How Did Emigrants in Oregon Celebrate Thanksgiving in the 1840s?

I wanted to write about Thanksgiving in Oregon in the 1840s, but didn’t find anything specifically on that topic. I did, however, find some interesting information about the development of the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it in the United States. See here, here, here, and here.

From this history, I’ve extrapolated what I think happened when the emigrants reached Oregon after their arduous six-month journey.

We’ve all heard the story of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans having a feast shortly after they arrived in the New World, though this is mostly a myth. The legend of the first Thanksgiving feast did not become a staple of American folklore until after World War I.

The Pilgrims did bring a tradition of giving thanks to God for his divine providence. But it is unlikely that their early feasts consisted of turkey and cranberries, and they certainly did not have pumpkin pie. Some accounts say the Pilgrims held a feast of thanksgiving in 1621 in gratitude to God for their survival. Other accounts place it in 1637 and say that it celebrated the return of colonial hunters who had safely returned from murdering several hundred Pequot Indians.

Moreover, the Pilgrims might have been late to the table. There is some evidence that in 1565, the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé and the local tribe in St. Augustine, Florida, dined together after a Mass of gratitude for the Spaniards’ safe arrival in the New World.

Throughout our nation’s early history, recognition of Thanksgiving was mostly a state and local affair. George Washington proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving in 1789, to recognize the successful conclusion of the War of Independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. And although later presidents issued similar proclamations, for the most part, recognition of a thanksgiving holiday was up to state governors. Each state chose a different date to celebrate. Most governors chose late November or early December, but the holiday could be as early as September or as late as January.

Also, in the early years, Thanksgiving was mostly a New England tradition. George Washington was a Virginian, but the Southern states did not embrace the holiday until well past the middle of the 19th Century. It was New Englanders who spread the holiday from their northern colonies to Michigan, Ohio, and other “western” territories.

By the 1840s, the traditional New England menu of turkey, cranberries, potatoes, and pumpkin (and other) pies was in place, but recognition of the holiday still varied. Writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale tried for many years to establish a national Thanksgiving holiday, similar to Independence Day. In 1846, she began a letter-writing campaign to fix a uniform date for Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.

Her support for the Puritanical holiday became interwoven with the abolitionist movement and caused divisiveness between the North and South. It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln agreed to Sarah Hale’s request and issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 that a uniform national date for the holiday was established. The last Thursday in November remained the national holiday until 1939. That year, Franklin Roosevelt set it on the fourth Thursday of November to extend the Christmas shopping season during the Great Depression.

Although I didn’t find any references to 1840s Thanksgiving feasts in Oregon, I did find several articles about the Californian celebration in 1850. There is speculation that gold miners from New England would have held Thanksgiving holidays in California in 1848 and ’49 also, and General Bennett Riley, California’s last military governor, issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1849.

But the first real account of a Californian Thanksgiving is in 1850. That year, Governor Peter Barnett issued a proclamation, and the governor and his guests had a sumptuous repast at the Columbia Hotel.  The holiday was still viewed as primarily a New England tradition, but it had made it to the West Coast.

If California was celebrating by 1850, surely there must have been at least a few Thanksgiving feasts in Oregon by that time also. It is likely that Thanksgiving celebrations in Oregon would have been a mixed bag—New Englanders might have had the tradition firmly in their families, but Southern emigrants might not have recognized it.

In addition, although the emigrants might have rejoiced to have reached Oregon safely, their focus upon their arrival would likely have been on finding shelter and provisions for the winter. There are accounts of feasts on Abernethy Green in Oregon City when new emigrants camped there, but not of regular Thanksgiving celebrations.

Still, I think of the Oregon emigrants celebrating their survival and the bounty of the new land they claimed. Surely they had cause for thanksgiving.

Whatever your Thanksgiving traditions, I hope your celebrations are happy and safe.

Relocation of Fort Kearny

In a post several years ago, I mentioned that Fort Kearny was relocated from near what is now Nebraska City, Nebraska, to a location further west along the Platte River. I described the surveying of the new fort site in Lead Me Home, and I’ve been revisiting that scene in my current work-in-progress.

As migration to Oregon increased in the mid-1840s, the Army decided it needed a fort at the eastern edge of the frontier to protect the western settlers and to provide them with a supply station. The first fort was named after an early explorer, Col. Stephen Kearny, who scouted the area along the Missouri River near what is now Nebraska City, Nebraska. He recommended that a fort be built in that place, and the Army constructed the first Fort Kearny in 1846.

