LENT and Easter were over when I determined to see something of the mining regions of the state. On the afternoon, therefore, of Easter Monday, April 17, 1854, I left San Francisco, in company with Mrs. Kip and my son, in the Bragdon, which was to go through to Marysville. It was with some little compunction that we selected her, for her engine is high pressure, and on one of these boats, only ten days before, the boiler had burst and killed thirty passengers. However, as the result proved, she carried us both safely and pleasantly to our destination. As we left our wharf, the Columbia, for Oregon, with Bishop and Mrs. Scott on board, (who had been spending a short time in San Francisco, on their way to his Diocese.) fired her gun and set out on her voyage.
On the following morning, at Sacramento, we loft the river of that name and entered the Feather River. The old Californians called it the Plumas, on account of the myriads of wild fowl seen on its waters, but Americans have anglicized it to Feather River. The scenery here begins to change in one respect. In a former chapter in describing my visit to Sacramento, I mentioned that the lower part of these rivers, above San Francisco, was almost destitute of trees. Here they are again seen, reminding us of home and the East. Broad, prairie-like plains stretch out on each side, which are occupied with a constant succession of ranches, but the narrow river is fringed with fine trees, and often the boat approaches so close to them that they brush her guards.
We had not more than eight or ten cabin passengers. One of them, with whom I became acquainted, was going up to the mines as one of the partners in a grand company which was spending fifty thousand dollars in laying bare about fifteen hundred feet of the bed of the Feather River. Out of twenty feet square of the bed, they, last year, took one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, and, in this proportion, he expected to make some millions out of their grand operation. As I never heard anything further of the company, I suppose it exchanged--as most mining companies did--golden hopes for leaden realities.
About ten miles below Marysville is the ranch of the old pioneer, General Sutter. It is one of the most beautiful places as to situation that I have seen in any country. The house, except in the centre, is but one story high. It extends perhaps a hundred feet,--the portico in front covered with vines,--and has a very picturesque appearance. It stands on a perfectly level plateau, which rises eight or ten feet above the river and stretches back for miles to the mountains. Here and there, over the whole extent, are clumps of large oak trees, and the country, dotted with groups of cattle, presents the appearance of a wide-spread English park. The General owns several leagues of land about his residence.
We should have reached Marysville at ten o'clock, but owing to some accident in the machinery, we did not arrive till three hours later. We felt, however, that this was an advantage, for the day was beautiful and we had a good opportunity of seeing the varied scenery of the river. Had we made the proper time, much of the river above Sacramento would have been passed before daylight. About half a mile from Marysville we left the Feather River and turned into a narrow, rapid stream, called the Tuba, so fringed with trees at its mouth as entirely to conceal the town, nor did we see it until we were close upon it.
Marysville is a thriving, growing town of about eight thousand inhabitants. The hotels are well filled and a constant stream of trade passes through it. The Presbyterians and Methodists have congregations established here, and the Baptists are making an effort to obtain a footing. An appointment had been made for me for Tuesday evening, and I found the Methodist house of worship had been courteously offered for our service. The attendance was exceedingly good, as on a week-day evening most persons in California are too busy to attend to anything but matters which are "of the earth earthy." There is evidently a large number of Churchmen at Marysville.
In the afternoon I walked down to the Feather River, and, crossing by a primitive ferry-boat attached to a line stretched across, went on a visit to the Indian village on the other side. The inhabitants are a remnant of the Digger tribe, and are the most degraded Indians I have ever seen. They dig a cellar room about three feet deep, then place a mound of earth over it, so that there is just room to stand upright, and this forms their house. There is an opening about two feet square, through which they crawl into it. On one side they erect a staging on poles, a few feet from the ground, and on this place their provisions, making it a store-house. They were lounging about in the warm sun, Borne of them almost entirely naked, the men with sticks thrust through the lower part of their ears, which adds to their savage appearance. They are dying off fast, and will soon be entirely extinct.
They have one curious custom. When a member of the family dies, they burn the body, and mix the ashes with pitch procured from the pine tree. This is smeared over their bodies and particularly over the head. I have sometimes met them in the mountains, entirely naked, and with the whole head, except the eyes, ears and mouth, coated an inch thick, causing them to look like demons. This is left to wear off and its permanency regulates the length of their mourning.
