November 11, 1849

From letter published in the Missouri Whig, Palmyra, February 14, 1850


We make the following extracts from a letter in the last Paris Mercury, from Mr. John Graves, a very sensible, and highly respected citizen of Monroe county, who emigrated to California last spring. The letter is to his brother-in-law, and dated Big Bar, California, Nov 11, 1849:

We are now in California, but how long to stay I cannot tell. On our trip across the plains, I was taken sick at the South Pass of the mountains, with the mountain fever, and lay 12 days without change—I here thought I should “step aside,” but under the care of Hugh Glenn, I was raised again. The trip across is a very difficult one, and in many instances so much so that I calculate on returning by water, if I should be allowed so to do. We made a halt on Bear river, the 16th of August, about 40 miles above Johnson’s settlement, as the weather was very hot. This is a small stream, affording a good deal of gold. Here we made our first attempt at gold digging; we soon found ourselves green-horns, and are likely to remain green. As to the gold regions, I and most others are disappointed–for in this vast gold region I thought there would be room enough for all, but is is not so; for there are many streams that have gold, but it is only where the river makes a short turn. Here is a bar of large rock, sand, gravel and clay, and in these bars is the deposits of gold, and very irregular, so that one man may have a width of 10 or 20 feet, as circumstances may be. One man out of 500 will make sometimes 50 to 500 dollars per day, and his next neighbor with double the labor, is hard set to make his ounce, and others vary from one oz. down to one dollar. Along the rivers, then for miles, if there is no bars formed, you cannot make enough to pay your daily “grub”. There has been a goodly number of dams built across the different streams, on the ripples, some have paid well and others nothing. The dry diggings is in the hollows of the mountains; most always you must go to the slate rock, and then perhaps quarry the rock, before you get gold; sometimes the miner finds a pocket with a fortune in it, and thousands of others will only make $5 per day. These dry diggings are scattering, and vast scopes of country will not yield the miner a dime per day.

The vast numbers that are here toiling for small wages, if they could, with the same knowledge, call 12 months back, I venture to say that 9 out of every 10 would be at home, where every thoughtful man would be. It is a land of lotteries truly, for I have seen several cases where men did but little work and were drunk one half of their time, would make large raises in a short time, and perhaps on Sunday loose it all at the gambling table.

In these dry diggings they dig from one to 20 feet in depth; they are worked in the winter and spring when there is plenty of water, and are very irregular in their yield.—-The river or wet diggings is the bars formed on the bank; this is heavy work, for the bar is a base of stone thrown out by the stream, and from 8 to 10 feet of this is to be dug up and thrown off before you come to the gold, and then perhaps quite scarce.

David and Thos. McKamey, Wm. Poague, Hawkins, Campbell, and myself, are all together, and will winter together. Jo. Rogers concluded to go to Sacramento City and work at the blacksmith’s trade. We let Armstrong out of our mess on the road; he has, probably, made more money than all of us together.

We are now on the big bar of the middle prong of the American fork of the Sacramento about 35 miles from Sacramento City, In between two walls of mountains of a considerable height, and may perhaps winter here if we can make our “grub” here through the winter. Although it is so high up in the mountains, it is said that it seldom snows in this Canion, though the mountain tops will be covered with snow two or three feet deep. The price of provisions here in the mines are high, and various according to distance: for Flour 60 to 80 cents per pound, and will as the rainy seasons sets in, be much higher; pickled Pork 90c to $1.20 per pound, Coffee 60 to 80c, Sugar 60 to 80c, Salt $1 to $1.25, Mackerel $1 to $1.25 each, Salmon $1.00 to $1.25 per pound, Beans 70 to 80c per lb., Vinegar $1.25 per bottle, Molasses 9 to 12 shillings per bottle, Pickles $8 for a quart jar, and every thing else in proportion. So that if a man arrives here sick and without funds he had as well be in bedlam, for all are strangers here, and many there are in this unpleasant situation.–This whole mining region is a poor mountainous country, sufficient to wear a man out in a short time; it is covered with pine mostly and almost without grass, which makes packing so very high, as you cannot wagon in these mountains, and very difficult to pack. Packing from Sacramento City here is 60 to 70c per pound; and from Columo here 40 to 45 cents per pound– a distance of 35 miles.

And as to my opinion about this country for agricultural purposes, I know but little, as I have not yet been in the valley of the Sacramento. If a man wishes to know something about a miner’s life, let him try well digging in flint rocks, and, try rock quarrying, sleep in the open air and do his own cooking out of salt pork, flour and coffee, with two weeks regular rain. This country is much given to diarrhea, and many have died of it. I should have wrote sooner but I had a mind to return to the States, but have concluded to stay this winter, if no longer. If I should ever get on my farm again, California and her gold mines may go “a jumping”. I regret, much ever leaving my home, for I acted the fool in good earnest for big tales, which not one in ten prove true, for you may hear of these every day and scarce ever find the man that makes these large raises.

Transcribed courtesy of Kathleen Wilham