May 25, 1850

From letter published in the Missouri Whig, Palmyra, ca September, 1850


We give below some extracts from a letter from Mr. William Hecton, to Mr. Jas. D. Overton, dated Stockton, Cal., May 25, 1850:

* * * I have nothing of importance to write, though there is every thing going on here that you could think of. I cannot say that I am at all disappointed in the mines as regards their riches. There is an inexhaustible quantity of gold here; there is no doubt about that; but it is rather harder to get than most of the people thought. Many, as you are well aware expected to come here and in six or eight months to pick up a fortune and return. But alas ! they are mistaken. A man that will work here can make $5 a day, clear of all expenses. The cheapest board that you can obtain in this, is $80 per month. A miner can make on an average, it is said, $8 clear per day; but it is very laborious work. They are compelled to stand in water all day, and they are necessarily bound to be sick in the fall. I myself intend to team it for about two months, and when the waters get down in the large rivers, I then expect to go to mining, that will be in August or September. You can work on the bars in those rivers. All you have to do is to shovel up the dirt and wash it; it is said to be very rich on those bars. I have only been at one of the placers, called Mariposas. There I found Capt. Robards, Ben. McDaniel, Frank Nelson and Sam. Clark, of my acquaintance; so I felt perfectly at home. At the next river this side of there, I saw Ellis Schofield and son. In Los Angeles I saw Mr. Granger, the Baptist Preacher. He was keeping tavern there, and doing well. In this place is John J. Holliday, of Hannibal, merchandising. Those are all the Marion boys that I have seen, though I have heard from a good many. I heard from James Dudley the other day by one of the volunteers who had been up in the northern mines; he got in safe with the team. He was then on the Yuba river. Jep and Zack. Reagan? started one week ago to day for Sacramento City and from there on up to where Dudley and Kizer are. There is an important election here today, and all American citizens are allowed to vote, no matter how short a time they have been here. I will not close until tomorrow, that being the Sabbath.

MAY 26th.— Breakfast is just over, and I now resume my task. There are two churches in this place. Some are now fixing to repair to a place of worship, while others are dealing Monte, Faro, &c. there are no less than five gambling houses with the doors stretched open, some three or four tables in each house, with their tricks and banks opened, waiting and watching for a greener. But, oh????? I have got to be a little too old for them. I can’t afford to drive oxen for $200 per month, and then invest it in a Monte bank. Rest assured, that “Young Enoch,” as you used to call him will take care of No. 1 certain.

William McDaniel (the Buster) has cleared about $10,000. He is on the coast above here. I expect, when I get an answer to a letter that I wrote him, to go up also. He is trading, I understand, in stock. Capt. Robards has made but little, having had extraordinary bad luck; his men, out of fifteen, fourteen leaving him. He intends starting back pretty soon by the way of the Isthmus. I found the old Captain to be a friend to us when we got here. There is no better man upon top of the earth than he is. Jameson Hawkins has made some five or six thousand dollars clear. I heard from Muldrow‘s crowd the other day, they are all upon Bear River some three or four hundred miles north of here. Geo. Lane was there. I understand that John Hazlip and Jo. Winlock are keeping a livery stable in Sacramento City. This city is on the Sacramento river; about 60 miles from here–a place that has been lately built up, and contains eight or ten thousand inhabitants. There are steamers and schooners also plying between this place and San Francisco, and from Francisco to Sacramento City. This place is on a slough, or between two sloughs, that make out from the San Joaquin river. There are now no less than 100 ships, brigs, steamers, &c., Lying in front of where I am now writing. The Capt. Sutter is a nice little boat, very much like the small boats that run up the Mississippi; she leaves this morning for San Francisco, passage $25; she makes it in 15 hours—sail vessels not quite so quick.

I heard the other day from a man coming down from the northern mines, that they were perfectly full–crowded. He also said that it was very sickly; the people were dying off at a rapid rate. The same gentleman also informed me that he saw Merritt, Briscoe, Isham White, and he thought Abe and Sam Hawkins. In relation to the northern and southern mines, I will say that I believe there is but little difference in point of riches. You may see every day people leaving the southern mines that are doing well; ask them where they are going, they will answer, to the northern mines. You will then again see them coming to the southern mines; ask them where they are from, and they will say the northern mines. Thus while they are leaving one place and going to another, they meet each other, some for the north and some for the south. People are not satisfied when they are doing well; they want to do better. I much prefer the southern mines on account of health.

Boys, I have seen people here from every portion of the world, from every province in South America, from Italy, Portugal, Spain and France, from China, and every other nation that you could think of. All foreigners have been taxed $20 per month that work in the mines; so there is a row anticipated. They swear they won’t pay it; in fact many of them can’t make it. I believe it to be a swindling scheme. There is not a day passes but what there is a foreigner killed by some drunken Irishman or foul American. They hang a man here as high as Gilderoy for stealing. I have an idea of going to Rio Janeiro, in Brazil, to stay a few years, when I leave here. It is said to be the greatest country out.

Transcribed courtesy of Kathleen Wilham