Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

of his personal history. He was then by commission a lieutenant in

the regiment of Mounted Rifles serving in Mexico under Colonel

Sumner, and, as he could not reach his regiment from California,

Colonel Mason ordered that for a time he should be assigned to duty

with A. J. Smith's company, First Dragoons, at Los Angeles. He

remained at Los Angeles some months, and was then sent back to the

United Staten with dispatches, traveling two thousand miles almost

alone, in preference to being encumbered by a large party.

Toward the close of June, 1848, the gold-fever being at its height,

by Colonel Mason's orders I made preparations for his trip to the

newly-discovered gold-mines at Sutter's Fort. I selected four good

soldiers, with Aaron, Colonel Mason's black servant, and a good

outfit of horses and pack-mules, we started by the usually traveled

route for Yerba Buena. There Captain Fulsom and two citizens

joined our party. The first difficulty was to cross the bay to

Saucelito. Folsom, as quartermaster, had a sort of scow with a

large sail, with which to discharge the cargoes of ships, that

could not come within a mile of the shore. It took nearly the

whole day to get the old scow up to the only wharf there, and then

the water was so shallow that the scow, with its load of horses,

would not float at the first high tide, but by infinite labor on

the next tide she was got off and safely crossed over to Saucelito.

We followed in a more comfortable schooner. Having safely landed

our horses and mules, we picked up and rode to San Rafael Mission,

stopping with Don Timoteo Murphy. The next day's journey took us

to Bodega, where lived a man named Stephen Smith, who had the only

steam saw-mill in California. He had a Peruvian wife, and employed

a number of absolutely naked Indians in making adobes. We spent a

day very pleasantly with him, and learned that he had come to

California some years before, at the personal advice of Daniel

Webster, who had informed him that sooner or later the United

States would be in possession of California, and that in

consequence it would become a great country. From Bodega we

traveled to Sonoma, by way of Petaluma, and spent a day with

General Vallejo. I had been there before, as related, in the

business of the alcalde Nash. From Sonoma we crossed over by way

of Napa, Suisun, and Vaca's ranch, to the Puta. In the rainy

season, the plain between the Puta and Sacramento Rivers is

impassable, but in July the waters dry up; and we passed without

trouble, by the trail for Sutter's Embarcadero. We reached the

Sacramento River, then full of water, with a deep, clear current.

The only means of crossing over was by an Indian dugout canoe. We

began by carrying across our packs and saddles, and then our

people. When all things were ready, the horses were driven into

the water, one being guided ahead by a man in the canoe. Of

course, the horses and mules at first refused to take to the water,

and it was nearly a day's work to get them across, and even then

some of our animals after crossing escaped into the woods and

undergrowth that lined the river, but we secured enough of them to

reach Sutter's Fort, three miles back from the embcarcadero, where

we encamped at the old slough, or pond, near the fort. On

application, Captain Butter sent some Indians back into the bushes,

who recovered and brought in all our animals. At that time there

was not the sign of a habitation there or thereabouts, except the

fort, and an old adobe-house, east of the fort, known as the

hospital. The fort itself was one of adobe-walls, about twenty

feet high, rectangular in form, with two-story block houses at

diagonal corners. The entrance was by a large gate, open by day

and closed at night, with two iron ship's guns near at hand.