Soon after the fort opened, however, the Army realized the location was not suitable. Settlers passed either south of the fort from Westport, Independence, or St. Joseph in Missouri, or north through what is now Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska.

But almost all the emigrants to the West followed the Platte River, which became known as the Great Platte River Road. So the Army began scouting for a new location for the fort in September 1847.

Lt. Daniel Woodbury described the site he selected as follows:

“I have located the post opposite a group of wooded islands in the Platte River . . . three hundred seventeen miles from Independence, Missouri, one hundred seventeen miles from Fort Kearny on the Missouri and three miles from the head of the group of islands called Grand Island.”

The timing of the scenes in my novel is not exact, because I have my wagon company encounter the surveyors of the new site in May 1947, several months before they arrived.

Moreover, the replacement fort itself was not built until June 1848, when soldiers from the first fort arrived at the new location. The wooden buildings of the new Fort Kearny were built that summer.

By the summer of 1849, Fort Kearny was a mecca for the western travelers needing more supplies for the journey. On June 2, 1849, Lieutenant Woodbury wrote:

“Four thousand four hundred wagons have already passed by this post—nearly all destined for California. There are four men and ten draft animals to each wagon—very nearly. Many, not included above, have traveled on the other side of the Platte and many more are still to come on this side. The post is at present very poorly prepared to give to the emigrants the assistance which very many have required even at this point so near the beginning of their journey.”

Thus, the fort grew in importance as a supply station. By 1850 regular mail service had begun, along with a stagecoach route from Independence to Salt Lake City.

In the mid-1850s, hostilities between the Native Americans and the emigrants increased. Soldiers from Fort Kearny provided protection to the wagon companies. But by the mid-1860s most of the conflicts were farther west, and with the advent of the transcontinental railroad, there was less need for an Army presence. The Army abandoned Fort Kearny in 1871.

Ft. Kearny reconstruction, photograph by Chris Light, from Creative Commons

Later, the fort buildings were torn down and the land made available for homesteading. What exists at the site now is only a reconstruction of the fort.

As a side note, one of the interesting aspects of writing historical fiction is how the author should spell geographic names. For example, the name Fort Kearny is spelled as I’ve typed it, without a second e. But the town named after the fort is Kearney, with the second e. The reason? The fort was named after an Army officer named Kearny, but a later postmaster consistently misspelled the name as Kearney.

In my work-in-progress, I have recently been writing a chapter that takes place near Scott’s Bluff, Wyoming. The early settlers were divided on whether to spell it with or without the apostrophe. I chose to use the more accurate Scott’s Bluff because the location is named after a man named Scott (not Scotts). However, the National Park Service adopted the name Scotts Bluff. And the nearby town in Wyoming is Scottsbluff—all one word.

I don’t always choose the most historically accurate name. In my novels, I’ve called a more western fort along the Oregon Trail Fort Laramie, though it was called Fort John in 1847 when my fictional wagon company passed through (and had been called Fort William even earlier). But for the convenience of the modern reader, Fort Laramie makes more sense.

I’m sure some of my readers wonder why I’ve chosen the names and spellings I have. There is usually a reason, though sometimes I am just wrong.

When have you been surprised by some aspect of history?

The Vagaries of Mail Service During the Early California Gold Rush

Grimes ltr San FranOne of the issues I have dealt with in my novel about the California Gold Rush is long-distance communications in the West between 1848 and 1850. I have characters living in Oregon, others in California, and they have relatives in Missouri and Massachusetts. The only way people could communicate over distance was through letters, but mail delivery was slow and often unreliable.

The difficulties of communications in the mid-19th century provides some interesting plot turns in my novel. In real life, it led to frustration, disappointment, and uncertainty, and the same is true in my story.

From California to either Oregon or the East Coast, the quickest way for a letter to be delivered was by ship. But regular ship schedules were not established until about the same time that news of the Gold Rush reached the East. The Gold Rush caused its own complications in mail delivery.

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company was founded in New York in April 1848. Its ships were intended to travel north as far as Oregon, but just as the company’s first ships were launched in the spring and summer of 1848, the Gold Rush intervened, and the ships had all they could do in transporting people and goods between Panama and California. Oregon was only an afterthought.

Mail service was overwhelmed by demand after the Forty-Niners invaded California. According to accounts in A Year of Mud and Gold: San Francisco in Letters and Diaries, 1849-1850, edited by William Benemann (1999), after a ship docked in San Francisco bringing mail to California, the Post Office closed for two or three days to sort the mail the ship had brought. Think of the difficulty of sorting the mail, when the address might simply be a name and “Sacramento City, Upper California”. One man wrote in February 1850 that the San Francisco Post Office had received 95 bags of mail after a month with no deliveries.

