Copyright © 1964 by Journal
of the West, Inc. Reprinted with permission
of Journal of the West, 1531 Yuma, Manhattan, KS 66502 USA.
Because there never has been another Hubert H. Bancroft, and because Bancroft and his cadre of scribes, naturally, preferred to take down the dictated reminiscences of grizzled pioneers rather than their own prosaic peers and contemporaries, we have a far better record of the minutiae of daily California life during the Gold Rush than in Bancroft’s heyday, the 1880’s and 1890’s.
Unlike the case with the term Mother Lode (which purists and genealogists seek to limit to the Northern Mines as opposed to the Southern Mines, flying in the face of decades of popular usage of the term to signify the gold belt extending all the way from Agua Fria to Sierra City), historians have dodged the job of fixing a line in time as the “end” of the Gold Rush. But most of us would drop the curtain on the rushing portion of the gold story in California long before Fort Sumpter. However, what is forgotten is that the gold mania persisted for decades after the subsidence of the Gold Rush per se, long after the Federal Government’s low-pegged price for bullion ruined the industry in the Sierra and turned the stubborn scrabblers there into paupers. The period from circa 1880 until World War I is a tierra incognita to most of us, as regards mining in California. Yet it was the time when many quartz mines were dug and camps and towns founded, ghostly sites today which haunt us because we lack information on their obscure birth and upbringing.
Until these reminiscences of George A. Marshall were directed to this writer’s hands by Marshall Maslin, former book editor of the San Francisco News-Call, the only substantial work to his knowledge on this period in the Sierra Foothills was John C. Shay’s little-known and scarce Twenty Years in the Backwoods of California, copyrighted by the author in 1923 and published by the Roxburgh Publishing Company of Boston. This interesting, anecdotal history details the experiences of its author as the prospector, miner, homesteader, stockman and roadside smith in the hill country between Yosemite and Merced. But the period covered by Shay is 1897 to 1923. This makes Marshall’s memoirs all the more valuable, for they fill the niche just ahead of Shay; George A. Marshall shall quit the Mother Lode for the United States Navy in 1898.
George A. Marshall, although born on March 12, 1881, at the Washington Mine, near Hornitos, Mariposa County, has been associated with the Bay Area and San Francisco, particularly, throughout his long public career. He entered Federal Service, after being discharged from the Navy for medical disability, as a messenger in the office if the San Francisco Collector of Customs in 1903. He then worked his way up to Acting Deputy Naval Officer, Assistant Controller of Customs, Assistant Collector of Customs and finally, in 1940, Acting Collector of Customs. After his retirement from Federal service, George Marshall was Deputy County Clerk of Marin County at San Raphael, then a real estate salesman and, eventually, manager of the Novato Chamber of Commerce from 1954-1959, also in Marin County.
Since we are hard-put to find clear, descriptive accounts of latter-day mining in the lower Sierra, Mr. Marshall’s documentation of hardrock mining methods, social life, and mine and town founding (and abandonment) is most welcome. In it we have a fine narrative of life in the first decade after Dr. Frederick Jackson Turner pronounced the frontier to be dead. It proved to be a pretty frisky corpse in Arrastraville and Soulsbyville where, in the words of Mark Twain, more or less, reports of its passing were grossly exaggerated. Panning was dead; hydraulicking was dying. But deep quartz mining was still to be heard from for a long time when George A. Marshall, now of San Francisco, made his appearance in the Mother Lode in 1881.
The first of my Marshall clan to appear on the California scene was my grandfather, Thomas Wardell Marshall who, with his mother, sister and brother, Samuel, journeyed to New York from Richmond, Virginia, and thence to Panama by steamer. They crossed the Isthmus on mule back to board the brig Herman for the trip to San Francisco.
The brig was detained outside the Heads by fog and there was some anxiety among the passengers, for to be known as ‘Forty-niners they had only a short period until the new Year of 1850. They finally made harbor before the wild celebration took place in the city. The revelry did not appeal to the womenfolk so, as soon as possible, the family boarded a stern-wheel steamer for Stockton. They landed during the flood season and the ladies had to ride pig-a-back on the two brothers to a firmer footing. Their ultimate destination was Mariposa, several days journey by horse and wagon. The Marshall brothers arrived there and soon located and developed the Whitlock Mine on Sherlock Creek, just northeast of Mariposa. They were among the first to initiate quartz mining in the state.