Inside there was a large house, with a good shingle-roof, used as a

storehouse, and all round the walls were ranged rooms, the fort

wall being the outer wall of the house. The inner wall also was of

adobe. These rooms were used by Captain Sutter himself and by his

people. He had a blacksmith's shop, carpenter's shop, etc., and

other rooms where the women made blankets. Sutter was monarch of

all he surveyed, and had authority to inflict punishment even unto

death, a power he did not fail to use. He had horses, cattle, and

sheep, and of these he gave liberally and without price to all in

need. He caused to be driven into our camp a beef and some sheep,

which were slaughtered for our use. Already the goldmines were

beginning to be felt. Many people were then encamped, some going

and some coming, all full of gold-stories, and each surpassing the

other. We found preparations in progress for celebrating the

Fourth of July, then close at hand, and we agreed to remain over to

assist on the occasion; of course, being the high officials, we

were the honored guests. People came from a great distance to

attend this celebration of the Fourth of July, and the tables were

laid in the large room inside the storehouse of the fort. A man of

some note, named Sinclair, presided, and after a substantial meal

and a reasonable supply of aguardiente we began the toasts. All

that I remember is that Folsom and I spoke for our party; others,

Captain Sutter included, made speeches, and before the celebration

was over Sutter was enthusiastic, and many others showed the

effects of the aguardiente. The next day (namely, July 5, 1848) we

resumed our journey toward the mines, and, in twenty-five miles of

as hot and dusty a ride as possible, we reached Mormon Island. I

have heretofore stated that the gold was first found in the

tail-race of the stew-mill at Coloma, forty miles above Sutter's

Fort, or fifteen above Mormon Island, in the bed of the American

Fork of the Sacramento River. It seems that Sutter had employed an

American named Marshall, a sort of millwright, to do this work for

him, but Marshall afterward claimed that in the matter of the

saw-mill they were copartners. At all events, Marshall and the

family of Mr. Wimmer were living at Coloma, where the pine-trees

afforded the best material for lumber. He had under him four white

men, Mormons, who had been discharged from Cooke's battalion, and

some Indians. These were engaged in hewing logs, building a

mill-dam, and putting up a saw-mill. Marshall, as the architect,

had made the "tub-wheel," and had set it in motion, and had also

furnished some of the rude parts of machinery necessary for an

ordinary up-and-down saw-mill.

Labor was very scarce, expensive, and had to be economized. The

mill was built over a dry channel of the river which was calculated

to be the tail-race. After arranging his head-race, dam and

tub-wheel, he let on the water to test the goodness of his

machinery. It worked very well until it was found that the

tail-race did not carry off the water fast enough, so he put his

men to work in a rude way to clear out the tail-race. They

scratched a kind of ditch down the middle of the dry channel,

throwing the coarser stones to one side; then, letting on the water

again, it would run with velocity down the channel, washing away

the dirt, thus saving labor. This course of action was repeated

several times, acting exactly like the long Tom afterward resorted

to by the miners. As Marshall himself was working in this ditch,

he observed particles of yellow metal which he gathered up in his

hand, when it seemed to have suddenly flashed across his mind that

it was gold. After picking up about an ounce, he hurried down to

the fort to report to Captain Sutter his discovery. Captain Sutter

himself related to me Marshall's account, saying that, as he sat in

his room at the fort one day in February or March, 1848, a knock

was heard at his door, and he called out, "Come in." In walked

Marshall, who was a half-crazy man at best, but then looked

strangely wild. "What is the matter, Marshall!" Marshall

inquired if any one was within hearing, and began to peer about the

room, and look under the bed, when Sutter, fearing that some

calamity had befallen the party up at the saw-mill, and that

Marshall was really crazy, began to make his way to the door,

demanding of Marshall to explain what was the matter. At last he

revealed his discovery, and laid before Captain Sutter the

pellicles of gold he had picked up in the ditch. At first, Sutter

attached little or no importance to the discovery, and told

Marshall to go back to the mill, and say nothing of what he had

seen to Mr. Wimmer, or any one else. Yet, as it might add value to

the location, he dispatched to our headquarters at Monterey, as I

have already related, the two men with a written application for a

preemption to the quarter-section of land at Coloma. Marshall

returned to the mill, but could not keep out of his wonderful

ditch, and by some means the other men employed there learned his

secret. They then wanted to gather the gold, and Marshall

threatened to shoot them if they attempted it; but these men had

sense enough to know that if "placer"-gold existed at Coloma, it

would also be found farther down-stream, and they gradually

"prospected" until they reached Mormon Island, fifteen miles below,

where they discovered one of the richest placers on earth. These

men revealed the fact to some other Mormons who were employed by

Captain Sutter at a grist-mill he was building still lower down the

American Fork, and six miles above his fort. All of them struck

for higher wages, to which Sutter yielded, until they asked ten

dollars a day, which he refused, and the two mills on which he had

spent so much money were never built, and fell into decay.

