. He was to deposit bills of lading of the ship St. George from Liverpool, consigned to him, in value to the amount of $50,000, with a third party, as collateral security, that on the arrival of the Prince de Joinville, and the delivery of the houses, he was to pay me the sum agreed upon.

The lawyer, after writing a little, complained of a headache, and asked if it made any difference if he put it off until Monday morning. I said, Mr. G. had been very anxious to buy the houses, and I had not cared about selling them to arrive, preferring to take my chances when the vessel got here, but since I had consented to sell them, I preferred to have it on the solid. I said, I supposed the transaction was not of great importance to Mr. G., but I had all that I was worth in the world at stake on the venture, and would prefer to have it closed now. He commenced writing, and again complained of the headache. I then consented to put it off until Monday morning at 10 o'clock. We both pledged our honor to meet there at that time and consummate it. I was there on Monday morning at the time designated. Mr. G. came in at 11 o'clock and said he had changed his mind and would not take the houses. I said all right, but his word of pledge of honor would have no value with me hereafter.

I would have made $18,000 profit, but I was selling them for a good deal less than they would have brought if they had been there. Lumber was selling as high as from three to four hundred dollars per thousand feet in San Francisco at that time. But I was making certain of a good profit and running no risk of what might happen in the future.

I had another offer of a number of lots on Stockton street, the next street above the plaza in the heart of the city, for six of the smaller ones, which, if I had consummated, would have made my fortune. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, if taken at the flood tide, leads on to fortune, or, if not seized, are forever lost.” (Shakespeare.)

The ideas of the people there at that time was, that a railroad across the continent, connecting California with the East, was entirely impracticable. That there were one thousand miles of desert to cross, where there was no water, and the Sierra Nevada mountains presented an impassable barrier, and they thought how could it ever be an agricultural country, when there was no rain for more than seven months in the year. The idea of irragation was not thought of then. How different every thing has turned out since, I have nothing to do with. I must be true to my subject, the days of the Forty-niners.

As it would be, at least, three months before the ship could come in with my houses, and my health had improved, I was anxious to get up to the mines. I was informed that there was a party from Albany at the Dutch bar, on the south fork of the American river, about eight miles from Coloma, where gold was first discovered, with whom I was acquainted. I found a sloop about to sail for Sacramento (there were no steamers then) the starting point to the northern mine. I took passage on board with all the passengers the boat could accommodate. I noticed on the passage up that the mosquitoes were very large, with penetrating bills. It was as much as we could do to protect our faces.

The only important event on the passage was that a Jew had potatoes that he was taking up on speculation, and that he was going to treat his fellow passengers to some, one day at dinner. We were a little disappointed when we found they were sweet ones, but still they were a treat. Vegetables were scarce, potatoes selling from forty to sixty cents per pound. After a few days we arrived at Sacramento, it being about one hundred miles from San Francisco by water. There were no hacks at the landing, nobody that wanted a job to carry your baggage. Governor Shannon, of Ohio, was among the passengers. He had been minister to Mexico, yet he had to carry his own baggage, and make several trips to do it. One of the passengers assisted him. He was president of a mining company organized in Ohio.

It was evening. We stopped at a hotel, and I slept in my Mackinaw blanket that I carried with me, on the dining-room floor. The next morning after breakfast, about 9 o'clock, I went out on the front portico to take observations of the place. The landlord was there. There was a loaferish-looking fellow going by on the opposite side of the street. The landlord cries out to him: “Bill, what will you charge to chop wood for me from now until night?” He cries back, “What will you give?” He replies, “$10.” Bill answers back, “Can't chop for less than an ounce,” which was $16, and walked right on. It was evident that common labor was not suffering there for want of employment. I was there some days, and could find no one to post me how to get to Coloma. All was excitement and bustle. While there, Sam. Brannan--who had built a new hotel there (just finished), called the City Hotel--gave a free entertainment for one day to the public. He must have expended $1,000 for refreshments. He had been a Mormon preacher, and was a captain in Colonel Stevenson's regiment. He was very enterprising and generous, a prominent figure with the “Forty-niners.”