Most of the early gold seekers merely washed the surface ground for placer or float gold, but as these gold particles and nuggets vanished, the need for delving into the earth increased. They realized that the more easily acquired gold particles were deposited by erosion from the many ledges, lodes or veins of quartz. They busied themselves installing machinery to burrow into the earth and sought apparatus to crush the rock in order to procure the gold.
The Marshalls were soon prospering, for the Whitlock was a “producer,” with proper machinery and management. But, as nearby pine trees were cut away, it became increasingly difficult to obtain timber with which to shore up the more dangerous parts of the mine and, at last, most of the miners in their employ finally refused to work in the dangerous zones and only the Marshalls would venture below. It seemed that the richest deposits were in the danger zone, and the brothers worked frantically to remove the ore. When, finally, a load of timber came, Thomas Marshall went to the top to accept the load and Samuel remained below ground, to make measurements for the cuts of timber to be used in the danger zone. While at this chore, a cave-in occurred and Samuel was crushed to death. My grandfather would never again enter the mine, except to remove his brother’s body. He immediately sold the Whitlock to eager buyers. (The Whitlock Mine was described as a ghost town in an article by Paulsen Visel which was published in the Saturday Evening Post of July 21, 1951.)
The Marshall family, now only three, moved to the Princeton Mine at Mt. Bullion and there Thomas met and married Sarah Jane Phillips, lately arrived from Mineral Point Wisconsin [ See the article on William Bowden Phillips, father of Sarah Jane, published under Family Histories in the Mariposa site]. There, my father, Thomas Edwin Marshall, was born on April 7, 1858, and my family then moved to the Hite’s Cove Mine on the Merced River near Yosemite Valley.
The next family migration was down-country to the Washington Mine near Hornitos. The surrounding country was either flat land or gently rolling hills, and hardly the spot for the uninitiated to locate a gold mine. But there it was, and there it is today. The present gold situation was not the cause of the closing down of the Washington Mine. Scarcity of timber, again, and wood for fuel for producing steam power, combined with the inability to drain away the water from underground workings with the crude Cornish pumps in use, plus the many fatal accidents, were all responsible. First, the Cornish or “Cousin Jack” miners quit the mine, then the native or adopted Californians and, lastly, the Chinese. The latter would take a white rooster to the scene of a fatality and stake him out to perish and thereby exorcise the spirit of the departed miner. My father, by association, in the mine blacksmith shop, with the Chinese blacksmiths, learned the Cantonese dialect and the reason for the white rooster ceremony.
One-half mile from the Washington Mine lived a family named Scott. The head of the family was a widow, Irene Branson Scott who, in time, became my maternal grandmother. Her husband, William Wiley Scott, after discharge from the Union Army, about April or May, 1865, decided to sell his farm holdings in Missouri and, with some of his kinfolk, joined the stampede to California. So they joined up with a California bound wagon train in May or June of 1865 and preceded westward for the great adventure. When the train, without mishap except for several Indian scares, reached the Platte River, near Julesburgh, Colorado, it encountered a violent storm so they decided to camp on the far bank where there would be no fording problem. While unharnessing or unyolking the animals, my maternal grandfather [Wm. Scott] was instantly killed by lightning and my grandmother, who was assisting him, was seriously shocked and disabled and did not fully recover until after reaching Mariposa. Five children were left fatherless and, for some time, without a mother’s care. My mother, Charlotte Sophrona Scott, was the youngest of the family, being only three years old. The oldest girl, fifteen years of age, became the head of the family until her mother recovered. With the assistance of the Bransons [Apparently the Scotts were traveling with Irene’s family], the body of my grandfather was arrayed in his army uniform and buried high up on the river bank, and the California wagon train resumed its journey to the promised land. During the first day’s journey, possibly fifteen miles, there was some need of certain papers and the oldest girl remembered that all documents had been placed in her father’s uniform for safe keeping, and they were interred with the body. The master of the train would not return to the place of burial, as they were behind schedule and were mindful of the High Sierra crossing and the Donner Party’s fate. The Scott and Branson family wagons returned to the river only to find that high water, caused by the recent storm, has washed away the body, which was never recovered. The three wagons then joined up with an Oregon wagon train which had been following closely, and proceeded to California through the Klamath country to Mariposa County and the vicinity of the Washington Mine where another child was born to Mrs. Scott after her arrival.