Bidwell ltr Sutters Mill

Once the Post Office reopened, men spent hours in line waiting for their mail. One poor man got in line at 5:00am, with one hundred men in line ahead of him. It took him an hour to get inside the Post Office. Another wrote of 600 men waiting in the A-K line, and 600 more in L-Z. Some men paid others to wait in line for them.

I read one account stating Sacramento didn’t even have a Post Office until around September 1849. Stores and fort trading posts served as mail depositories in the absence of facilities under contract with the U.S. Postmaster General.

And mail service was slow and unreliable. In 1850 a letter sent from the East to California in early March didn’t arrive in San Francisco until mid-May—which was fairly rapid delivery for the times. Sometimes ships wrecked with mail on board. In 1850, the Samuel Roberts, a schooner bound from California to Oregon went down off the mouth of the Rogue River in southern Oregon. The Oregon Spectator edition for July 11, 1850, reported problems with mail and paper deliveries in the territory. Mail was supposed to come from Portland to Oregon City twice a week, but there was no contract in place at the time for that route, so the mail was placed on private boats to be forwarded.

us 5c stampToday’s consumers complain about the high cost of postage, but we don’t have it so bad. In the 1840s, U.S. postal rates varied by the distance the letter was sent. In 1845, two mail rates were established in the States, with additional rates for mail sent to the West Coast. Letters sent less than 300 miles cost 5 cents per half-ounce, and letters sent over 300 miles cost 10 cents per half-ounce. Starting in 1847, letters to and from Oregon or elsewhere on the West Coast to the States cost 40 cents per half-ounce. In 1848, another rate for letters between points on the West Coast was set—12.5 cents per half-ounce. Ship fees were added on top.

So emigrants paid 40 cents or more to send a letter back home, in a time when a laborer’s wages in San Francisco were $8/day, with skilled carpenters making $14/day and a blacksmith $20/day. And a man worth $40,000 was considered wealthy.

us 10c stampThe United States issued its first postage stamps in 1847—for 5 cents and 10 cents. Before that time, all domestic mail was “stampless” with the rates, dates and origin of the letter being either written by hand (manuscript) or sometimes in combination with a handstamp device.

Mail service between the coasts didn’t improve substantially until the Pony Express, which cut mail delivery across the continent to ten days. The Pony Express didn’t start until 1860, and it became obsolete with the establishment of the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861.

With all this, it’s amazing that any communications got through at all between the coasts in the late 1840s. Yet residents of the West longed for these letters from back home. High prices and waiting in line for hours seemed small prices to pay for word from their loved ones.

Based on all these historical variables, I felt justified in allowing letters the characters in my novel sent to arrive or be delayed as my plot required. My rule of thumb was that letters between Oregon to California should take at least a month to deliver. Letters from the East Coast or Missouri to the West would take at least two months after steamship service was established, and could take six or more months before then. One crucial letter never arrived. I could point to some historical occurrence to support any of these delivery decisions.

When have you been frustrated by slow communications?

Why Don’t I Write About the Chinese During the California Gold Rush?


Chinese Gold Miners, from Wikipedia

The novel I’m currently writing alludes to race relations between whites and Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans during the California Gold Rush years. However, I do not touch on the Chinese influx into California. Why not? Because my novel takes place in 1848-1850, before the large wave of Asian immigration to California began.

The U.S. Census in 1848 reported that there were three Chinese men in San Francisco. One source states there were 54 Chinese in California in February 1849, then 791 by January 1850, and around 4,000 by the end of the year.

Word of the discovery of gold in California reached China sometime in 1848. A few Chinese men set out for California to seek their fortunes, just as prospectors from around the world did. They sent back word to their home provinces that California was a “Gold Mountain” where the precious metal lay on the ground waiting for them.

It wasn’t until these reports reached China that the Chinese began immigrating to California in large numbers, reaching the new U.S. in 1851 and after. Around 2,700 Chinese came in 1851 and 20,000 arrived in San Francisco in 1852. By the end of 1852, there were 25,000 Chinese in California. See The Story of California From the Earliest Days to the Present, by Henry K. Norton (1924). By the mid-1850s, the Chinese were the largest single group of Gold Rush immigrants to California other than whites.