I saw an article in the paper a few years ago from a California correspondent, giving a biography of him; that he was, at one time, worth several millions, and went into some big enterprise--which I cannot now recall--and was unfortunate and lost all his wealth, and that he was, at that time, in San Francisco at a twenty-five-cent lodging-house, and that he told him that he passed two men that day who had crossed the street to avoid him, to whom he had furnished the money from which they had made their fortunes.

Well, I finally found an Oregon man with a yoke of oxen, who was freighting goods up to Coloma. He said he had seven hundred and fifty acres of land in Oregon, but no cattle on it. He thought he would come to California and get gold enough to buy them, and his wife was keeping a cake and pie stand on the streets of that city. I never saw him after that trip, but coming with so modest expectations, I have no doubt he was successful.

We started on our journey in the afternoon. The country through which we traveled looked as if it had been an old-settled land, and deserted by its inhabitants. It seemed that we must come to a farm-house, but there was none. There were scattering trees in the country and occasionally a woods, but no dense forest. We made eight miles, then camped for the night on the edge of a woods. I had brought no provisions with me, so I offered him $1 per meal to eat with him, which was accepted. He made tea, cooked some Indian meal, and had a jug of molasses; so we made a very good supper. I got my satchel out of the wagon for a pillow, and with my blankets made my bed on the ground under the wagon. I thought it would keep the dew off, but there was none.

There is no danger of taking cold sleeping on the ground in the dry season, when it does not rain for seven months. He had set fire to a dead tree to keep the grizzly bears off, and about the time I got comfortably laid down, there was a pack of coyote wolves came howling around. Amid those surroundings, the burning of the fire to keep the grizzlies off and howling of the wolves, I fell asleep and did not wake until morning, refreshed from my slumbers. After a breakfast similar to the meal the night before, we proceeded on our journey, but the ox team travelled so slow that in walking I got away ahead of it, and then got tired of waiting for it to come up to me, and so went on alone. Toward night I came to Mormon Island, the first gold diggings. I inquired if there was a place where I could get quarters for the night. They said I might, at the hospital. It was a log cabin with bunks in it, and what was my astonishment to find the proprietor, a doctor from Troy, N.Y., an old acquaintance. I was more than welcome. We were both delighted to see each other. I to find such comfortable quarters, and he to meet with a friend in the wilderness, and to hear the latest news from the East. He got for me the best supper that the surroundings would afford; as I had eaten nothing since morning, it was very acceptable, and he provided for me the most comfortable of his bunks for sleeping. He informed me that it was twenty-five miles from Coloma, and there was but one place on the way where I could get water to drink. I started after breakfast, refreshed. After travelling some miles, I came to the smoke of the camp-fire of Indians, just ahead of me. It was rumored that the Oregon men were in the habit of shooting an Indian on sight when they had a chance. The Indians killed white men in retaliation, as they could not make peace until they had killed as many whites as they had lost, according to their ideas of equity. As I did not care particularly about being one to make up the number, I struck off in a ravine and passed around so as to avoid their camping ground and came to the road beyond them. What truth there was about the shooting of them I could not say, but it was currently reported at the time. About 4 o'clock, P.M., I got to a stopping place six miles from Coloma. There I met a man with a long beard, slouched hat, a sash around his body, a flannel shirt, evidently a miner. I had a long talk with him. He posted me about the gold diggings and I him about the news from the States. As we were about to part, he asked me to take a drink. He inquired of the proprietor if he had champagne? He said, yes, at $10 a bottle. The man said, pass us down a bottle, which we drank together. He, evidently, had struck good diggings. We parted, as I was anxious to get to Coloma before dark, which I did, just as the sun was setting, having made twenty-five miles in one day on foot. I found a regular tavern here, kept by a man from Mississippi, with his family. I sat down to a regular table for my supper, which seemed quite a treat. He informed me that he had no bed-room for me; that I could sleep on the dining-room floor, or in his barn. He had just had some new hay put in. I chose the latter. It was a kind of a shanty building, but the soft bed of new hay was a luxury after my twenty-five miles walk.

