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Stringtown, Feather River, July 29, 1850
ARE YOU fond of romantic views? Is there a touch of the sublime in your nature? Can you enjoy a rural scene? Sit down then, on that old keg--there, pull up the hoops a little, or the staves will fly, and you'll squat. Periam, pass that pipe to the hombre; drive off the lizards; the gentleman ain't used to 'em yet; they are harmless as young toads and just as good to catch flies. Now cast your eyes around my cabin; that deep old-fashioned fireplace I helped to build myself; I found it rather harder work than lolling over the counter, trying to sell a yard or two of lace edging, with an abundance of small talk, to a pretty young lady. By the way, I would give an ounce just to look at a--. How I am digressing. That bake kettle I paid ten dollars for and lugged it over hill and dale for miles, thinking more of the good bread I could now have, rather than the fatigue. I used to bake in that old frying pan that hangs on a nail over the fireplace, but that we use now only for frying meat and fritters in. The bake kettle is an industrious and worthy article, and good-natured withal, for it bakes all the bread for four large messes or companies. That crowbar, leaning so jauntily against the end of a log, is my poker, as we don't need it in the river digging just now; and on those shelves, made of staves split out of pine logs, you see a pile of sundries, tin pails, coffee pot, tin pans and plates, knives and broken forks, empty bottles, pickle jars, cans containing prepared meats, potatoes, &c., from New York (we live high now), a hairbrush, comb, grease dish, &c. There hangs our yeast pail; always renew it with flour when you bake, and you'll have good bread--the flour barrel stands in the corner quite handy. Now look at the other side: that pine box standing on two long pegs in the fourth log contains my library. Shakespeare and the Vicar of Wakefield are looking down on us good-humoredly, and well they may; for when we were throwing away provisions, clothes, and almost everything else last year on the plains to lighten our loads so that we could get through, I saved these two worthies from destruction, and they have repaid me over and over during the weary rains of winter and--no matter. There they are, with a work on natural philosophy which my father gave me when I was a boy, together with one on geology, and just below you see a file of the True Delta, which I receive through the kindness of your agent, and this constitutes my reading privileges. Without the True Delta, I should be lost in utter ignorance of what transpired in America, for it is about the only paper which comes to hand. Those boots hanging up there belong to one of the boys and hang against the wall as a decoration, we having no pictures. In the window you see a vial containing calomel and one of castor oil. I'm about half sick today, and for fear I shall not make it quite out, I am about to take a dose before I close this letter, for I am threatened with fever, even in this very healthy climate ( vide Bryant and others). In the rear are our bunks, made with an axe and an inch auger--the mattresses are of rough plank, split out of pine trees. Our floor was built when the country was made, and we have not ventured to disturb this part of creation, so that we tread on our mother earth, in or out of the cabin. Among various decorations, equal to the boots on the wall, there hangs an old violin that has a reminiscence attached to it which is of more importance than even its own soft tones. It belonged to an elderly man named Turner, from Henry County, Illinois He had made a bargain with a man to bring him to California, but on reaching Fort Laramie, the man sold his wagon and packed through, leaving Turner to shift for himself. Without a friend to aid him, with no money or provisions, without the means of going backward or forward, poor Turner was like a shipwrecked mariner upon a desolate coast, for while many ships were sailing by, it seemed impossible to make them notice his signals of distress. Happily for him, Messrs. Billinghurst, Brown and Periam, of Chicago, came along, and pitying his forlorn condition, they took him aboard their wagon, although their own supplies were none too abundant. On the road across the plains, Turner was taken with scurvy, and instead of being a help to them on their arrival in the mines, he was only a continued tax upon their generosity and good feeling when even the necessaries of life were procured with difficulty, and notwithstanding disease had made him irritable, they did not relax their assiduity for his comfort, and it was "without the hope of fee or reward." He moved with them from Long's Bar to this place in November, and if, at times, he was able to draw the bow to "auld lang syne" and "sweet, sweet home" with plaintive melody, with the tears trickling down his careworn cheek, it was destined that "wife nor children more should he behold, nor friends nor sacred home." He gradually grew worse, and died the last of January. He lies upon the hillside above our cabin, and his violin and a half-written letter is all the mementos left of poor Turner. May God help his widowed wife and fatherless children.
Our table, of which I have said nothing, stands under a bush porch in front of the cabin, where we perform the daily ceremony of mastication with good appetites, but with no one to kiss the cook. Unfortunately I am the cook, and as for being kissed, even if there were any female women here my nose is too, too long. O, get out. Should I apologize for my nonsense? Well, I will. All which is written above on this page and half of the other was done under the operation of two doses of calomel and a dose of oil, and I write just to keep the thought of the infernal stuff out of my mind.