My grandmother [Scott] acquired a fairly large farm and, eventually, with the help of four girls and two boys, was quite successful in her venture. The Marshall and Scott children all attended the nearby Quartzburg School and my father eventually proposed marriage to the youngest girl, then 15 years old. My father was nineteen. Grandmother Scott at first demurred for the Marshalls were a Rebel family [the Marshall’s were natives of Nova Scotia who moved to Virginia in the 1830’s]. But she finally agreed. However, Grandfather [Thomas] Marshall was violently opposed to the marriage not because of the couple’s tender age, for in those days all females were grown up at fifteen years of age and expected to marry. The great objection was the Scotts being a “damnedyankee” family from the North. Feeling was quite noticeable in those diggin’s. I don’t know how Grandfather ever satisfied his prejudices, for the owner of the Washington Mine was Moses Rogers, a former slave from the South, whose daughter became the local postmaster in Hornitos. Love found a way for the young folks for Grandmother Scott furnished a fast team of horses and an old-fashioned buggy for the elopement to Merced some thirty miles away, over roads not too much better than trails. The elopers had a fair head-start, but Grandfather was pretty close behind, and gaining, so that they just had time for the marriage rites and to escape before he entered the court of the justice of the peace [This was in 1877].
There was an added reason for Grandfather’s dislike of Missourians, for none of them, or very few of them, became miners. They preferred to work “on top,” drive teams, chop wood, or settle down on farms, and Grandfather thought that only miners were the salt of the earth.
Four children were born, eventually, to the newly-weds [William—1879, George—1881, Unknown male—1883, and Daisey—1886]; I was the second to come along at the Washington Mine, before we moved again. The next move was to the Mt. Gaines Mine, where another child was born [Unknown male], and from thence to the Red Cloud Mine above Coulterville, but still in Mariposa County. I was pretty young at the time but I can still remember some of the events of the period. My father [Thomas E. Marshall] and Eli Hunt were the areas musicians, playing for all the dances, gratis—Father with his accordion and Eli with his violin. There were always refreshments for all, including a copper wash boiler on a wood stove, filled with coffee which was served with a big ladle and tin cups. There were always coats and wraps so we youngsters could be put to bed on the rough pine benches until the “good Night” song, about daybreak.
It was at the Red Cloud that that I saw for the first and last time a full-dress Indian dance, with all participants in full regalia, including paint and feathers.
My mother [Charlotte Scott Marshall] had been ailing for some time, and in order to be nearer Doctor Kearney in Mariposa, we moved down to the Scott Ranch near Hornitos, where another child was born [Daisey—Nov. 1886]. Mother was afflicted with tuberculosis and in those days there was little which could be done to effect a cure, so she soon passed away and was buried in the Odd Fellow Cemetery in Hornitos [June 15, 1887]. There were many consultations regarding the disposition of us four youngsters. It was temporarily decided that the two oldest would be placed in an orphan asylum [William, age 8 and George, age 6], and that the two youngest would be temporarily cared for by Grandmother Marshall [Sarah Phillips Marshall, wife of Thomas and then age 48]. This plan I objected to quite strenuously, calling attention to the fact that when Mother [Charlotte] was at the Scott Ranch we were in town with Grandmother Scott and that we scarcely knew Mother and, eventually, if the plan proposed were adopted, we children would be strangers to one another. Grandmother Marshall finally solved the problem by offering to take over all four children, which pleased us all, for we dearly loved her.
Father and Grandfather [Thomas Marshall] went out into the hills, pocket mining, and we older children started our education at the Hornitos Grammar School as the orphan asylum faded away. As I recall, there were only two two-story buildings in town, the Odd Fellows Hall next to our house, which was the site of the first chocolate factory operated by D. Ghirardelli, and Lessman’s Hotel on the back street. At the end of the street leading to Bear Valley were two grocery stores. On the left was Gagliordo’s; opposite was the Cavagnaro store. Minnie Cavagnaro was my Sunday School teacher at the Catholic Church, where all, regardless of family religion, went to Sunday School. She later married San Francisco banker Frank N. Belgrano, Sr.
