Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

witnessed the process of cleaning up and "panning" out, which is

the last process for separating the pure gold from the fine dirt

and black sand.

The next day we continued our journey up the valley of the American

Fork, stopping at various camps, where mining was in progress; and

about noon we reached Coloma, the place where gold had been first

discovered. The hills were higher, and the timber of better

quality. The river was narrower and bolder, and but few miners

were at work there, by reason of Marshall's and Sutter's claim to

the site. There stood the sawmill unfinished, the dam and

tail-race just as they were left when the Mormons ceased work.

Marshall and Wimmer's family of wife and half a dozen children were

there, guarding their supposed treasure; living in a house made of

clapboards. Here also we were shown many specimens of gold, of a

coarser grain than that found at Mormon Island. The next day we

crossed the American River to its north side, and visited many

small camps of men, in what were called the "dry diggings." Little

pools of water stood in the beds of the streams, and these were

used to wash the dirt; and there the gold was in every conceivable

shape and size, some of the specimens weighing several ounces.

Some of these "diggings" were extremely rich, but as a whole they

were more precarious in results than at the river. Sometimes a

lucky fellow would hit on a "pocket," and collect several thousand

dollars in a few days, and then again he would be shifting about

from place to place, "prospecting," and spending all he had made.

Little stores were being opened at every point, where flour, bacon,

etc., were sold; every thing being a dollar a pound, and a meal

usually costing three dollars. Nobody paid for a bed, for he slept

on the ground, without fear of cold or rain. We spent nearly a

week in that region, and were quite bewildered by the fabulous

tales of recent discoveries, which at the time were confined to the

several forks of the American and Yuba Rivers.' All this time our

horses had nothing to eat but the sparse grass in that region, and

we were forced to work our way down toward the Sacramento Valley,

or to see our animals perish. Still we contemplated a visit to the

Yuba and Feather Rivers, from which we had heard of more wonderful

"diggings;" but met a courier, who announced the arrival of a ship

at Monterey, with dispatches of great importance from Mazatlan. We

accordingly turned our horses back to Sutter's Fort. Crossing the

Sacramento again by swimming our horses, and ferrying their loads

in that solitary canoe, we took our back track as far as the Napa,

and then turned to Benicia, on Carquinez Straits. We found there a

solitary adobe-house, occupied by Mr. Hastings and his family,

embracing Dr. Semple, the proprietor of the ferry. This ferry was

a ship's-boat, with a latteen-sail, which could carry across at one

time six or eight horses.

It took us several days to cross over, and during that time we got

well acquainted with the doctor, who was quite a character. He had

come to California from Illinois, and was brother to Senator

Semple. He was about seven feet high, and very intelligent. When

we first reached Monterey, he had a printing-press, which belonged

to the United States, having been captured at the custom-house, and

had been used to print custom-house blanks. With this Dr. Semple,

as editor, published the Californian, a small sheet of news, once a

week; and it was a curiosity in its line, using two v's for a w,

and other combinations of letters, made necessary by want of type.

After some time he removed to Yerba Buena with his paper, and it

grew up to be the Alta California of today. Foreseeing, as he

thought, the growth of a great city somewhere on the Bay of San

Francisco, he selected Carquinez Straits as its location, and

obtained from General Vallejo a title to a league of land, on

condition of building up a city thereon to bear the name of

Vallejo's wife. This was Francisca Benicia; accordingly, the new

city was named "Francisca." At this time, the town near the mouth

of the bay was known universally as Yerba Buena; but that name was

not known abroad, although San Francisco was familiar to the whole

civilized world. Now, some of the chief men of Yerba Buena,

Folsom, Howard, Leidesdorf, and others, knowing the importance of a

name, saw their danger, and, by some action of the ayuntamiento, or

town council, changed the name of Yerba Buena to "San Francisco."