I awoke the next morning refreshed. After my breakfast I took in the place and went to the raceway where the first piece of gold was discovered. There were three or four stores in the place to supply the miners of the surrounding region. I got my direction how to find the Dutch Bar, eight miles from there. Proceeding on my way, after going about five miles, I came to a person, his face covered with a long beard, whom I recognized, by the expression of his eyes, as a person who I knew in Albany, and who belonged to the party I was seeking. He informed me that I was within three miles of them, and he gave me plain directions how to find them. I soon came to their camp and there was a genial meeting and exchange of news. There were five in the company. They had a tent and owned a pair of mules. I joined them, as I had not come to depend on mining, as I never had been accustomed to physical labor. At first I thought it was awful hard work, and that it was lucky for me that I had not come to California depending on it, but after a short time I got used to it and liked it. They took turns in cooking, so each one had one day in the week that he did the cooking. We lived on fried pork and flapjacks made from wheat flour fried in the fat of the pork, tin cups for our tea and coffee, and tin dishes. We each had stone seats, and a big one in the center for our table. At night we slept under our tent. The gold rivers were not navigable. They were sunk way down deep in the earth. When the rainy season sets in during the winter months, and sometimes rains every day in the month, causing the snow to melt on the Sierra Nevada mountains, where these streams take their rise, will cause the water to rise often from ten to twenty feet in a night, and in the course of ages has worn their depth down into the earth, and is supposed to have washed out of the earth the scales of gold that are found on the banks of the rivers. The first mining was a very simple process. A party of three could work together to the best advantage. A virgin bar was where the river had once run over and now receded from it. Three persons worked together, one to clear off the sand on the ground to within six inches of the hardpan. The top earth was not considered worth washing, the scales of gold, being heavier, had settled through it, but could not penetrate that portion of the earth called the hardpan, so the earth within six inches of it was impregnated with more or less gold, and one to carry the bucket to the rocker, and the other to run the rocker, which was located close to the water. The rocker was a trough about three feet in length with three slats in it and a sieve at the upper end, on which the bucket of earth was thrown. The man worked the rocker with one hand and dipped the water out of the river with a tin-handled dipper. As he worked the rocker the fine earth and scales of gold passed through the holes of the sieve and settled behind the slats in the trough, and the stones and large lumps in which there was no gold were caught in the sieve and thrown away. After a certain number of buckets of earth had been run through in that way, the settlings behind the slats in the trough were put in a milk-pan and the water was allowed to run in the pan and the fine earth and sand would float on the top of the water. You would let that run off.

After a few operations of that kind you would see the yellow scales of gold on the edge of the sand. You would continue that process until there was but a little of the sand left; then you would take it with you when you went to the tank and warm it by a fire to dry the sand; then with your breath you would blow away the sand and have the gold, which you carried in a buckskin bag, which was the currency of the country, at $16 per ounce, and at the mint in Philadelphia was worth $18.25 I have carried three hundred buckets in a day, and at twenty-five cents worth of gold in a bucket, it would amount to $75, $25 to each man for his day's work, which was frequently the average. In those days all it cost for a party of three for capital to start mining was about $15. Then you had the chances of striking a pocket. That was a cavity in the rocks where gold had settled. In the course of ages, and where the strong currents of the streams, when the rivers were high, could not reach it to wash it out, I have known a person to take out $800 of gold in less than an hour. The first miners, when they found gold on the banks of the river, thought if they could only dig in the deep holes of the bed they would find chunks of it, and they went to a big expense, and those who had money hired laborers to assist in constructing raceways at $16 per day, to change the current of the river; but when they had effected their object and dug there they found no gold, for there was nothing to prevent the strong current from carrying it off; but I knew a party to draw off the water and expose the bed of the river, where there were rapids, and they were successful, and the gold had settled down between the crevices of the rocks, and the currents could not disturb it.