Jake Bassett was the town constable and, on week ends, he used to gather up a number of guests to occupy the town jail, which was situated just to the rear of our residence. On Sundays, we boys had a special chore to perform for, by then, the guests all had developed a craving for water, especially cold water. My brother would stand against the stone wall of the jail under the barred, open window and help me to stand on his shoulders. Another helper would then hand me a five pound lard bucket full of water. It could not be shoved through the bars but we had hunted up a large, square can which could be squeezed through. It was a prolonged and tedious task, filling and passing and keeping one’s balance, but, eventually, we quenched the fires within. Jake would watch the performance from his home so he could take his time in releasing the prisoners. It was a very satisfactory performance and much appreciated by all the prisoners.
My grandmother [Sarah Marshall] was reputed to be somewhat of a spiritualistic medium and seances were the order in our house. There was always a fairly large crowd at all demonstrations, and probably each person present was bent on exposing the trickery used to make the table rap assent or dissent to the questions asked, or on occasion to move around the room. We youngsters, and some of the more curious oldsters, would lie on the floor underneath the large table to watch for tricks or devious acts, but never were able to say that my grandmother did other than invoke the spirits in a strictly orthodox manner. As a matter of fact, the spirits called the turn of many events to come. In answer to many questions, we were informed that my father would marry again, giving the initials of N.F.H. for the future bride, and predicting that three children would be born to the couple, but that only one boy would grow to manhood. When my father announced his coming marriage eleven years later , his three sisters [Thomas E. Marshall’s sisters included Elizabeth, Anna, Laura, Carrie, Kate, & Ella], who had been present at the séance, lamented the fact that the spirits were wrong, for the perspective bride’s initials were F.N.H. But when the marriage license was procured they found that the lady had always been known by her second name rather than by her first given name, and the spirits were therefor right [Thomas E. Marshall’s second wife was Frances Holland, b. 9 June 1871]. The prophesy about children also ran true, as Annie [called Marie on her gravestone] died as an infant [in November 1898], Stanley at about six years, and Clinton attained the age of thirty-eight years [All are buried at the Carter’s Cemetery, Tuolumne City]. At first, I rather resented the message of the spirits, but when the prophesy was fulfilled in later years, I was pleased with the new babies as anyone of the family.
Pocket-mining was a most precarious mode of gathering gold, since ‘gold is where you find it,” and the name indicated that it was deposited in small pockets, some near the surface, and some deeper. Compared with quartz mining, the venture was pretty much of a gamble. My grandfather [Thomas W. Marshall] still hankered for a quartz mine so he left my father and departed for Tuolumne County, where his friend, John Neal, had located the Rising Sun Mine at Arrastraville [this would have been in around 1890]. My father then decided to quit the mining game and we moved to San Jose where my grandfather’s sister and her daughters were operating a vaudeville theater [At the present time, the name of Thomas W. Marshall’s sister is unknown].
My father was employed as a driver on the San Jose street cars, all horse drawn, and made such a precarious living for the large family that we subsisted through one winter mostly on carrots garnered from the nearby garden of Groceryman Fanning. Finally, there was a choice to be made; should father go to work at the Almaden quicksilver mine, move to the Eagle Bird Mine in Nevada County, where his brother-in-law was superintendent [person currently unknown], or join Grandfather [Thos. W. Marshall ] at the Rising Sun Mine? There seemed to be a dearth of dwellings at Rising Sun so the choice was Nevada County and the Eagle Bird Mine, some 25 miles above Nevada City on the South fork of the Yuba River.
We again braved the fearsome iron horse and departed by train for Nevada City. When we had previously left Merced for San Jose, while awaiting the train’s arrival, we were gathered on the station’s platform. When the locomotive came at us with its bell ringing, whistle blowing, and letting off a lot of hot steam, my father had to chase my older brother and Yours Truly around the old El Capitan Hotel before we could be induced to board the train.