At six o'clock next morning (Wednesday), we took the stage for the mining country. It was a long wagon with a wooden top, holding twelve persons inside. About half of the passengers were Germans, and as they chattered away in their native gutturals, I could imagine myself in an eil wagen in Austria, For the first seven miles the country was perfectly flat table-land, but it is rapidly being fenced in and appropriated. We passed immense fields of wheat and barley, some of them nearly a mile in length. Here and there were clumps of grand old trees, while the distant hills formed a fine background to the picture. We began, in a few miles, to ascend the hills, after having forded two small streams; and, descending again, came to the Yuba, of mining celebrity, which we crossed by a scow and rope. On its banks commences the mining district. All along are hillocks where the ground has been dug over, and troughs are seen which have been used by miners to convey water to the diggings, while occasionally we passed the wrecks of some of that expensive machinery which at different times was introduced, but generally proved useless.
Along the banks of the river, for several miles, extend flats of sand and gravel, well known as the "Long Bar.'' The whole space has been dug over, sometimes two or three times, until it is covered with piles and mounds of earth, like gigantic sand hills. Most of the miners, we were told, had lately left for some new and richer mines recently discovered at Iowa Hill, but some were still scattered about through the whole length, working singly or in small companies. Most of them use the common old-fashioned rocker. They fill it with earth and water, and rock it back and forth like a cradle, until the earth is washed out; while the gold, being heavier, sinks to the bottom. Some had long sluices--wooden troughs with a stream of water running through them. Into these they shovel the earth, and in the bottom are slats which catch the gold as it sinks, while the earth runs off with the water. When the gold is as fine as powder, they are obliged to resort to quicksilver to separate it from the sand. The miners, we found, were making1 only from two and a half to three dollars a day. The expense of living, however, is now much less than formerly. Meals are given at the shanty eating-houses for eight dollars a week. The charge two years ago was twenty dollars.
Mingled with these miners are Chinese, who live on the merest trifle, and therefore can afford to work for a smaller remuneration than Americans.
All along the river are tents or log cabins, or, at best, hastily built board houses, in which the miners are living. The population, is, of course, exceedingly fluctuating, and on the rumor of a richer mine, two-thirds of the people will emigrate. The only way for the Church to reach these districts, is to have itinerating missionaries who can go around among them and preach from cabin to cabin. Still, each of the inland villages is the centre of a mining population, and a Church established in any one of them would reach hundreds who are laboring in the vicinity. Many of them, too, were members of the Church at home, and need only to be sought out and recalled to their old associations.
We were all day passing through hills covered with noble timber. Sometimes there would be a wide expanse of country, beautifully rolling and set with clumps of trees--giant old oaks, the largest I had ever seen. For a gentleman's residence here are the most beautiful sites, entirely free from all underwood and presenting an unequalled park ready made by nature. The oaks were at times interspersed with pines, sometimes an hundred and fifty feet high, straight as an arrow, each fit to be "the mast of some great ammiral." The fields, too, and open spaces were covered with the wild flowers which abound in such profusion in California. The prevailing colors were yellow and purple, though others were mingled with them. Sometimes there would be several acres of the same hue, completely covering the field. At times, as we rose on the side of a hill, we could see, stretching before us like a panorama, a wide expanse of valley and bill-side. In the plain beneath us rose the Buttes, as they are called, three or four strange elevations, thrown up apparently by some volcanic action, in the very middle of an immense prairie which reaches almost as far as the eye can discern. They rise rough and ragged against the sky, entirely isolated, about half way on the plain between the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the east, and the Coast Range at the west.
We constantly passed the sluices or flumes built by miners to carry water from some distant stream to the "dry diggings." These are ditches about two feet square, excavated from the ground, where it is possible, but often passing over the valleys in wooden aqueducts. They are tapped, and a stream is let out to each company of miners that hires from the company. The Flume Company get about six dollars a day from each company taking their supply. One of these which we repeatedly passed,--the Deer Creek Ditch,--is twenty-five miles in length.