In my opinion, when the Mormons were driven from Nauvoo, Illinois,

in 1844, they cast about for a land where they would not be

disturbed again, and fixed on California. In the year 1845 a ship,

the Brooklyn, sailed from New York for California, with a colony of

Mormons, of which Sam Brannan was the leader, and we found them

there on our arrival in Jannary, 1847. When General Kearney, at

Fort Leavenworth, was collecting volunteers early in 1846, for the

Mexican War, he, through the instrumentality of Captain James

Allen, brother to our quartermaster, General Robert Allen, raised

the battalion of Mormons at Kanesville, Iowa, now Council Bluffs,

on the express understanding that it would facilitate their

migration to California. But when the Mormons reached Salt Lake,

in 1846, they learned that they had been forestalled by the United

States forces in California, and they then determined to settle

down where they were. Therefore, when this battalion of five

companies of Mormons (raised by Allen, who died on the way, and was

succeeded by Cooke) was discharged at Los Angeles, California, in

the early summer of 1847, most of the men went to their people at

Salt Lake, with all the money received, as pay from the United

States, invested in cattle and breeding-horses; one company

reenlisted for another year, and the remainder sought work in the

country. As soon as the fame of the gold discovery spread through

California, the Mormons naturally turned to Mormon Island, so that

in July, 1848, we found about three hundred of them there at work.

Sam Brannan was on hand as the high-priest, collecting the tithes.

Clark, of Clark's Point, an early pioneer, was there also, and

nearly all the Mormons who had come out in the Brooklyn, or who had

staid in California after the discharge of their battalion, had

collected there. I recall the scene as perfectly to-day as though

it were yesterday. In the midst of a broken country, all parched

and dried by the hot sun of July, sparsely wooded with live-oaks

and straggling pines, lay the valley of the American River, with

its bold mountain-stream coming out of the Snowy Mountains to the

east. In this valley is a fiat, or gravel-bed, which in high water

is an island, or is overflown, but at the time of our visit was

simply a level gravel-bed of the river. On its edges men were

digging, and filling buckets with the finer earth and gravel, which

was carried to a machine made like a baby's cradle, open at the

foot, and at the head a plate of sheet-iron or zinc, punctured full

of holes. On this metallic plate was emptied the earth, and water

was then poured on it from buckets, while one man shook the cradle

with violent rocking by a handle. On the bottom were nailed cleats

of wood. With this rude machine four men could earn from forty to

one hundred dollars a day, averaging sixteen dollars, or a gold

ounce, per man per day. While the' sun blazed down on the heads of

the miners with tropical heat, the water was bitter cold, and all

hands were either standing in the water or had their clothes wet

all the time; yet there were no complaints of rheumatism or cold.

We made our camp on a small knoll, a little below the island, and

from it could overlook the busy scene. A few bush-huts near by

served as stores, boardinghouses, and for sleeping; but all hands

slept on the ground, with pine-leaves and blankets for bedding. As

soon as the news spread that the Governor was there, persons came

to see us, and volunteered all kinds of information, illustrating

it by samples of the gold, which was of a uniform kind, "scale-

gold," bright and beautiful. A large variety, of every conceivable

shape and form, was found in the smaller gulches round about, but

the gold in the river-bed was uniformly "scale-gold." I remember

that Mr. Clark was in camp, talking to Colonel Mason about matters

and things generally, when he inquired, "Governor, what business

has Sam Brannan to collect the tithes here?" Clark admitted that

Brannan was the head of the Mormon church in California, and he was

simply questioning as to Brannan's right, as high-priest, to compel

the Mormons to pay him the regular tithes. Colonel Mason answered,

"Brannan has a perfect right to collect the tax, if you Mormons are

fools enough to pay it." "Then," said Clark, "I for one won't pay

it any longer." Colonel Mason added: "This is public land, and the

gold is the property of the United States; all of you here are

trespassers, but, as the Government is benefited by your getting

out the gold, I do not intend to interfere." I understood,

afterward, that from that time the payment of the tithes ceased,

but Brannan had already collected enough money wherewith to hire

Sutter's hospital, and to open a store there, in which he made more

money than any merchant in California, during that summer and fall.

The understanding was, that the money collected by him as tithes

was the foundation of his fortune, which is still very large in San

Francisco. That evening we all mingled freely with the miners, and

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