There were some other kinds of diggings discovered different from the river mining, called cañons, one I know of, called the Oregon. It was described like a tunnel, deep down in the earth, where a party of three persons from near our locality went and returned in about three weeks and had from three to five thousand dollars apiece, which they showed me. It was not scale gold, but nuggets of all sizes. Of course, they had unusual luck.

On the river mining each person was entitled to so many feet, as long as they left any implements of labor on it. No person would trespass upon it; but if he took every thing away, then it was inferred he had given it up, and anybody had a right to take it. All regulations were strictly respected and every thing was safe, and a person told me that he would not be afraid to leave his bag of gold in his tent. Every thing was honorable and safe until the overland emigrants from western Missouri arrived there.

They were a different kind of people; more of the brute order. When they saw a party of two or three that had a good claim, and they were the strongest, they would dispossess them. (I suppose the same class that raided Kansas in John Brown's time.) They became so obnoxious that a respectable man would deny his State.

And another corrupt element arrived by sea, the ex-convicts from Sidney.

image of Dressed As No California Indian Ever Was Before

I went to Coloma one day to get supplies for the party. I rode one of the mules, the other followed to be packed with the purchases. When I bought what was wanted, I handed the storekeeper my bag of gold to pay him. When he returned it to me, I found his statement made was between three and four dollars less than I knew was in it. I informed him of the discrepancy. He said he did not see how that could be; that he weighed it right. He came in in a few minutes and apologized, saying that he had weighed it in the scales that he used when he traded with the Indians. It needs no comment to know that the Christian man is not always superior to the Indian in integrity. There was an Indian who had struck a pocket. He came to Coloma with $800 in gold dust that he got out in a short time. He invested it all with the storekeepers in a few hours. He had dressed himself in the height of fashion, including a gold watch. He was dressed as no California Indian ever had been before. The gold he could not eat nor drink.

How the gold came there is one of the mysteries of nature. One theory is, that the Sierra Nevada mountains were once the banks of the Pacific ocean, and all California had been thrown up from the bottom of the sea from that depth where gold was a part of the formation of the earth, in connection with quartz, and as all gold appears in a molten state, which would go to corroborate this theory. A person informed me that he went through a ravine where one side of the road was half of a large rock, and on the other side, the other half. He could see where the two halves would match each other exactly.

Well, I lived that life for two months. We had an addition to what I have described to eat--pork and beans on Sunday, and Chili pudding. It had been baked and sweetened, and then ground up like flour and put in bags. All you had to do was to moisten it with water to eat it. All our flour came from that country, put up in sacks of fifty and one hundred pounds each, but we had no vegetables. One day we heard that they had dried-apple sauce at the hotel at Coloma for dinner. The next day, Sunday, three of us walked eight miles to get there to dinner to get a taste of it. We paid $2 apiece for our dinner, and they had the sauce; it tasted so good that we did not begrudge the price of the dinner and the walk back again. We were fully satisfied.

The rainy season set in. It rained three days, and although it was three or four weeks before it would be possible for my houses to arrive, yet it was a new country and no bridges. The streams might get up so as to be impassable, and the houses were consigned to me, and no one but myself to receive them. I thought I had better get back to San Francisco at once. What I was making in the mines was mere nothing to what I had at stake in the houses. Although, to tell the truth, I never left a place with more regret, as hard as the fare was. We were interested every day in the work for gold, and did not know when we might make a rich strike. My last day there it rained. Notwithstanding, a companion and myself went out to dig for a couple of hours. When we returned, we had $25 worth. That was the last of my mining. I started the next morning for Sacramento afoot. I sold my pistol and blankets for an ounce each, $16 apiece. On my route I met a man bound for the same place. We joined teams and became very intimate.