There is a peculiar code among the miners, and they are strong enough to enforce their own laws. One principle is, that no mineral lands can be held by proprietors. A village lot can be, but not a field for agricultural purposes. An individual may therefore have a fine field in grain, when it is discovered to be a "gold digging," and at once a hundred men encamp upon it, cut it up in shares, and turn up the whole surface for their own benefit. As soon as miners arrive in a new digging, they elect an alcalde. Any individual has then a right to appropriate a claim, varying from fifteen to sixty feet square, according to the richness of the mine. He drives a post at each corner, another in the centre having on it his name, pays the alcalde a dollar for registering it, and the claim is his. When he leaves, he can sell it. The real owner of the soil is not consulted.
Sometimes, when a hill is equally rich throughout, it is entirely leveled to the plain. If there is a plentiful supply of water, they begin at the top and cut down until they fairly wash it all away. In some places, we saw excavations twenty and thirty feet deep, which had been made by the miners. In others, they sink shafts to even a hundred feet in depth, until they strike the right vein; then they will follow a vein from one hill-side to another, and trace it on through a wide extent of country. Often, rocks have to be blasted, and perhaps weeks and even months spent in making tunnels and preparing to wash, when "the lead" is lost and the whole scheme proves a failure. The finding of the gold, indeed, sets at naught all ordinary geological laws. It seems as if the whole country had been turned up by the action of fire, its strata thrown into confusion, and gold makes its appearance just where all scientific men said it could not be found.
There is no record of the countless deaths which are taking place from exposure in the mines. Laboring under the hot sun and in the water, sleeping on the bare ground with only canvas overhead, and with unwholesome provisions, the miner, reared, perhaps in ease, sinks into sickness "which is unto death." A young friend of mine lived, one winter, for weeks in the mines, on bread he made from pounded acorns. Unlike the majority of his companions, however, he lived to tell of it.
At noon we reached Rough and Ready--a straggling village of five hundred inhabitants. It has been built up entirely as a mining centre. We stopped here to dine, and at the same time I made inquiry to see if it were possible for me to arrange a service for that evening. I found, however, that I could not, nor could I hear of a single individual attached to our Church. I therefore determined to go on to Grass Valley and make that my first stopping place. This is but four miles distant. We therefore resumed our seats after dinner and went on. It was an exceedingly rough road over the mountain. In walking up a steep hill to relieve the horses, I stopped to talk to some miners who were shovelling earth into a sluice. I found, however, they were only "prospecting," and it would take several days for them to decide whether or not it was worth while for them to work that spot.
We reached Grass Valley at four o'clock. It is said to be one of the most beautiful places among the mountains, and is surrounded by some of the richest mining spots. On one side are the famous "Gold Hill" mines, and near are the quartz crushing mills. The population of Grass Valley is estimated at about two thousand, though this must include the floating mining population. We stopped at the hotel (a third-rate country tavern), but on inquiring for rooms, I found that Madame Anna Thillon was "starring" it here at the little theatre, and, with her troupe, had taken all the best apartments. The host at last showed us two miserable rooms, which were all he had for us. I then inquired for the ladies' parlor, and was informed that Madame Thillon had engaged it for her dining-room. "Where then"--asked I--"is the lady to sit?" He opened the door of the desolate looking, uncarpeted dining-room, with a close stove at the end, and intimated that this was the only place he had. For the first time since I have been in California, I saw Mrs. Kip's countenance fall, but I did not wonder at it, for the prospect was dismal enough.
I knew no one in Grass Valley, but a friend in Marysville had given me the name of Mr. Winchester, and had written to him the day before, to announce my coming, though without knowing whether he was a Churchman. So, my next step was to seek Mr. Winchester. I found his home pleasantly situated on the verge of the town, and on sending in my name had a most cordial welcome. I was further delighted to hear that he was an attendant on the Church. Learning that my family were with me, he walked down to the hotel to insist on our taking up our abode with him.
We found Mrs. Kip not in the most cheerful frame of mind, and after some faint expressions of reluctance, she consented to accept his hospitality. We accordingly moved our quarters to Mr. Winchester's pleasant residence. His family are at the East, and we were inducted into their place.
Upon consultation with Mr. Winchester, it was thought best that I should go to Nevada (as I wished to visit there), on Friday, hold service in the evening, and then return and spend Sunday at this place, where a large public hall could be procured for that purpose.