Dr. Semple was outraged at their changing the name to one so like

his of Francisca, and he in turn changed his town to the other name

of Mrs. Vallejo, viz., "Benicia;" and Benicia it has remained to

this day. I am convinced that this little circumstance was big

with consequences. That Benicia has the best natural site for a

commercial city, I am, satisfied; and had half the money and half

the labor since bestowed upon San Francisco been expended at

Benicia, we should have at this day a city of palaces on the

Carquinez Straits. The name of "San Francisco," however, fixed the

city where it now is; for every ship in 1848-'49, which cleared

from any part of the world, knew the name of San Francisco, but not

Yerba Buena or Benicia; and, accordingly, ships consigned to

California came pouring in with their contents, and were anchored

in front of Yerba Buena, the first town. Captains and crews

deserted for the gold-mines, and now half the city in front of

Montgomery Street is built over the hulks thus abandoned. But Dr.

Semple, at that time, was all there was of Benicia; he was captain

and crew of his ferry boat, and managed to pass our party to the

south side of Carquinez Straits in about two days.

Thence we proceeded up Amador Valley to Alameda Creek, and so on to

the old mission of San Jose; thence to the pueblo of San Jose,

where Folsom and those belonging in Yerba Buena went in that

direction, and we continued on to Monterey, our party all the way

giving official sanction to the news from the gold-mines, and

adding new force to the "fever."

On reaching Monterey, we found dispatches from Commodore Shubrick,

at Mazatlan, which gave almost positive assurance that the war with

Mexico was over; that hostilities had ceased, and commissioners

were arranging the terms of peace at Guadalupe Hidalgo. It was

well that this news reached California at that critical time; for

so contagious had become the "gold-fever "that everybody was bound

to go and try his fortune, and the volunteer regiment of

Stevenson's would have deserted en masse, had the men not been

assured that they would very soon be entitled to an honorable


Many of our regulars did desert, among them the very men who had

escorted us faithfully to the mines and back. Our servants also

left us, and nothing less than three hundred dollars a month would

hire a man in California; Colonel Mason's black boy, Aaron, alone

of all our then servants proving faithful. We were forced to

resort to all manner of shifts to live. First, we had a mess with

a black fellow we called Bustamente as cook; but he got the fever,

and had to go. We next took a soldier, but he deserted, and

carried off my double-barreled shot-gun, which I prized very

highly. To meet this condition of facts, Colonel Mason ordered

that liberal furloughs should be given to the soldiers, and

promises to all in turn, and he allowed all the officers to draw

their rations in kind. As the actual valve of the ration was very

large, this enabled us to live. Halleck, Murray, Ord, and I,

boarded with Dona Augustias, and turned in our rations as pay for

our board.

Some time in September, 1848, the official news of the treaty of

peace reached us, and the Mexican War was over. This treaty was

signed in May, and came to us all the way by land by a courier from

Lower California, sent from La Paz by Lieutenant-Colonel Burton.

On its receipt, orders were at once made for the muster-out of all

of Stevenson's regiment, and our military forces were thus reduced

to the single company of dragoons at Los Angeles, and the one

company of artillery at Monterey. Nearly all business had ceased,

except that connected with gold; and, during that fall, Colonel

Mason, Captain Warner, and I, made another trip up to Sutter's

Fort, going also to the newly-discovered mines on the Stanislaus,

called "Sonora," named from the miners of Sonora, Mexico, who had

first discovered them. We found there pretty much the same state

of facts as before existed at Mormon Island and Coloma, and we

daily received intelligence of the opening of still other mines

north and south.

