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Stringtown, July 22, 1850
EDITORS Free Trader --During the last days of June I had my affairs in the Valley arranged and came here to superintend the working of this claim.
After nearly completing our dam, the water, which is still high, percolated through the race and the gravel and the unfinished dam so much that our claim was not dry enough to work. We thought, however, that by throwing out a wing at the head of our claim we could drain a bar sufficiently dry to sink a hole to the bedrock. Accordingly we commenced operations by falling a tall pine that stood on the brink convenient for the purpose of making an abutment. Our company was composed of a Frenchman, the first discoverer of gold in Australia, an Englishman from Sydney, New Holland, one New Yorker, three stout Yankees from Maine, and three men from Maryland. The most of us were in the river clearing the bed from brush and dirt. When the tree was ready to fall, the word was given, and all got out in time but myself. I happened to be in the middle of the stream and in the deepest part, and owing to the strong current was unable to get out. I made a few steps upward, watching the tree, when I became satisfied it was coming on to me. I stepped back, when it swayed around, and it was now clear that I was directly in its course.
My wife and helpless children came into my mind; still I felt perfectly collected, with the thought that if I was killed my companions could tell what had become of me, which was more than many a poor fellow who has perished in the weary search for gold could have done for him, and strange as it may seem a ray of comfort shot through my heart. But there is no man who is threatened with such a death who will not instinctively make an exertion to save his life, however worthless it may be to him. Of course these thoughts passed through my mind in much less time than it takes to tell it. I made one desperate effort more to avoid the falling tree, and could only take two steps against the strong current, and the stones being covered with slime and very slippery, I fell at full length under water as the tree came crashing thundering down, and I found myself with only a slight bruise amid the branches and spreading limbs, within two or three feet of the trunk, verifying the old proverb that "he who is born to be hung will never be drowned." Raising myself like a turtle from the water, I saw the men standing aghast on the bank, sure that I was killed. "Well, boys," I shouted, shaking off the water, "she lays exactly right--could not have done better if we had tried."
"My God! are you hurt?" was the eager inquiry. "No--no, not in the least. Let us trim it, cut it off, and crack in our dam in less than no time." I don't know why it was, but at that moment my escape was not in my mind, but the men were so much agitated that they could scarcely speak.
"By Gar!" gasped the honest Frenchman.--"Ough! Monsieur--" and placing his hand on his heart, "you just feel him here--thump, thump, thump. I see the tree--he fell. I see you no get out--I see him kill you sure. I not could speak--my tongue stood still in my mouth wide open," and all gave me hearty congratulations.--One of our strongest men from Maine, a powerful man named Dunning, took the axe to trim the limbs from the tree, and getting upon the trunk stepped off again. "I can't do it," he said; "my knees are so weak that I cannot stand--I never was so frightened in my life," and it was not until they became calm that I began fully to appreciate my almost miraculous escape, and then I confess that for a little while my knees were weak too.
Our wing dam being finished, we endeavored to sink a hole, but the water came in so fast that we were compelled to abandon it for a few days, till the water subsided still more and until we could contrive to drain off more water. Taking advantage of a couple of days of leisure, I went over to the Middle Fork, in company with Dunning and Periam, and Norton from Mishawaka --The distance was only ten miles by a good mule path to the top of the ridge. From there we had a splendid view. The mountains are broken and piled up in a manner which defies description.--Bare ledges of rocks rear their dark heads in confused and broken masses, while at one point we observed a waterfall at the distance of five or six miles which appeared like a thread hanging about midway in a gorge where the mountains were three thousand feet high. The perpendicular fall is said to be from eight hundred to a thousand feet. Our view was bounded on the east by a long high granite mountain, perfectly bald without a shrub of vegetation, which is said to extend many miles parallel with the Valley.--Nothing could be more picturesque or romantic. We thought of attempting to reach the falls and commenced a descent to the river, where we held several claims. It was quite perpendicular, but so steep that if we had lost a foothold we should have slid and tumbled more than a thousand feet over the decayed granite, but by taking an angling course we reached the bottom in safety.
Refreshing ourselves from our knapsacks, we attempted to reach the fall by clambering over the rocks along the run. An hour's hard labor only brought us half a mile, and we were finally compelled to give it up this time.
And then came the task of climbing the hill. It took us fully two hours and a half, and by nightfall we had reached a little rill, when, exhausted, we sank upon the ground and slept soundly till morning. We reached home completely used up, a little before noon of the second day.
It is said that misery makes strange bedfellows--so does California. I had one the other night. Now don't blush--but it is a fact--I was fairly caught. I slept in the open air on the ground. Towards morning I was awakened by something pricking my side. Supposing it to be an ant or bug of some kind, half-asleep, I brushed it hastily away and turned over and went to sleep again. A little after daylight, I awoke, and throwing off the clothes, there lay snugly nestled by my side a large scorpion. Whether it was him that stung me or something else, I cannot tell, but I felt no inconvenience from it, and they are very poisonous. I soon made beef of him and have thoroughly shook and examined by blankets ever since on retiring to bed. Speaking of being poisoned reminds me that I have seen many men poisoned badly by a species of oak which grows in the mountains Its effects are much worse than the poison ivy at home. I have seen men almost blind, covered with sores from head to foot, and completely laid up by simply rubbing against it; yet I have handled it with impunity. It produces no effect on me whatever.--It is a dwarf oak shrub with small leaves, though it sometimes reaches as high as a man's hands.--It is very plenty in the mountains, and those that it affects have to be very watchful.
The emigration begins to arrive, and so far as I hear are disappointed and sick of California.--We do not pity them, for they have been advised better. Among my acquaintances are W. B. Hollister and William Moore and family from Mishawaka. The early emigrants will find but few difficulties; the last must suffer on the route.
I have seen nor heard anything of any of the Ottawa Company since I last wrote. In my next I shall probably be able to say something of the good and ill success of the mines. At present au revoir.
- Alonzo Delano