Thursday, 20th. In the night we heard the sound of rain, somewhat to our surprise, as we supposed the dry season had commenced and we should see no more rain till next November. However, Grass Valley is in the mountains, three thousand feet above the level of the sea, and therefore an exception. It has poured all day, and at times there has been heavy thunder. How strange it is to realize where I am! I sat in the window and looked out over the diggings, beginning in the very next field, which was filled with sluices and mounds thrown up by the miners, and just back, all along the edge of the woods and under the gigantic pines, are their log cabins. Last evening, when they were ending work for the day, my son went down to see what they had gained. One party of five had gold which they estimated at about twenty dollars. This is probably the average wages.
In the afternoon, during a temporary lulling of the rain, we walked over to the quartz crushing mills. These are established by a stock company in London, and are the most perfect in California. Their machinery, sent out from England, bore on it the name so famous to machinists--"James Watt & Co., Soho," and is exceedingly beautiful. The company has spent about half a million of dollars, and the result of the experiment is yet to be reached. They can crush about seventy tons of ore a day. After being crushed several times, till reduced to a powder, it is passed through sluices where the gold and black sand are caught in the lining of blankets. These are then washed out, and the gold is separated by quicksilver. A few hundred yards distant is the celebrated "Gold Hill," from which several fortunes have already been made. The top and surface have been worked over by miners, while at the base it has been honey-combed with tunnels following the veins of gold quartz. We entered one about five feet high, extending into the heart of the mountain for six hundred and fifty feet, with lateral passages. At the end of it the miners were then getting out quartz.
Mr. Walsh, the superintendent, mentioned to me a fact which shows what a lottery mining is. He pointed out a log cabin, built on one of the gulches or ravines of the hill, over one of the richest spots upon it. It was built by a man who made it his headquarters, and from thence went "prospecting" over the whole adjacent country. Meeting with no success, he finally sold his cabin and claim for a trifle, and went elsewhere. The purchaser excavated under his cabin, and actually dug twenty thousand dollars from beneath the very floor on which his predecessor had been sleeping.
Friday, 22d. Rain still pouring down. At eight, the stage called for me to go to Nevada. The distance is but four miles, over a mountain of the Sierra Nevada range, Nevada being situated on the other side of it. We toiled up the mountain and through the old woods, by a road which this sudden torrent of rain had cut up, so that our vehicle rocked from side to side, and constant orders were given for all to lean to the right or left, to prevent it from going over. All this was sadly to the terror of the only lady passenger, who most earnestly wished herself in San Francisco. On the summit of the mountain, the storm, for a time, changed to snow, and then back again to rain as we descended to Nevada.
Nevada is unlike any other American town I ever saw. Built up by the miners, without any plan, its streets are narrow and irregular, and it seems crowded into a defile of the mountain. The hills tower around it on all sides, covered with gigantic pines, one of which was lately cut down measuring two hundred and fifty feet in length. Change its wooden houses to heavy stone and surround it with a wall, and it would be exactly like some towns perched up in the recesses of the Apennines. Everything looked gloomy enough as we entered it--the rain pouring in torrents, and the swollen Deer Creek roaring as it passed through the centre of the town.
I entered Nevada without knowing what success I should have in arranging a service for the evening, or that any steps had been taken for that object. The manner in which I was obliged, on this journey, to feel my way from place to place, is a fair specimen of the way we, here, must "seek for Christ's sheep that are dispersed abroad." When I left Marysville I did not know an individual at Grass Valley or Nevada, or whether anyone there was attached to the Church. I have already stated how I found Mr. Winchester and had made arrangements for Sunday. But what was to be done at Nevada? It was then Wednesday, and my service would have to be on Friday evening--short time, at the best, for arrangements and notice--and Mr. Winchester did not know the name of a single individual there, likely to be connected with the Church. At a venture, however, he wrote to a Mr. B-----, editor of the Nevada Journal, and requested him to give notice for Friday evening, in his paper, which was to be published that day, and see that the friends of the Church secured a place for service. When I arrived, therefore, I called on Mr. B. and found that he had accidentally stumbled on one Churchman, who engaged the Congregational meeting-house for that evening, and that the proper notice had been printed.