The only incident of importance was when we got within five miles of Sacramento. We stopped at a log cabin and ordered dinner. A short time after my companion came to me in some excitement and said he had looked through the window and that they were cooking potatoes for dinner. I could not believe the good news, and so went and looked for myself and found it was true. I had not tasted one in two months. We took the steamer Senator that evening for San Francisco. It had been a Long Island steamboat and had arrived since my departure for the mines. It was the first steamer that had ever sailed the interior waters of California, and had been put on to run from San Francisco to Sacramento. I think it belonged to Grenell, Minton & Co., a prominent shipping firm of New York city. Charley Minton had charge of it. Of course its profits were great. But I could not sleep in my state-room berth; I had been so long used to a hard bed I was restless, but we arrived safe the next morning at San Francisco. The bulk of my book will be events that occurred during my residence in that city. I scarcely know how to begin to describe it. My efforts will be to portray them truthfully. To do so I must continue in the form of a personal narrative. That is the only way I can recall the events to my mind of so long ago.

At this time more changes took place there in a month than in most any other place in a year. Every thing was done by the month. Buildings were rented by the month; money was loaned by the month; ten per cent per month was the regular interest. There was but one bank, called the Miners', on the corner of the plaza, owned by three parties. During my absence a great boom had taken place--influenced by new arrivals and most favorable news from the gold mining sections. This was the fall of 1849. The lots that I had thought of trading six of my houses for had tripled in value, but lumber was still bringing fabulous prices and every thing looked favorable for a big strike on my houses when they arrived. Montgomery street was on the banks of the bay. There was one pier at this time constructed from it in the bay, and a temporary pier by Colonel Stevenson at the north beach. The city was growing up toward Happy Valley. Portsmouth Square, the plaza, still had some of the adobe buildings on it. The best hotel was the Parker House, on the west corner of it. The plaza was sand, no vegetation on it.

Rincon Point, on Telegraph Hill, was the spot where ships and steamers were signalled. Steamers coming in but once a month, they brought the last news from the East. The New York papers were peddled at $1 each. Long lines of people were formed to get the mail, and you had to take sometimes half a day before you could reach the office. Oakland, opposite the bay, had no existence. Goat Island had plenty of wild goats on it, and we could never imagine how the first goat ever got there. There was no scarcity of meat--plenty of beef and grizzly bears were hung out at the doors of the restaurants as a sign, and plenty of venison. I can recall now to my mind, venison steaks that we would get in the evening with their rich jellies on it. The luxuries of Asia were coming in there. Many China restaurants with their signs from Canton or Pekin. But there was a great scarcity of vegetables. Onions and potatoes sold for forty cents per pound.

A day or two after my arrival, my friend who came down with me from the mines came to me and said that there were a lot of blankets to be sold at auction; that he had no money, or he would buy them; that if I would buy them he would take them up in the mines and peddle them out for me for half of the profit. As I knew they were in great demand there--I had sold, when I left there, mine for $16--I told him if he could buy them for $4 per pair to bid them off and I would furnish the money to pay for them. He came back in a short time and said he had bought them, and that they came to $800. We had them taken to the steamer Senator to ship to Sacramento. We paid $10 a load to have them carted from the store where they were bought to the steamer. (The result of this speculation later on.)