From Nevada City to Washington on the Yuba we traveled by stage coach, and from there to the Eagle Bird by private conveyance. The mine was located almost in the river bed and it seemed to us youngsters that the precipitous walls of the canyon reached clear up to the sky. We arrived in the summertime and it was very pleasant place to live, after the shut-in feeling wore away. There were some twenty families in the camp, and a good sized Chinatown, with another camp of like size at the Yuba Mine, about a mile distant.
We attended the Maybert Primary School and at home learned to wield an ax and a bucksaw, to provide the necessary large woodpile. Each boy and girl in the family possessed a little pet pig for his or her individual care. They became such pets that they followed us to school and “made the scholars laugh and play,” So we had to pen them up securely until slaughter time. Then, we would all retreat down the roadway as far as the schoolhouse so that we could not hear the squeals.
During the autumn of 1889 the mining company erected a sawmill and built a roadway from the mine to Emigrant Gap up on the divide, and built and stocked a grocery store for the convenience of the families. Then came an early winter. It seemed to snow continuously until the following spring but that was no worry to us children for we learned to snowshoe, first with primitive skis made of barrel staves, and then with properly made snowshoes. Even the horses kept at the mine did their share of snowshoeing, with round pads fitted to each hoof. They were driven back and forth on the snow road as far as the Yuba Mine, dragging a home-made sled in order to create a roadway to the only saloon above Washington, and also making it possible for the people of each community to gather at the schoolhouse for their social affairs and holiday observances. The camp residences were all constructed of pine poles and shakes, or rough boards, of one story, and it was necessary to dig snow tunnels form the front and back doors in order to reach the road. The matter of ascending and descending icy steps was tricky, too, but luckily, none of us was ever badly injured in the process. Throughout the winter there was no intercourse with the outside world, although several attempts were made to carry mail to the camp from Nevada City and the bodies of a least two of the couriers were dug out of the snow the following spring. We burned slabs from the sawmill for fuel, and lopped off tree tops for back logs, to conserve the slab fuel.
It is likely we youngsters were the only inhabitants of Eagle Bird Camp to enjoy being snowed in, so when the first good weather arrived, late in the Spring, the womenfolk were busy packing and sewing for the projected trip to Tuolumne County and the Rising Sun Mine. In the summer of 1890 our family taxed the capacity of the stage line, for nearly all the relatives were on the move: Grandmother [Sarah Marshall], Father, his two unmarried sisters, and we four children. Except for us, I am sure all the others were relieved to lose sight of the Yuba River and the white wilderness.
It was a long hot climb out of the Yuba River canyon to Nevada City, thence on the narrow gauge railroad to Colfax, on the Southern Pacific Railroad to Milton in Calaveras County, and then on a Thoroghbrace stage, drawn by six horses, to Sonora in Tuolumne County, where we put up for the night at the City Hotel. From there, the following day, we rod on to Arrastraville on spring wagons and a buckboard. The Rising Sun Mine was situated about midway between Cherokee and Confidence, on a rather steep hillside, and had a long tramway from the mouth of the mine tunnel to the stamp mill built at the edge of the flat land through which Turnback Creek flowed throughout the year.
At first, we lived in a small house perched on a hillside, but later we moved on down onto the flat, into Mike Sullivan’s good sized barn. The barn was easily converted into a dwelling. A floor was provided and bunks were built solid to each of three walls and covered with bed-ticks and blankets. A large kitchen stove stood in the center of the one big room and did double duty as a cook stove and heater. Galvanized wash tubs were utilized as bath tubs, a nearby spring furnished clear, cold water, there was a privy at a reasonable distance from the house, and an old mining tunnel served for cold storage.
Shortly after our arrival in the
new community, it became necessary to build a schoolhouse about midway
between Cherokee and Arrastraville, in the Arrastraville School District.