This publication brought out other Churchmen, who seemed rejoiced to hear that the Church was to take some notice of them. Still, the advertisement would be seen by but few, as it was issued within only a few hours of the time--it was raining violently--and Nevada, being without sidewalks, was covered with mud. Not a promising prospect, certainly!
Just before evening, the weather cleared. Still, the mud rendered the streets almost impassable. As they were not lighted, there was no such thing as picking our way. The Congregational meeting-house (since burned down) was a neat little building, holding about two hundred. Our attendance was about fifty, being forty-five more than I expected under such circumstances. But as they came dropping in, and I saw from their dress that a number of them were miners, I felt an earnestness and interest in preaching, greater even than I have felt in some of the splendid churches at the East. After service several of the congregation, who proved to be among the leading men of Nevada, were introduced to me, and they expressed a strong desire to organize a Church and have regular services. And thus ended the first service ever performed in Nevada. Years hence, should the Church be established and flourishing in this place, its members will look back with interest to our initiative on that rainy evening.
Saturday, 22d. The situation of this place, crowded between the mountains, prevents its being built in the straggling style usual when we commence a town with "magnificent distances." It is perfectly compact, and contains some seven thousand inhabitants, a part being the floating population of miners who surround the town. There are small Congregational and Baptist societies, and a little handful of Methodists, divided, as usual in this country, between two chapels,--Methodist North and Methodist South. Such are the beauties of schism! The number of those, however, who attend any service is lamentably small.
I asked a gentleman, whether he supposed all the congregations collected on Sunday morning would amount to five hundred persons? He answered, he did not think they would. Sunday is the great day for business, as the miners generally, owing to old home associations, do not work their claims on that day, but spend it in town purchasing their goods. All the shops, therefore, are open, and this is the day for brisk trade. In all mining towns I have found that the merchants generally wished to close. They would lose nothing by it, were all to do so, for the miners must purchase a certain quantity of goods, and if the shops were not open on Sunday, they would be obliged to buy on some other day. There are always, however, some Jews, who will keep open, and the rest think themselves obliged to do so, to prevent the Israelites from having the monopoly of trade. The passage and enforcement of a Sunday law would make an entire revolution in the moral and religious life of these places.
Around Nevada are the most extensive mining operations in the State. The whole land is rich with gold, and even a part of the town has been undermined, and the houses are propped up by beams. It is said, there is not a foot of ground but contains gold; but as labor is too high to have it all worked, only the rich veins are followed out.
We walked out this morning a few hundred yards beyond the limits of the town, and suddenly found ourselves on the edge of a precipice on the side of the mountain, down which we looked an hundred feet. It is an immense excavation made by the miners, who have thus literally washed away half the mountain. The earth is gradually carried away in their sluices, down to Deer Creek, which runs through the ravine below, and thus the whole mountain will eventually be removed and reduced to the, level of the plain. In this excavation, called Lands' Mine, one hundred and fifty men were working. They are hired by the company and have no interest in the mine.
There is a rich deposit of gravel, from fifty to one hundred feet broad, which runs through these hills. It was once the bed of a river. It winds from hill to hill like a serpent, and to trace it tunnels are driven, so that these hills are all perforated and honey-combed. When it is struck at a distance below the surface, a shaft is sunk, up which the earth is drawn that it may be washed out. These shafts again are all connected by tunnels, to give a circulation of air and to prevent the collection of noxious gases. We saw one, a hundred and thirty feet deep, at the bottom of which five men were working, while the earth was drawn up by horse power. The gold here is all of the best kind, but never found in lumps or grains, only in powder as fine as flour. It can be collected, therefore, by quicksilver only, which is placed in the sluices through which the water and earth are poured. The quicksilver, by its natural affinity, attracts the gold and amalgamates it while the earth runs off in the water. By application of heat to a retort, the quicksilver is then evaporated, leaving the pure yellow metal.
It is never safe in California to judge of a person by his dress. You are thrown into contact with rough-looking people in a stage coach, and before you have travelled five miles, find they are college-bred,--perhaps professional men at the East. You speak to a miner in n, red flannel shirt, about the geological formation of the mine in which he is working, and the first sentence of his answer--the very wording of it--shows him to be scientifically educated, and, by his training, an accomplished man. The proprietor of a book store in one of the mining towns told me, that the roughest looking men came in to ask for classical works on these and on every other scientific subject. Astronomy seemed to be a particular favorite with them.