There were at this time several hundred vessels anchored in the bay, deserted by their officers and crews. A ship could be bought for probably one-third of what it was worth in New York, and I conceived the project of buying a ship as soon as I sold my houses, which I expected soon to arrive, being on so fast a ship as the Prince de Joinville, and going myself to the Sandwich Islands and buying a load of onions and potatoes, as I was informed that they could be bought as cheap there as in the States, and ciphered out that one successful venture of that kind would make my fortune. So I went among the idle ships to see what I could do in that line, and to have one selected, ready to close the bargain as soon as the houses arrived. I came across a brig that had been running to Sacramento, but was condemned as a foreign bottom, when Collier, the collector, arrived there, a short time before, and extended the marine laws of the United States over California. The captain and crew were aboard. The captain was an Englishman; the crew, cosmopolitan--a Hindostan, a Mexican named Edwin Jesus, an English sailor and an American. I inquired of the captain about the history of the vessel. He said she had been built at Quavqiel, down the coast, and had belonged to a Mexican general, and was built partially of an American whaler that had been wrecked on the coast, so I got American timbers in her. They wanted to sell the vessel. I told him I might buy her. I would let them know in a day or two. So I went to Colonel Stevenson and gave him a history of it, and asked him if he would see Collier, the collector of the port, and see if I could not get her papers as an American vessel, which he did, and informed me the next day that it was all right. I went at once and bought the brig. As soon as I got its American papers it was worth twice what I had to pay for it. I kept the same captain, as he knew the navigation of the rivers, which few did at that time. I gave him $250 per month and put a supercargo at $150 per month, and kept the same crew. I had it put up for Stockton, the head depot for the Southern lines. The first month it made two trips. Its receipts were $3,100; its expenses, $1,100; so it earned me $2,000 clear.

There was a friend of mine named R., who owned a third interest in a factory that belonged to a relative of mine who got the gold fever when I did, and got me to negotiate the sale of his interest in it to him, which I did for $8,000, so he could go to California with me. When he arrived there he proposed to build a brewery. His father had been a brewer in Scotland. He bought a lot, a part of the city called Happy Valley, and started to build the first brewery on the Pacific coast. He commenced to build one that would cost $30,000 with that capital, which was his mistake. If he had commenced in a small way he would have made his fortune. (In my personal narrative he had much to do with my affairs.)

At this point in writing my manuscript, I have just heard of the death of Colonel Jonathan Stevenson, aged ninety-four, in California, to whon I had a letter of introduction from Governor William L. Marcy. I found him the warmest, the truest and most generous friend. He was a little unpopular when I first met him, for what I conceived the most noble action of his life. There were in his regiment roughs from the city of New York, where it was organized, who, when the war was over with Mexico, would go into saloons and places and help them selves to what they wanted and refused to pay. They were termed “The Hounds.” There was a vigilance committee organized against them, which public sentiment, at that time, fully indorsed. They had seized a number of them and were about to hang them. Colonel Stevenson faced the excited crowd and asked to have them give the men a trial and punish the guilty. He said that when he returned to New York and their mothers asked him what had become of their sons, how could he face them if they were put to death in that way; but if he could say to them that they had a fair trial, were found guilty of crime, and had been punished according to law, it would be different. I think they were not executed, but banished; but it set up a cry against the colonel that he had taken the part of “The Hounds,” so unjust is often, for a time, public sentiment. That was the first vigilance committee; the great one came afterward, but I am confined to the days of the “Forty-niners.”

It was rumored, at the time, that there was a jealousy between him and Colonel Freemont. It was not on the part of Stevenson. I boarded at the same hotel with Freemont.

image of Hotel Bill

See illustration for bill which I received while at the hotel with Colonel Freemont:

The colonel asked me one day to speak to Freemont at dinner, and request him, if convenient, to stop in his office as he came from dinner, which I did. Stevenson's office was on the plaza, but Freemont never called.

There was great difficulty about the title to lots at that time. There were contentions set up, and claims of property from different Mexican grants, as it became valuable. It was guaranteed by the United States, at the treaty of Hidalgo, when California was ceded to us, that all titles that were good under the Mexican government should be recognized by us. L., the chaplain of Stevenson's regiment, seems to have been the butt of the boys before the gold was discovered.

They, as a farce, elected him alcalde of San Francisco, which position is a combination of mayor and judge, as we would understand it, and his election was declared illegal. Then they elected him for spite. He served one year.

There was a Mexican law that in any village in that country a person had a right to settle on one hundred veras of land so many feet, about three hundred, and if he put up any kind of a building on it, and held undisputed possession for one year, he could go to the alcalde, and by paying $16, get a good and valid title. When the lots became so valuable in San Francisco, after the gold was discovered, many lots based on those kinds of grants became very valuable two or three years after the discovery of gold. L. became quite wealthy, it was said, by advances in real estate. There were rumors of bogus titles in the names of dead soldiers and others who had left the country, but could be traced to no authentic source. He was estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars, made in the rise of real estate. I met him but once and I sold him some lumber.