The advent of the Marshalls and relatives necessitated a school building
where never before had one existed. It would do double duty as an
educational and social center for miles around, too. Most of the
scholars attending the Arrastraville School were residents of either Cherokee
or Arrastraville, so each division had a good long walk each morning and
afternoon. But it was a lot of fun and we played along the way and
worked off some of the energy which otherwise might have been worked off
as mischief at school. Some days we would be able to corral enough
of the ownerless burros roaming the countryside for slow transportation
to and fro. Whenever Ella booth and her cowboys would start the annual
cattle drive from the winter pasture to summer pasture in the mountains
above, the county road became the driveway and on that day we young ones
had to take to the trees until the herd was well out of sight and hearing.
Most of the ranchers were Italian-born, with large families of native sons and daughters who spoke only Italian or very little English. So, we made a bargain with them; we taught them our brand of English and they, in turn, gave us a good smattering of Italian as they had learned it. No matter if, on occasion, we used some swear words and at times surprised the Italians with the knowledge of the phrases not used in polite society. When the schoolhouse was completed, with Miss Maria Kenny installed as the first teacher, the Italian children learned English and would no longer speak Italian so we forgot almost completely our fairly good conversational Italian lingo.
The miners were paid at the rate of two dollars and fifty cents a day. Although my grandfather [Thos. W. Marshall] and father were in receipt of larger pay, it was still necessary for us boys to gather wild plums, currants, gooseberries and elderberries for use as fresh or stewed fruit, and to dry the plums, currants and elderberries for use in winter time. We also gathered eggs from the Bob Marshall ranch [relationship, if any, unknown], midway between the school and the mine, carrying them home in our lunch cans. From the Gianelli family, we could buy a barley sack full of vegetables for twenty-five cents and the butcher wagon called at the house every other day from its headquarters at Soulsbyville, some four miles distant. Steaks were twenty cents each and soup bones were free. My father was a mighty hunter, too, and we ate all the wild game that we could consume.
In the Fall of 1892, our school staged a gala Four Hundredth Anniversary celebration honoring Christopher Columbus and had the honor spot of reciting a poem about Columbus “sailing o’er the ocean blue.” I was so much complimented by the audience, parents as well as pupils, that I felt certain as to my eventual stage career.
The Rising Sun and Uncle Sam Mines both ceased operations that year and we moved to Summersville, some three miles away, but we did not leave the house-barn behind. It was taken down in sections and re-erected on the property of the Dead Horse Mine in Summersville and, with some additions, it served as the Marshall home for many years.
Our house became the center of the community’s social activity, for we possessed the most accomplished musicians of the area. Most of the family could perform on some sort of musical instrument, acceptably and vociferously in the younger brackets. My father played the drums in our local band, my older brother [William] the E-flat tuba, another brother played the solo alto, and I took the lead part with a solo B-flat cornet. We had to have a building where the band could practice without interruption so we boys helped take up a subscription to buy lumber and also helped materially in the erection of the building, a community hall. Not only did the band practice there, but our local debating society made the hall its headquarters, and it became much in demand for church services, Sunday School, dances, holiday observances, and the headquarters for the only fraternal organization then existing in the town, the Independent Order of Good Templars. The purpose of the order was to teach abstinence from alcoholic liquors but Summersville Lodge No. 507, I.O.G.T. became, in time, the social arbiter of the countryside. If a person was a member, his social standing was assured. Some of the factious ones of the community twisted the initial’s meaning a little by calling it the “I Often Get Tight” Order. Actually, members who crooked their elbow a little were encouraged to resign or, upon satisfactory evidence, they were expelled, forthwith. They were immediately beyond the pale, and had had to serve a long drinkless period before an application for re-instatement would be accepted.
We had many diversions, including dances and baseball. There were two basketball teams, with considerable rivalry existing between the Blues and Reds. Miners’ Union picnics took place in the town plaza, so that most of the inhabitants could sit on their own front porches and view the doings. The principal event at these affairs was the drilling contest. Two large blocks of granite rock were placed at the center of the square and the competing teams of two men each, one to hold the drill while the other smote it with a large hammer, engaged in furious competition. I do not remember the depth attained by the winners but the rocks are still there in the square and could be measured for depth. There were horse races on the roadway between Newtown and Oldtown, and Cornish wrestling, on occasion, in the plaza or the community hall but most often in the various saloons.