We were looking at a deep excavation, when a person ascended from it dressed like a miner, and, coming forward, called me by name. His face seemed familiar, but I could not recognize him, and he was obliged to introduce himself. Six or seven years ago he was a vestryman of my church in Albany, being then a merchant in extensive business. About five years ago he came out to the mines, where he had suffered all kinds of reverses, and endured the usual hardships, until now he was beginning to reap a reward in the prospect of fortune. He had extensive claims on these hills, and employed fifteen or twenty workmen in his "diggings," which he was preparing to work by machinery. His family had joined him a few months before, and were living in a board cabin he pointed out to me, which lie had erected on the hills near his claims. His wife and daughter had been communicants in my church in Albany, and I walked over to see them. The home in which I had last met them, was a three story brick house. Such unexpected encounters are common in California, and this was the second I had had in Nevada in twenty-four hours.
Among the vegetable productions of California peculiar to this country, is the soap plant, which the gentleman with me pointed out growing on these hills. It looks like a lily, and has a large bulbous root. He pulled up one, crushed it with a stone, and then proceeded to wash his hands in a neighboring pool of water. His hands and the water were at once covered with a lather like soapsuds. It is an excellent substitute for soap, and is used for that purpose by the old Californians.
After spending the greater part of the day in visiting those who were favorable to the object for which I had come, and making the necessary arrangements to establish the Church, at four o'clock we set out in the stage on our return to Grass Valley. The day had been beautiful; the roads were already drying up; the air was pure and bracing; and there could be no greater contrast than between our ride this afternoon and that through the storm of the day before. We wound in and out among the old patriarchs of the forest, and everything had an air of freshness, as if we were in a newly discovered land. I cannot remember that I ever enjoyed a ride more. In about an hour we reached Grass Valley, and found ourselves again at the hospitable residence of Mr. Winchester.
Sunday, 23rd. As beautiful a day as ever shone! The diggings which I see from my window are nearly deserted, only a solitary miner here and there using his pick. A few Indians and Chinese are scattered about. In the village a few shops only are open, together with some gambling saloons kept by Frenchmen, whose object is to decoy the miners into spending the hard-earned wages of the week.
We had a morning service in a public hall, and a congregation of about fifty, among them some of the most influential families in the village. Quite a number, too, were young men of the class adapted to form the strength of a congregation. In the afternoon we removed to the Presbyterian house of worship, which had been offered to us the evening before, their congregation having no service at that hour. Our attendance was over one hundred. Out of the two thousand persons in Grass Valley, not three hundred are found at one time in the different places of worship on Sunday. The congregation at the Presbyterian house of worship varies from fifteen to fifty. I found numbers of persons who acknowledged to me that they never went anywhere, for there was nothing to interest them; but they assured me if the Church was established here, they would support it and attend regularly.
There is some society to be found in this distant village as refined as any in our eastern states. On Thursday afternoon I had spent a very pleasant hour at the house of Mr. Melville Atwood. He is from England, and has come out to direct the scientific arrangements of the English Quartz Company. His wife is a sister of Prof. Forbes of London, who, in science, has a world-wide celebrity. We had promised to dine with them on Sunday evening. In addition to his family, we found a guest staying with him--Sir Henry Huntley. Sir Henry is a captain in the British navy and was formerly Governor of Prince Edward's Island. He was sent out from England, in command of a company of Cornish miners, to superintend the quartz works belonging to an association there. Of course the company went to pieces, as the courtly Sir Henry was not intended by nature for such work.
Monday, 24th. We did not send to the stage office till last evening, and then found that every place was taken and we must remain another day. Willie has been out in the diggings trying mining. He washed out several pans of earth, but, not being -very skilful, did not get more than twenty-five cents worth of gold.
