True Gold Rush Stories
People came from all over the world, all of them after the same treasure–GOLD. This page shares interesting and unusual stories from the Gold Rush, pictures of gold-related subjects, and anything else that comes to mind. Enjoy!
The First Gold in the United States
Gold was first discovered in America near Charlotte, North Carolina. One Sunday in 1799, a twelve-year-old boy named Conrad Reed went fishing in Little Meadow Creek on his family’s far. Instead of catching a fish, he saw something yellow shining in the creek bed. He waded into the water and picked up the object, which was about the size of a small iron. It was heavy, weight about seventeen pounds.
Conrad’s father, John Reed, didn’t have any idea what the rock was, so the family used it for about three years as a doorstop. Mr. Reed finally hauled the rock into Fayettville and showed it to a jeweler, who of course knew right away that the rock was pure gold! Mr. Reed offered to sell it to the jeweler for the “big” price of $3.50. The jeweler agreed right away. he got about $3,600 worth of gold (1800 pricing) in that deal.
The site eventually became home to the Reed gold mine. Learn all the history behind the first gold mine in the United States.
Gold was discovered in Coloma, California, on January 24, 1848. Eight miles away in Big Canyon Creek, prospectors found so much gold that they could just pick it up from the stream. How easy was that? Miners’ huts lined the creek during those early years. Best of all, every spring the creeks and rivers brought down a new “crop” of gold. It came from quartz rock outcroppings deep in the mountains that washed away a little more every spring.
Gold Bug Mine
The Gold Bug mine is my inspiration for the Midas mine in Tunnel of Gold. Later during the gold rush, when the placer (surface) gold became rare and panning didn’t turn up as much as before, hard-rock mining became the way to extract gold from underground.
This picture shows the inside of the Gold Bug mine in Placerville, California, not too far from Big Canyon Creek. The Hattie mine was its original name, named after the mine owner’s oldest daughter. How would you like someone to name a gold mine after you?
Learn more about the Gold Bug mine by taking a short video tour.
A Miners’ Practical Joke
I bet your mother would not find this joke very funny. Back in 1857, a gold camp called Gibsonville was the center of things for everybody within fifteen to twenty miles around. There were not a lot of women in mining camps, so some girls married as young as age fifteen. They had babies too. Well, it didn’t seem quite right that only the husbands should dance with these girls at the big Fourth of July ball, seeing as there were so few women. So the girls were given special permission to dance with the single miners that day.
People swarmed to Gibsonville from miles around that day. Fifty young mother came, and they brought their babies along. A special place in the hotel was set aside for them and their babies. Hundreds of miners joined the party, but many of them never got a chance to dance with the pretty, young mothers. Sorely disappointed, they thought of a plan to get even. A number of the miners went to the rooms where the babies lay sleeping. They mixed all the babies up, so no mother–in her hurry to grab her baby and head home–would take the right baby home with her. The miners had left the blankets alone and only switched the babies, so everything looked nearly the same (and the babies were probably close in age).
It took several days to straighten out the whole mess. The miners got a good laugh. Not so much the mother. Or maybe . . . they laughed too. After all, original amusements were the only type of entertainment available to the early California prospectors.
The Miner’s Ten Commandments
The Miner’s Ten Commandments were first written in 1853 by James Hutchings, and first published in the Placerville Herald newspaper. Even the rough miners knew God’s Ten Commandments, and Mr. Hutchings adapted them for the gold camp. They are a lot of fun to read! The commandments have been shortened from the original, wordy document and updated (“you” instead of “thou”) to make them easier for you to understand and enjoy. They will give you and idea of what life was like for lonely miners thousands of miles away from home.
You can read the commandment in their entirety by clicking this link to the San Francisco virtual museum. Below is the shortened version.
- You shall have no other gold claim besides one.
- You shall not make for yourself a false claim, or any likeness to a mean man by jumping a claim.
- You shall not take your gold dust to the gaming table in vain. For poker and roulette will prove that the more you put down, the less you shall take up.
- You shall not remember what your friends do at home on the Sabbath day, lest the remembrance may not compare favorably with what you do here. Six days you dig or pick; yet on Sunday you wash your dirty clothes, darn your socks, chop a whole week’s firewood, bake your bread, and boil your pork and beans, so you do not have to wait when you return from your daily diggings weary.
- You shall not think more of your gold and how you can make it faster, than how you will enjoy it after you have ridden rough-shod over your good parents’ teachings and examples.
- You shall not kill: neither your own body by working in the rain, nor your neighbor’s body in a duel. Neither shall you destroy yourself by drinking. Your wife’s smiles and your children’s merry-hearted laugh shall reward you for having the manly courage to say NO.
- You shall not grow discouraged, or think of going home before you have made your “pile.” For you know by staying here you might strike a lead and fifty dollars a day, and keep your manly respect, and then go home with enough to make yourself and others happy.
- You shall not steal a pick, or a shovel, or a pan from your fellow-miner; nor take away his tools without his leave; nor borrow those he cannot spare; nor remove his stake to enlarge your own claim; nor pan out gold from his “riffle box”; nor steal gold dust from your cabin-mate. For he will be sure to discover what you have done, and will call his fellow miners together. And if the law does not hinder them, will hang you or give you fifty lashes or shave your head and brand you like a horse thief, to be known by all men . . . Californians in particular.
- You shall not tell any false tales about “good diggings in the mountains” to your neighbor. Lest, when your neighbor returns through the snow, with nothing save his rifle, he shoots you with the contents thereof, and you fall down and die.
- You shall not forget your “first love,” but remember how faithfully she awaits your return.
Chinese Miners in California
When gold was first discovered in California in 1848, there were no laws to oversee the mining, and no law to collect any taxes on the gold. Digging for gold was a free-for-all, a first-come, first-served deal. “There’s plenty of gold for the world for generations to come!” they all cried.
The enthusiastic miners who said this were wrong. Dead wrong. The gold camps became overcrowded. Competition to find the placer (surface) gold increased. It soon became clear that there was not enough gold for everybody in the whole world. But it was too late . . .
The Chinese heard the news of gold in California and crossed the Pacific Ocean in droves. By 1852, only four years after the first gold nugget was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, 25,000 Chinese had arrived at the they called Gum Shan, “Gold Mountain,” making them the largest group of foreigners in the gold fields. They stayed together in large camps, living and working together in communal groups.
The Chinese were patient and thorough miners. They did not give up until every grain of gold dust was taken from a claim. They were also scavengers, willing to mine claims that whites had abandoned as not being worthwhile. The Yankees (American miners) became resentful of the efficient Chinese. They felt the Chinese were taking gold away from white miners. The Chinese were run out of gold camp after gold camp. Many started their own towns like Chinese Camp.
Then the California government got into the act, supporting the white miners side. In 1852, the legislature in Sacramento passed a “Foreign Miner’s Tax,” aimed at the Chinese. No one who was not a US citizen could mine unless they had a license and paid a tax of $3.00 a month. Some Chinese were making only $6.00 a month mining. If a miner could not (or refused to) pay this tax, the tax collectors could take their mine away and sell it as quickly as one hour later! Phony tax collectors were everywhere too, forcing miners to pay up or get out. When they refused to do either, some Chinese were shot and killed. Click here to see the real FOREIGN MINERS TAX LAW.
It was not a good time to be Chinese in California. Worse laws came later. This unfair and inhumane prejudice against another people group is a horrible blot on the history of our United States.