One article states:

“The typical Chinese gold seeker was in his late teens or early twenties, male, single, and uneducated. His purpose was to return to China as soon as he had accumulated his wealth. He did not intend to assimilate into the California community and he assiduously protected his traditional life style. Customs, clothing, language, food, and the traditional queue set him apart from his fellow miners.” 

chinese man 1851 oakland museum silver-chman

Chinese man in 1851, from Oakland Museum of California

Because the Chinese workers’ intent was to amass their fortunes return to China, they were incredibly hard workers and were willing to do work that many others did not want to do. They worked gold claims that whites had already abandoned. They worked as cooks and in laundries. They started small businesses supplying miners. They accepted wages far lower than white workers, who had better opportunities in the gold fields.

Another reason the Chinese were not particular about the work they did was that there was a strong prejudice against them. This was true of attitudes toward other foreign miners, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, but the Chinese were visibly different and kept to themselves.

According to most reports, the Chinese kept to themselves more than most other immigrants to California. White prospectors tended to mine by themselves or in small groups. By contrast, Chinese worked in larger communities and so retained their conspicuously different language, food, hair and dress, religion, and other customs.

African American and Hispanic laborers were also easily identifiable, and often were kept separate both legally and socially, but the longer history between whites and these groups meant that they were more easily assimilated into Western life than the Chinese.

Starting in 1850, the California legislature passed laws taxing foreign miners. The Foreign Miners’ License Law imposed a tax of $20/month on all foreign miners, but this immediately took workers out of the mining camps. A destitute population returned from the mines to San Francisco, causing social and fiscal upheaval. The law was repealed in 1851.

But in 1852 California instituted a new tax on foreign miners who were not U.S. citizens. Although this tax was lower—three dollars per month—Chinese miners made only six dollars a month. Moreover, Chinese could not become U.S. citizens, so the tax effectively precluded the Chinese from mining, while permitting white foreigners to become citizens and avoid the tax. As a result, the Chinese had to earn their keep otherwise.

Although some Chinese sought legal protections in the California courts, in 1854, a California Supreme Court decision declared that they could not serve as witnesses in court proceedings. Section 14 of the Criminal Act stated “no Black or Mulatto person or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against, a White man.” The court found that this law was intended to preclude all non-white persons from testifying against whites.

After this decision, the Chinese immigrant communities became even more insular, deciding most disputes among themselves. As a result, they were viewed as having their own secret laws—which, of course, they did, because it was the only way they could find any justice.

About the time the Gold Rush bonanza declined, the railroads needed workers. The Chinese became the primary labor force for the railroads in the West in the 1860s. They laid most of the tracks from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Chinese immigration came to an abrupt halt in 1882, with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act—the first U.S. immigration law excluding a specific national or ethnic group, though similar acts followed against other racial and ethnic groups. This act remained on the books until 1943, but quotas for Chinese immigrants remained impossibly low until 1965.

As I researched this post, I found many parallels between treatment of the Chinese in the 1850s and how some think we should treat Muslims today. Conspicuously different religions and cultures have always been difficult to assimilate. This topic may not be an issue in my novel, but writing this post has given me a new perspective on history, and on our politics today.

When have you learned something about history that you see reflected in today’s society?

The Summer of ’64: Pacific Grove

PG house 1963

My grandparents’ house in Pacific Grove, 1963

I’ve mentioned spending summers with my grandparents in Pacific Grove, California. It seemed like I spent several idyllic summers there, but there really weren’t that many.

Only twice did my brother and I spend long vacations with our grandparents. In 1963 we spent a month there, but our mother was with us, so that didn’t really count. In 1964, my brother and I were there by ourselves for a month. In the summer of 1967 we spent a week or two there, but our mother and toddler sister accompanied us. There was a Christmas trip to Pacific Grove also, but since it was too cold to go to the beach then, that didn’t really count.

PG view 1963

The view from my grandparents’ living room, of the Pacific Ocean and the golf course where my grandfather played

So really, when I think of spending summers in Pacific Grove, most of my memories come from the summer of 1964, when I was eight and my brother not quite seven.

Our dad drove us from our home in Richland, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. The interstate highway along the Columbia River was under construction, and the drive was long and slow, but we saw lots of waterfalls cascading from the hills above us toward the river.

After spending the night with my dad’s parents in Vancouver, Washington, my brother and I flew all by ourselves from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco. (It wasn’t our first trip on an airplane—we’d flown from Pasco, Washington, to Portland the summer before.) After our solo flight, our grandparents picked us up in San Francisco and drove us to Pacific Grove, about 90 minutes away.

And then we had four weeks on the beach before our grandparents drove us home to Richland.