Mrs. Kip had been with me, making visits and perfecting our acquaintance with the people of Grass Valley. We passed, in the village, an exceedingly pretty cottage, inhabited by Lola Montes. It has a conservatory behind it, and flowers and bird cages about it, giving it an air of taste and refinement. She is said to have a pension from the King of Bavaria, who, when she was his chère amie, gave her the title of Countess of Landsfeldt. Among her pets,--and we were told she has a number,--is a young grizzly bear which was chained to the stump of a tree just outside her front court-yard. We stopped for a moment to look at it, and while so engaged, Lola came out on the porch to arrange her flowers. She has a rather fine countenance, as well as we could judge at the distance. We cannot imagine what induced her to select this retired village for her residence, after the kind of life she has led in Europe.
Tuesday, 25th. The rain came on again last evening, and it has literally poured through the night. This morning was not much better; but as these mountain storms sometimes last for a week, nothing remained for us but to set out for home. The stage--a long wagon--came at seven o'clock, and, ourselves included, there were twelve inside. Just as we set off, the rain ceased and we had no more that day. Through the morning, however, it was like a fitful April day,--alternate clouds and sunshine. We took a different road through the country, from that by which we came, traversing the side of the mountains and directing our course towards Sacramento. The mountain streams had been swollen by the rains, and in several through which we passed, the water came up to the body of the carriage. Then, too, we were constantly kept on the qui vim by the directions of the driver,--"To the right, or the stage will be over!"--"To the left!" etc.--obliging us continually to "trim ship," to the manifest terror of the two ladies within. We passed, every few miles, traces of mining and excavations, or saw long flumes stretching across the landscape. The country is what at the West they call "oak openings," covered with large trees without any under-brush. Occasionally there were large fields under cultivation, where the settler had devoted himself to the certainty of agriculture instead of the lottery of mining.
At noon we reached Auburn, so named by one of the first settlers, who came from Auburn in the State of New York, Situated, however, as it is, among the mountains, it cannot be called
"Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain."
It is now a stirring milling town, surrounded by extensive diggings; but let the mines give out or better ones be discovered five miles distant, this would soon be "the deserted village." As we left the town, we passed through a street inhabited entirely by Chinese, who are to be met with in all parts of the mines.
Descending into the plain below, we had magnificent views of the Valley of the Sacramento which stretched far as the eye could reach, seeming to be an unbroken expanse of forest land. The sun was shining brightly, and every pleasant little nook we passed appeared to be occupied by miners. Sometimes there was a neat cabin, as if the occupant had made up his mind to a long residence, but generally there were only canvas tents. They looked so pleasant, however, this bright afternoon, the men working in the gulches, that a passer-by would imagine mining to be a most agreeable employment.
A few miles farther on we reached the level of the plain--the distance from the mountains to Sacramento is about thirty miles,--a rolling country covered with clumps of old oaks scattered about. Here would be a single tree, there a clump of half a dozen, then a wide grove. We passed hundreds of sites where I could not help imagining how beautiful some of the old halls in England would look, if they could be transported to these spots. It extended, too, as far as the eye could reach, often for miles without a habitation or a fence. The late rains had laid the dust, everything was fresh and green, the atmosphere was just cool enough, and altogether it was a delightful drive. Now and then we came to a ranch house kept as a hotel, where we changed horses, or to the cabin and little enclosure of a settler.
Of the land which belongs to the United States Government, any actual settler may appropriate to himself a hundred and sixty acres, free of purchase; and as we looked at this wide expanse of magnificent unsettled country, with its fine agricultural advantages, and remembered the millions of toiling farmers in the old world, who are laboring year after year for a mere subsistence and are crushed down by taxes, I asked myself, why will they not come over and "possess the land" which seems to be waiting for their occupancy. And one day the Valley of the Sacramento will be thus filled.
The great drawback in the greater part of this Valley is the want of water. Late in the summer the herbage is entirely dried up, and the country loses its livery of green till the rainy season comes again. Perhaps the experiment might be made which has been so successfully tried in the Valley of San Jose, and water provided by digging artesian wells. Were this to be done successfully, it would supply the only deficiency which is felt here.
As the twilight deepened, we could see the teamsters, in different parts of the plain, kindling fires by the side of their huge wagons and preparing to camp out for the night; while the little prairie wolves (coyotes), startled by the noise of our vehicle, sprang up and dashed away into the darkness. It was just at evening that we crossed the river by a bridge, and entered the streets of Sacramento, having driven about seventy miles since breakfast.