One letter described
conditions in the gold fields: "Imagine a company of
enterprising and excitable young men, settled upon a sandy level
about as large as a poor widow's potato patch...living in damp,
gloomy cabins." She described the winter's rain as a
remorseless force "...which set itself to drive humanity
Her letters were written
at Rich Bar on the East branch of the Feather River's north fork.
It was September, two years and a summer after the Gold Rush
started. She was at the highest point at which gold had so far
been discovered, 50 miles from the Sierra Nevada Mountains'
summit. "Through the middle of Rich Bar runs the street,
thickly planted with about forty tenements; among which figure
round tents, square tents, plank hovels and log cabins," read
her second letter back "to the States."
About the beginnings of
Rich Bar, she wrote, "...two men turned over a large
stone, beneath which they found quite a sizable piece of gold."
They staked a claim and before nightfall the entire bar had been
claimed. "In a fortnight from that time, the two men who
found the first bit of gold had each taken out six thousand
dollars. Two others took out thirty-three pounds of gold within
eight hours." There could be no other name given to this
wondrous place than "Rich Bar."
Others kept their writings
to themselves, maintaining journals of their gold field
adventures. One was Henry Bigler, who was there when James
Marshall made his famous discovery. "The first that I had
any knowledge of gold being found in any other place aside from
the race [of Sutter's Mill] was on Sunday the sixth of February.
That morning I said I was going over the river opposite the mill
to see if I could find any, pointing to some bare rock directly
opposite the saw mill."
Using a jackknife given
him by John Sutter on a recent visit, Bigler and a partner picked
out about five dollars worth of yellow apiece. A small amount, but
an important one; it signaled the beginning of the expansion of
the great California Gold Rush.
Six days later, Bigler set
off to "hunt ducks" and found a likely spot -- but it
wasn't ducks he was after. A half mile below the mill he saw a
recent landslide. "The river was pretty deep and rapid. I
ventured across by taking off every rag I had on." Bigler
admitted to his diary that he "had gold badly on the
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be the last to be afflicted.