My shipping merchant who negotiated freight for my brig got a legal title of that kind.

image of The Captain and the Runaway Sailor


He said he was a book-keeper for a firm in Newport, Rhode Island, at a small salary. He made up his mind that if they would not raise his pay $100 per year on the 1st of January he would leave them. They refused, so he lost his situation, and it was dull times, and he could not get another one, so he shipped on a whaling vessel as a sailor. His health was poor, and he found he could not stand the hardships of that life. The vessel put in the harbor of San Francisco for water and fresh meat on their way to the Arctic ocean, so he deserted the ship and secreted himself until it left. Then he had to do something there for a living, so he squatted on one hundred veras of land on the beach, and put up a shanty and sold fruit and probably some liquor, etc., to make a living. No one disturbed him for one year. He applied to the alcalde and paid his $16 and got a good, valid title. After the gold was discovered it became the most valuable property in the city. When I was doing business with him he had a three-story brick store, which he owned. The whaling ship had been gone to the Arctic ocean two or three years and had heard nothing of the discovery of the gold, and wonderful changes in San Francisco, and the captain thought he would put in that port on his return and hunt up his runaway sailor, and behold, his absconding sailor was rich enough when he found him to buy his ship and his whole cargo of whale oil. I was introduced by him to his captain and shook hands with him, and we had a good talk over it. Wherein does our stories of fiction, of our boyhood, of Arabian Nights, surpass the actual events of life, of the wonderful fluctuations of fortunes in California in the days of the Forty-niners?

On the death of President Taylor, a meeting was called for the purpose of having funeral obsequies there in his honor. A man was named for president of the day. Then it was proposed to name a vice-president for each State and Territory, which was done. There were persons in the crowd from every one of them. A day was set apart for the ceremonies, and all business was to be suspended. There was a long procession on that day, and the masons and all societies and the people in general turned out in full force, including the Chinese, who were smart enough to think it would make a favorable impression in their favor. After the parade was dismissed in the plaza, the Chinese were requested to remain, and a missionary addressed them, and a Chinaman interpreted to them in their own language. I noticed that their language was much more condensed than ours. It took about a third of the time for him to translate what the missionary said. When the missionary closed, he said he hoped that we would all meet together in another and a better world. It seemed to them so absurd that they looked at each other and smiled as if it was a good joke.

In those early days there were no particular prejudices against them. Pagans, as we call them, practised the Christian virtues toward their own countrymen. When the ship arrived from China they were down to greet the newcomers, whom they had never seen before, and invite them to their homes. The present laws of restriction against them, I think, are all right. We cannot afford to run the risk of having the institutions of our country injured by an emigration that is uncongenial to it. We have gone too far in that line already, not from selfishness, but to perpetuate the institutions founded by our revolutionary ancestors, in their purity, for the interests of mankind.

I received a letter from my blanket friend. He informed me that he could not sell the blankets, and had traded them off for flour, and would start the next day for the Yuba, which was the most remote gold river. That was all a lie. He did that so that I would not follow him up. He had not a dollar invested in them. They were my property. I knew at once I had been dealing with a rascal, but I was powerless to do any thing about it, so I wrote him back that it was all right; that I had bought a brig; and that I had it running to Stockton, and he could take ventures up on that and make up what we had lost on the blankets, and much more. (More of him later on.)