Our debating society and the amateur theatrical group were interesting and instructive and, withal, profitable in a material way, for the proceeds from admissions paid the operating and betterment costs of the hall. Eventually, when the West Side Lumber Company bought the Frank Baker ranch south of town and named the new town Tuolumne, a football team was organized by a Stanford graduate who was then the town undertaker, and a second-string team from Stanford arrived during the latter part of the season to play an exhibition game with the lumberjacks and miners. I was part of the reception committee, and I was dressed in a new stripped suit for the occasion. It was a rough and tumble game but finally, much to the disappointment of the local fans, Stanford, although considerably shaken, emerged victorious over Tuolumne. That evening, the two teams were the guests of our amateur theatrical group, with an overflow audience, to witness our new play entitled Uncle. The two football teams began calling earnestly and insistently for “Uncle.” The play proceeded some minutes before my appearance as “uncle” and when I came on stage in my make-up of wig, mustache, and goatee, the reception was vociferous, to say the least, and the “We want Uncle!” changed immediately to “Hello, Uncle George!” for I was still wearing my new striped suit.
Oldtown was later renamed Carter’s, honoring a pioneer grocer, C.H. Carter, and a short time later was almost completely destroyed by fire. Though partially rebuilt, the Carter’s post office, established in 1888, was discontinued in 1908, and Oldtown and Newtown together became Tuolumne.
Arrastraville was, of course, named for the Mexican arrastra, the contraption used to crush quartz and obtain gold. The arrastra was an excavated hole in the ground, the sides of which were lined with flat stones and overlaid with a double-flooring of more flat stones. The interstices were doped with quicksilver. The shape of the arrastra was in the general form of a large “O.” There was an upright drum in the center mounted on a swivel on which were attached two poles at right angles. Large flat stones were attached to the poles so that horses, mules or burros, hitched to the outer reaches of the poles, could pull in a circular path, dragging the attached stones over the ones beneath and thus crushing the ore and releasing the gold.
Later Mr. Easton, the nearby rancher, built a small stamp mill which was operated by water power, with a large overshot wheel. My folks then utilized some of the former arrastra mechanism to erect a “whim,” or winch, in order to hoist ore from the vertical shaft.
As youngsters we did not actually work in the mine, but did such chores as pumping the bellows in the blacksmith shop, carrying lunches underground and, on occasion, shoving the ore cart out of the tunnel on the strap-rail runway to the inclined tramway. At this time we learned many of the mining terms of the day. We were taught that a shaft was an inclined or vertical hole driven into the ground and that it was measured off in hundred-foot-lengths into levels—No. 1 Level at one hundred feet, and so on. The levels were the starting points for the drifts or tunnels driven ahead into the quartz ledge. To drive an upright hole from one drift to another was called a raise, and to drive downward to a lower drift, was a winze. To remove the ore from the upper side of the ledge along the drift was a stope and the actual ore deposit containing the gold—the ledge, vein or lode—was contained between a hanging-wall and a foot-wall.
The miners used hand drills to chisel holes in the rocky formation, using a small sledge hammer to pound the drill. When the round of the holes was completed with uppers, lowers and “in the face,” they were loaded with dynamite sticks—nitroglycerine mixed with sawdust—which were about eight inches long and one inch in diameter. They ranged from forty to sixty percent nitro. The sticks were tamped down in the holes very carefully and the last stick was carefully reamed out so that the fuse could be inserted after crimping a small copper dynamite cap on it. The capped stick was then inserted and carefully tamped down. The fuses were of sufficient length to allow for a safe retreat before “spitting” them to touch off the round. Generally, the next shift would turn on the compressed air and blow out the nitroglycerine fumes. If there was much fine rock, it was usually necessary to turn the water hose on the pile to reduce the gas content. A “Giant Powder headache” was something to be avoided, if possible.
The next step was to muck back the broken rock and sort the waste rock from the ore. The waste was removed to the dump. The ore was loaded onto the incline tramway and taken to the stamp mill. The next stage was the rock crusher where the large chunks of ore were reduced in size so that they could be fed into the batteries without danger of clogging the chute. Each battery consisted of five stamps, which were upright metal shafts fitted with collars attached to the upper ends so that cams, each at a different angle, on a revolving steel shaft would rise and drop the stamp on the double bottoms of the batteries, called dies. The lower parts of the stamps were so designed that each piece could be easily removed and the amalgam recovered.
