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STERN REALITY
by Bill Kimberlin
June 1, 2008



     This image of San Francisco is from about 1847. In that year the wages for a worker were about $6 dollars a month. Then something happened.

     On January 24, 1848, James Marshall, discovered gold at John Sutter's mill-works on the south fork of the American River. The place was called Coloma.

     Shortly thereafter it was almost impossible to hire anyone to work for wages. In fact, one Colonel Richard Mason found his soldiers deserting at every turn.

     "The struggle between right at six dollars a month", he said, "and wrong at seventy five dollars a day, is a rather severe one."

     The Times of London wrote, "Those who could not procure better means of collecting gold, wandered off in its quest with tin pans, buckets, and whatever else could be used to separate the metal from the earth by washing...Since no capital is required, they are working in companies of equal shares, or alone with their basket."

     "No capital required". The Times did not care for this notion, commenting, "The effect produced in California by this new source of wealth has been anything but beneficial to the colony or advantageous to the public service... From the fact that no capital is necessary, a fair competition in labour without the influence of capital, men who are only able to procure a month's provisions have now thousands of dollars of the precious metal. The labouring class have now become the capitalists of the country."

     The Times goes on to say, "As yet, all attempts to employ capital in procuring the gold have resulted disastrously. Those who have organized a company to collect the precious metal have lost their outfits, for the persons hired for such a service invariably leave on their own account, taking with them the implements entrusted to them."

     Yet another problem is seen by a Washington newspaper, "This grain gold is now shipped off in large quantities to Mexico, Chili, and Peru, where it will be coined under the insignia of those republics, and lost to the metallic base of our own circulating medium. This gold can be secured to our own country only by a mint."

     Since San Francisco had no mint, the gold dust itself was traded for goods and services. And the thunk of these small heavy bags of dust could be heard to drop on every bar in the City.

     The Washington Union concludes by trying to dissuade the skeptics who have heard, but don't believe, the tales from California, with a warning, "When the wealth of these gold mines is really known and believed in the United States, there will not be wagons and steamers enough that can be spared, to bring the emigrants there."

     "You are now all incredulous; you regard our statements as the dreams of an exiled imagination; but what seems to you mere fiction is stern reality; it is not gold in the clouds or in the sea, or in the center of the rock-ribbed mountains, but in the soil of California--sparkling in the sun and glittering in its streams. It lies on the open plain, in the shadows of the deep ravine, and glows on the summits of the mountains."

     If that wasn't enough incentive to make a young man want to go to California, nothing ever would be enough. For those men who stayed in the East, their great-grand children are probably still there. For as Nathaniel West once remarked, "It was as if someone had turned the country on it's end and everything that wasn't nailed down rolled into California."

     I guess my ancestors weren't too nailed down because they rolled in sometime in 1845.





 
 
 
 
 

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