T in PG 1964

Me, dressed for church in Pacific Grove, in 1964. We didn’t get to go to the beach on Sundays.

What was so wonderful about that summer of ’64 was how unstructured and undisciplined our time was. Papa Gene, our grandfather, was strict, but he was away playing golf most days. Nanny Winnie, our grandmother, loved the ocean. She took us to the beach almost every day. Pacific Grove had—and still has—a sheltered cove with a public beach. I’ve been back in recent years, and the stone alcove where Nanny Winnie and her beach buddies sat is still there.

We built sandcastles with ocean moats, wondering why they never lasted from day to day. We swam in the water and body surfed in the waves, though we were supposed to stay where we could touch the bottom. (Sometimes we ventured out farther.) We caught hermit crabs and took them home in our plastic buckets, but even in a pailful of sea water with a little sand and seaweed they died by the next morning.

Lovers Point Park Beach PG

Beach in Pacific Grove, showing stone alcove where my grandmother sat, and on the right, the stone jetty for glass-bottomed boats

We stayed on the beach until we were hot, sandy, and cranky, and then we had to trudge the three or four blocks back to our grandparents’ house, with our heavy pails sloshing against our legs on the days we caught hermit crabs.

Back in Richland, things were changing without us. My parents had a second telephone installed—it was so weird to talk to them both at the same time when they called long-distance on Sundays. But what annoyed me the most was the things that changed that they didn’t tell us about—like adding carpet to the stairs to the basement, which was a surprise when I returned. I wanted my world to stay the same while I was gone. Even then, I thought I should be consulted about such things. Or at least informed.

The biggest change was in my mother. I knew she was pregnant when we left, but when we returned in late August, about a week before school started, she had this big round ball in her belly. My sister was born in mid-September 1964, just a few weeks later.

In wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my brother and I had probably been shipped off to our grandparents not for our amusement, but because of my mother’s pregnancy. She had had several miscarriages between 1960 and 1964, and this pregnancy with my sister was not an easy one. Having us gone meant she didn’t have any childcare responsibilities for a month and could rest. And deal with new telephones and carpeted stairs.

I never talked to my parents about why they sent us to stay with our grandparents, but I’m sure that’s why we spent so long in Pacific Grove that summer. But I saw no reason to feel any resentment about being sent away. My parents, my brother, and I all benefited, and I have wonderful memories. Pacific Grove is still one of my favorite places on earth.

What have you realized as an adult about your childhood that you didn’t know then?

Highland Fling or Irish Jig?

In June 1992, the same month that my kids spent at camp in North Carolina, my parents toured the British Isles. In fact, part of the reason we sent our kids to the June camp session was so they could visit my parents later in the summer, after my parents returned from Europe.

Unfortunately, my mother fell while visiting a church in England and broke her ankle. As I understand it, there was no guard rail on the church steps, and she went off the side when she missed a stair.

Then she experienced the British health care system of the 1990s up close and personal. She was X-rayed and casted with minimal fuss and given a cane to help her navigate.

And off my parents went on their tour. My dad reported later that Mother accompanied him to all the tourist stops after resting her ankle for a day or so. (Though they didn’t do any hiking.) He took this picture of Mother with her cast and cane outside of an inn or pub in Scotland.

I found this photo a few weeks ago while looking for snapshots of my kids to include with other posts. My mother had sent me an envelope of pictures from their trip, and this was one of them. She wrote on the back of the photo,

“Was it too much Highland Fling? Or not enough Irish Jig? Scotland, June 1992”

MFC in Scotland broken ankle June 1992

When I saw the picture again and read what she had written, so many thoughts and images rushed through my head.

How young she looked. (Younger than I am now.)

What a sense of humor she had. (Which she didn’t show much of when I was a child.)

The white owl pin on her sweater (Which I now have.)

How much she changed before she died. (The last pictures of her, taken when her Alzheimer’s was quite advanced, reveal none of the vitality that this snapshot depicts, even when her leg is in a cast.)

And what a sense of history and connectedness I felt imagining her in Scotland.

Her references to Highland Fling and Irish Jig reminded me how proud she was of her Scotch and Irish ancestors. Actually, her father’s family came from England, with some ancestors arriving in Massachusetts before 1700. Later generations of that branch of the family emigrated to Oregon in 1848. But her mother’s father’s family was from Scotland, and her mother’s mother’s family from Ireland. The Irish branch of the family arrived in California in 1849, along with thousands of other Forty-Niners. The Scots came a bit later, in the mid-1880s.