It was public most everywhere. Faro tables, the great American gambling game, Monte, the Mexican and Roulette. The Eldorado, on the corner of the plaza, was the most celebrated gambling house of that time. There had been a great deal of money expended in fitting it up. It had an orchestra of fifteen persons. It was run all night and day, with two sets of hands. It was gorgeously fitted up. What they used to stir up the sugar in the drinks cost $300. It was solid gold. Numerous gambling tables, piled up with gold and silver, to tempt the better, behind which were hired dealers. The owners of the Eldorado were not known. Many a miner has come with his few thousand dollars to San Francisco to sail for home, and taking in the sights, visited the Eldorado, got interested in the different games, and lost it all and went back to the gold regions broken and penniless to try his luck over again. I heard of one that lost his all three times in that way. I saw a man once put down a bag of gold, which contained $5,000, bet $1,000 on one turn of the card at Monte. He lost. While I was looking at him in the course of half an hour, he lost it all. I thought what independence that amount would have given some family in the East.

In those early days there was often but a muslin partition between you and the next room, and you could hear every word in the next apartment. About 1 o'clock in the morning I was awaken by two men entering and taking the next room to mine, whom I saw running a Roulette table on the plaza. They seemed to be considerably excited. They said they would be willing to lose some money to get rid of that tapper. Of course, I could not understand, at first, what they meant by that expression, but come to find out from their conversation, they had their Roulette table arranged so that they could make the ball stop on the red or black, as it happened to be for their interest to have it do. So, if there were $20 bet upon the red, the tapper would bet $10 on the black, and they could not make the red lose without making the black win. So the tapper was getting half of their gains. I would advise all my friends to let Roulette alone, unless they are sure they can place themselves in the position of the tapper.

One morning on the plaza I took a look into a gambling saloon. I saw a Greaser that had been betting against Monte all night, and had had wonderful luck. He announced that he would tap the bank for $1,800, which was more money than he ever had before, or could ever expect to have again, which meant that he would bet that amount for whatever sum the dealer could show to meet it on the turn of one card. He lost, and the dealer showed $1,800 in the bank and took all his money. Monte is the great National gambling game of Mexico, and his idea of Paradise is to be able to break a Monte bank.

Mr. B. from Kentucky, whom I took for so rich a nabob, referred to among the passengers when out of New York. I saw him take out his gold watch, a valuable one, and bet it behind the queen, on the game of Faro, for $100. He was evidently about broke. It won. Then he went the $200, and it won again. Then he went it the third time, and it won. In about twenty minutes he had his watch back and $700, then he left. Some one asked me a few months after that if I knew that he was worth $80,000? He had been very lucky, and that he was to run for sheriff of San Francisco county on the Democratic ticket, and that the Whigs had nominated Jack Hayes, the celebrated Texan ranger.

Hayes had been in the Mexican war. It was told of him that when the American and Mexican armies were encamped opposite each other, that a Mexican officer, splendidly equipped, came forward on horseback, and challenged any American to meet him in single combat between the two forces. Jack Hayes volunteered to go, and he killed him. He took his horse, gold watch and personal effects. He afterward learned who he was, and that he left a widow. He sent all his personal effects to her as a present. Of course, we were interested warmly on his side, and he was elected. They say Colonel B. spent all his $80,000 on his side and was defeated. No reputable citizen of San Francisco or business man would allow himself to be seen betting at any of the public gambling tables. He would feel that he was losing character. I am trying to portray the scenes of those days exactly as they occurred, and if I left the gambling scenes out it would not be a true history.

At first public offices went a begging; nobody wanted them. Fine clothes were at a discount. He was looked upon as a tender-foot who knew nothing about the gold regions. But a flannel-shirted, roughly-dressed miner was the lion. He could tell something about the gold regions. The governor appointed a loafer fellow, in the early days, Port Warden. Nobody wanted it, and he was indorsed by one firm. As the city grew very rapidly the office soon became valuable. Somebody told the governor what kind of a man he had appointed Port Warden, and the governor wrote him a letter requesting him to resign, stating to him what representations had been made to him about his character, which, if he had known, he would not have appointed him. He wrote back to the governor refusing to resign, saying to him, he had better read the papers and look after his own character. The governor was up for re-election and the opposition papers were pitching into him.

(continue to next section)

Source: Chambliss, William H. Chambliss' Diary; Or, Society As It Really Is. 1895: New York.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.

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