The miners on this fork of Feather River have nearly completed their dams, but generally the water is yet too high and comes into excavations so fast that it is impossible to get low enough to test the bed of the stream. In a few instances it has been done. Three or four claims are paying well; two have been abandoned after thousands of dollars being expended on their dams and races, with only a partial trial. The dam and race of the claim which I am superintending cost over thirteen thousand dollars in labor, and we have yet to dig the first cent. We may find a pile, or we may not get a penny, but we shall not give it up as easily as some have done. An unlooked-for difficulty has occurred on the river which has tested the justice and equity of the miners. In making claims the levels on various rapids were not taken, and the consequence is that many claims are overflowed by lower dams.
Last Saturday I was summoned as a juror on such a case before the miners' tribunal, composed of the Vice-President of the district, the Secretary and three jurors. Although it was no legal tribunal, and binding only by consent of the parties and by public opinion, the case was opened with as much gravity, the jury and witnesses sworn in as solemn a manner, and as much decorum prevailed as in any court of justice in the world. Double the amount of costs, amounting to $102--that is, eight dollars per day per man, witness, court, and jurymen, was deposited by the parties, the successful litigant to receive his back at the close of the trial. It was the Bedford Company vs. Renfro and Company. The Miners' Code gave the oldest claimant the right of building their dam, and the defendants proved that they had made and occupied their claim about two weeks before the plaintiffs. Of course the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the defendants, which was acquiesced in by the other party, and as much respect paid to the decision of the law as to any legal enactment of Congress. If you knew the class of men who compose the bulk of our mining population, you would not be surprised at this, for obedience to law and love of order, equity and justice has been taught them from infancy. I should be glad to send you a copy of the Miners' Code if I could get time to copy it. The lawmakers at home might gather some idea of what we require if they will make laws for our guidance. It is a little queer that while we are not yet admitted as a State into the Union, we are going as quietly on as if that even had taken place
Elections have been held, State, county and town officers elected. Courts are duly organized, and proceeding to try cases and writs begin with "State of California," &c. &c.; and while you are quarreling among yourselves at home about admitting us free and untrammeled into the Union, we are at work minding our own business and, apparently, unconcerned about what course you take with regard to us. If we are not recognized as a State what becomes of all the decisions in our courts of justice, of the acts of the sheriffs, of collectors of revenue, &c &c.? all, all, illegal--all of no account? Fudge! the very people who voted for a State constitution and legislature will sustain their acts, unless an armed force prevents them, and they will have law and order and justice, in spite of your brawling politicians and barroom debaters. We have some glorious spirits in California. Amid all the dissipation, the gambling and drinking of the Valley towns, we have a class in the mountains--men of intellect, of scientific acquirements, that would honor any community, who are drawn together by a bond of union which proceeds from hardships endured together, a sympathetic disposition, perhaps enhanced by suffering and privations; and these men are superior to the attraction of vice in the towns. Our Sundays and hours of leisure are spent together, and it is then we sometimes forget our toil and trials. If home and its endearments enter into the conversation, it is closed by the wish, and O! expressed in the most heartfelt manner, that if we are successful and once get home, we will meet while on earth at least once a year.
The Indian tribes in the mountains are still quarreling among themselves. Near the Yuba, and between that river and the South Fork of Feather River, are the Pikeys, a thievish and treacherous race. On the east side of the South Fork, and between it and the Middle Fork of the Feather, are the Olos, a tribe entirely friendly with the whites. A battle between the two tribes took place a few days ago, about three miles from this place, in which two of the Olos were wounded and three of the Pikeys killed. The object of the battle appeared to be to steal squaws, and during the fray the squaws of the Olos were protected by a strong guard. While they were engaged a miner happened to come along and called out to the Pikeys to desist and go home. One of the warriors replied to him by an insulting and indecent gesture, when the miner coolly raised his rifle and applied a bullet plaster to the exposed part of the reckless savage, and dropped him in his tracks. The Pikeys then desisted, but gave notice to the Olos that they would come again today and try it over. Several whites turned out from our settlement to see the fun, but the Pikeys did not appear, though the Olos are summoning their friends to be ready for a grand affair. They were highly delighted with the medical practice of the old miner, and are describing the scene with much gusto to the whites at work on the various bars.
- Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Alonzo Delano's California correspondence: being letters hitherto uncollected from the Ottawa (Illinois) Free trader and the New Orleans True delta