I thought in particular of her maternal grandfather, James Strachan. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and immigrated to the United States in 1884 when he was twelve. His wife, my mother’s grandmother, died young, and he was a widower for many years. My mother remembers him visiting her family when she was a child and dancing a jig. (Or maybe it was a fling. She always called it a jig when she told me the story, but as her note on the photograph indicates, jigs were Irish, and flings were Scotch.)

“He was a short little Scotsman and danced a jig with a pillow on his head,” she told me.

I wish I had a picture of him dancing whatever he danced with a pillow on his head. I would pair it with this picture of his granddaughter—disabled, but still dancing. Then I could see life coming full circle across the generations.

What humorous images do you have of your parents or other ancestors?

How Much Gold Was Enough in the California Gold Rush Years?


1850 California Gold Rush miners

In my research into the California Gold Rush, I’ve read about prospectors who struck it rich and returned to their homes wealthy men, about others who made a fortune and then spent it, and about still other men who never made a dime. And I started wondering how much it took to become wealthy in 1849-50.

One article I found, “The Financial Situations of Those Who Dug for Gold,”  indicates that $10,000 to $15,000 made a man successful, and some prospectors acquired as much as $60,000 to $75,000.

Consumer Price Index 1800-2005

Consumer Price Index 1800-2005

Keep in mind that $100 in 1849 would buy about $3,055 today—a more than 30-fold increase.  So $100,000 would give a man the equivalent of more than $3,000,000 today. It only took $33,000 to have the equivalent of $1,000,000 today. So a man making $60,000 in the gold fields would have around $2,000,000—success, yes, but many people have been more successful.

Then, as in any land-dependent activity today, the important thing is LOCATION.

One story tells of a man who made $83,500 in two hours time. An hourly wage of $43,250 is more than enough to match the income of most business tycoons today!

Another anecdote tells of one pan of dirt yielding $1400 in the spring of 1850.

And here’s a description of the gold finds around what is now Placerville, California:

. . . The first discovery was made in Hangtown Creek, near the mouth of Cedar Ravine, the latter being the first ravine worked, and found to be very rich, yielding upwards of $1,000,000. The next discovery was in Bedford Avenue, at that time called ‘Log Cabin Ravine,’ and a large amount of gold was taken from it . . . . [One man] took home with him about $25,000. From this ravine had been taken altogether, as near as can be determined, about $250,000. . . .


An early miner

And here is the tale of another ravine in the vacinity:

The very richest ravine that was discovered up to this time, the spring of ’51, around Hangtown, was the Oregon Ravine. This ravine was first discovered by two men from Oregon named Yocum. They first worked a narrow strip up through the ravine about three feet in width, . . . . Their method of working was of the most primitive kind. One would with pick and shovel remove the dirt from the surface to near the bed rock, which was about three feet in depth, and the other, with an old knife or a sharp stick in one hand, would stir up the dirt, and as the bright pieces of gold showed themselves, would pick them up and drop them into a tin cup, which he constantly carried in the other hand. This was their slow method of working, and although they realized a fortune by this process, they did not glean as much as they should have done. How much these two men realized was never known, for they were very cautious; but it was supposed that they took home with them about $100,000 each. Old man Harper, who also worked in this ravine, was said to have made out $60,000; several others also, have made large profits here. They all left for home in the fall of ’49. Soon after my arrival, there were at least 200 men at work in this ravine, and all doing well, for the ravine was wide and paid richly from bank to bank. Dr. Ober was very successful, and as he passed along down at night among the miners who were at work below him, with a smiling countenance showed his tin cup in which he carried his gold. I found that about $150 was his average day’s work. In my opinion, Oregon Ravine yielded at least $1,000,000 if not more, and considering its size was the richest one in this portion of the country.

As this description indicates, the early miners—some of whom left even before the Forty-Niners arrived—were more likely to strike it rich than those who came later. The most fortunate and the wisest made their bundle, then left California.

Other anecdotes tell us that men made fortunes from serving the prospectors also:

 . . . Fortunes were realized from Spanish, Murderer’, Big and Michigan Bars, where Ex-Governor Stanford had his little store in ’52, the germ from which sprang the Great Overland Railroad. . . .

Thus, the fortune that created the great Stanford University, where I went to law school, began in a store serving Gold Rush miners.

My current work-in-progress describes work in gold fields such as these. Some characters keep their fortunes and others never find their fortunes or lose them. Still other characters lose their lives.

Would you have been wise and left California, or would you have spent your fortune in the saloons?