But I have passed over a very interesting fact. As soon as we had

returned from our first visit to the gold-mines, it became

important to send home positive knowledge of this valuable

discovery. The means of communication with the United States were

very precarious, and I suggested to Colonel Mason that a special

courier ought to be sent; that Second-Lieutenant Loeser had been

promoted to first-lieutenant, and was entitled to go home. He was

accordingly detailed to carry the news. I prepared with great care

the letter to the adjutant-general of August 17, 1848, which

Colonel Mason modified in a few Particulars; and, as it was

important to send not only the specimens which had been presented

to us along our route of travel, I advised the colonel to allow

Captain Folsom to purchase and send to Washington a large sample of

the commercial gold in general use, and to pay for the same out of

the money in his hands known as the "civil fund," arising from

duties collected at the several ports in California. He consented

to this, and Captain Folsom bought an oyster-can full at ten

dollars the ounce, which was the rate of value at which it was then

received at the custom house. Folsom was instructed further to

contract with some vessel to carry the messenger to South America,

where he could take the English steamers as far east as Jamaica,

with a conditional charter giving increased payment if the vessel

could catch the October steamer. Folsom chartered the bark La

Lambayecana, owned and navigated by Henry D. Cooke, who has since

been the Governor of the District of Columbia. In due time this

vessel reached Monterey, and Lieutenant Loeser, with his report and

specimens of gold, embarked and sailed. He reached the South

American Continent at Payta, Peru, in time; took the English

steamer of October to Panama, and thence went on to Kingston,

Jamaica, where he found a sailing vessel bound for New Orleans. On

reaching New Orleans, he telegraphed to the War Department his

arrival; but so many delays had occurred that he did not reach

Washington in time to have the matter embraced in the President's

regular message of 1848, as we had calculated. Still, the

President made it the subject of a special message, and thus became

"official" what had before only reached the world in a very

indefinite shape. Then began that wonderful development, and the

great emigration to California, by land and by sea, of 1849 and


As before narrated, Mason, Warner, and I, made a second visit to

the mines in September and October, 1848. As the winter season

approached, Colonel Mason returned to Monterey, and I remained for

a time at Sutter's Fort. In order to share somewhat in the riches

of the land, we formed a partnership in a store at Coloma, in

charge of Norman S. Bestor, who had been Warner's clerk. We

supplied the necessary money, fifteen hundred dollars (five hundred

dollars each), and Bestor carried on the store at Coloma for his

share. Out of this investment, each of us realized a profit of

about fifteen hundred dollars. Warner also got a regular leave of

absence, and contracted with Captain Sutter for surveying and

locating the town of Sacramento. He received for this sixteen

dollars per day for his services as surveyor; and Sutter paid all

the hands engaged in the work. The town was laid off mostly up

about the fort, but a few streets were staked off along the river

bank, and one or two leading to it. Captain Sutter always

contended, however, that no town could possibly exist on the

immediate bank of the river, because the spring freshets rose over

the bank, and frequently it was necessary to swim a horse to reach

the boat-landing. Nevertheless, from the very beginning the town

began to be built on the very river-bank, viz., First, Second, and

Third Streets, with J and K Streets leading back. Among the

principal merchants and traders of that winter, at Sacramento, were

Sam Brannan and Hensley, Reading & Co. For several years the site

was annually flooded; but the people have persevered in building

the levees, and afterward in raising all the streets, so that

Sacramento is now a fine city, the capital of the State, and stands

where, in 1848, was nothing but a dense mass of bushes, vines, and

submerged land. The old fort has disappeared altogether.

During the fall of 1848, Warner, Ord, and I, camped on the bank of

the American River, abreast of the fort, at what was known as the

"Old Tan-Yard." I was cook, Ord cleaned up the dishes, and Warner

looked after the horses; but Ord was deposed as scullion because he

would only wipe the tin plates with a tuft of grass, according to

the custom of the country, whereas Warner insisted on having them

washed after each meal with hot water. Warner was in consequence

promoted to scullion, and Ord became the hostler. We drew our

rations in kind from the commissary at San Francisco, who sent them

up to us by a boat; and we were thus enabled to dispense a generous

hospitality to many a poor devil who otherwise would have had

nothing to eat.

The winter of 1848 '49 was a period of intense activity throughout

California. The rainy season was unfavorable to the operations of

gold-mining, and was very hard upon the thousands of houseless men

and women who dwelt in the mountains, and even in the towns. Most

of the natives and old inhabitants had returned to their ranches

and houses; yet there were not roofs enough in the country to

shelter the thousands who had arrived by sea and by land. The news

had gone forth to the whole civilized world that gold in fabulous

quantities was to be had for the mere digging, and adventurers came

pouring in blindly to seek their fortunes, without a thought of

house or food. Yerba Buena had been converted into San Francisco.

Sacramento City had been laid out, lots were being rapidly sold,

and the town was being built up as an entrepot to the mines.

Stockton also had been chosen as a convenient point for trading

with the lower or southern mines. Captain Sutter was the sole

proprietor of the former, and Captain Charles Weber was the owner

of the site of Stockton, which was as yet known as "French Camp."


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