A thin stream of water was constantly running into each battery and out through a screened front of the battery, and onto the copper plates, each treated with a coating of quicksilver, and occasionally, the millman or amalgamator would scrape the plates and save the amalgam. When the time came to make a clean-up, the stamps on each battery would be hung up, and the shoes and dies removed and the amalgam, with the amount scrapped from the plates with rubber scrapers, would be retorted in a crucible so that the quicksilver could be recovered and used over again. The resulting bullion was for sale to the United States Mint in San Francisco at twenty dollars an ounce. At the rising Sun Mine there were no concentrators to recover the led sulpherts in the tailings, which always contained a certain amount of fine gold.
My first underground job was at the Seminole mine in Long Gulch, at a job known as skiptender. At each station was a large bin or chute in which ore, or waste rock, was dumped. My job was to place a long four-by-four inch scantling across the shaft so that the shaft car, known as the skip, would be stationary while I opened the chute door and filled the car, then closed the door, removed the bumper and gave the engineer the signal to hoist, My next job, at one dollar and fifty cents for an eleven-hour day, was to sweep the canvas tables constructed to save the sulphurets from the mill tailings. This sort of contrivance was in use where no concentrators were installed. My last job in mining was at the Donella Mine, first in the blacksmith shop as a helper, then down in the lower level, teamed up with Elmer McDow—later justice of the peace in Tuolumne—in operating a large compressed air drilling machine, in an endeavor to find the lost vein which had faulted. A forty-foot drift had to be gouged out and if now vein could be found, then the mine would be closed. By this time, it was becoming more and more expensive to mine gold for a return of only twenty dollars an ounce, so the Donella was closed down.
By that time, I had had enough of mining. I went back to seeking an education. The old-time teachers in the schools which I had attended were not slow in their after-hours efforts to coach students. Such teachers as the first two at Arrastraville—Maria Kenny and Rebecca Baer—and later Miss Long, Kitty Ball, Mary McCulloch, J. Morgan McMahon and James P. Gallagher at Summersville School. There was no high school in the county and such teachers as I mention filled an aching void for knowledge.
Rebecca Baer was asked by Dr. E.C. Congdon of Jamestown to recommend one of her former pupils for employment in his Jamestown drug store, to study pharmacy, and possibly, medicine, and to operate the first soda fountain installed in the county. I was recommended and was given permission to take over the assignment, which also consisted of some janitorial work and a newspaper route, delivering the San Francisco Morning Call, at seven o’clock in the evening, and the chore of maintenance of Foresters’ Hall at least twice a week, and sometimes more often.
During the day, when necessary, I delivered packages to the nearby towns of Quartz Mountain and Stent, on my bicycle. The Sierra Railway had just completed its line from Oakdale to Jamestown and Tuolumne and Captain William A. Nevills, owner of the Rawhide Mine, had erected a rather sumptuous hotel at the Jamestown depot, titling it the Hotel Nevills. One of the hotel guests had occasion to consult Dr. Congdon and I was told to deliver the prescribed medicine. When I knocked on the door a rather pleasant voice bade me enter. The guest was quite courteous, asked my name, and inquired if I knew the nature of the medicine. I acknowledged that I did as I had filled the prescription; that it was papaver, an opium derivative, and that it was quite effective in allaying pain. He told me that his name was George Crocker of the prominent San Francisco family, and that he was afflicted with cancer, and further, that he was a middle-aged man and that he sincerely hoped that by the time I reached his age that there would [be] effective antidotes for such an affliction.
Dr. Congdon’s half-brother, Addison Flanders, later took over the drug store and, being of the restless sort, I could not resist the gold lure any longer. I went back to the mines, not to work underground, however. But that job was of short duration. The Battleship Maine had been blown up in Havana Harbor; and the United States declared war against Spain.
I drifted down to San Francisco and joined up with the United States Navy.
* First published in Journal
of the West, Vol. 3, No. 3, July, 1964. Reproduced by Permission.
Additional clarifying notes, enclosed in brackets [ ], added by Warren
B. Carah, June 2002.
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