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My Dear Friend : I wrote you last by Chouteau that probably I would soon be at Mazatlan, whence I would write to you ; but events so transpired that Colonel Mason did not go there, but went to the Sacramento to examine into the truth of the rumors that were swelling each day the amount of gold found there. I, of course, accompanied him, and we had an agreeable tour by way of San Francisco. There we had our horses, and those of the escort, carried to the north side of the Bay of San Francisco, to Sousolito or Whaler's Harbor, whence we proceeded to Bodega. That is an old Russian port where the fur companies had located some families to raise wheat for the colony at Sitka, which is in too cold a region to raise wheat. The Russian company has broken up in California, and Bodega is in the hands of an enterprising American, named Smith, who, at great cost, has erected a steam saw -mill. It looked strange to see the puffing of an engine, and to witness once more its marvellous power. It is the only thing of the kind in this region of earth. Smith would have made his fortune by sawing lumber and grinding wheat, but the gold fever has stripped him of all his employees, and he himself was on the point of breaking up and going to the mines. From Bodega we crossed a range of hills into the valley of the Pataloma, which empties into the northwest corner of the Bay of San Francisco, and thence to Sonoma, which is on a stream of the same name. Each of these valleys are flat as a table and bounded by high hills. . . . The Sacramento, where we crossed it at Sutter's Fort, is a broad stream, with a current of two or three miles an hour ; the banks are low, so that, when the rainy season sets in, the vast plain on the east side is one sheet of water, but at ordinary seasons the stream is confined within its banks of about three hundred yards wide. We crossed ourselves in a boat, but our horses and mules swam the river. Sutter's Fort stands about three miles back from the river, and about a mile from the American Forke, which also is a respectable stream. The fort encloses a space of about two hundred yards by eighty ; the walls are built of adobe or sun-dried brick. All the houses are of one story, save one, which stands in the middle, which is two stories. This is the magazine, officers' mess-room, etc. It was in this that in former times Sutter held his state and issued orders amongst the tribes of Indians as peremptory and final as those of an emperor. This man Sutter has played a conspicuous part in the history of this country, and is likely to continue his onward career. His personal appearance is striking ; about forty or fifty years of age, slightly bald, about five feet six inches in height, open, frank face, and strongly foreign in his manner, appearance, and address. He speaks many languages fluently, including that of all Indians, and has more control over the tribes of the Sacramento than any man living. We spent many days at Sutter's, and were at the first Fourth of July dinner ever given publicly at the fort. Sutter presided at the head of the table, Governor Mason on his right and I on his left. About fifty sat down to the table, mostly Americans, some foreigners, and one or two Californians. The usual toasts, songs, speeches, etc., passed off, and a liberal quantity of liquor disposed of, champagne, Madeira, sherry, etc. ; upon the whole a dinner that would have done credit in any frontier town. I have no doubt it cost the givers $1500 or $2000. At Sutter's we began to see the full effect of the gold ; rooms in the fort were rented at $100 a month, and one indifferent house at $500 a month. A small oxload, hauled some twenty-five miles, cost $60, and a trip of the Lancet to San Francisco was worth $600. The mechanics employed by Sutter got $10 a day the month round, and common laborers one dollar an hour. Horses that a few months ago were worth $15 and $20 were then worth $75 and now $100. From Sutter's we went up the American Forke twenty-five miles to the Mormon diggings. This is a half-formed island of sand and gravel where the Mormons first began to wash for gold. They got out a great deal at about the rate of $25 per man a day. The gold is in fine bright scales and is very pure. It is separated from the earth and gravel by washing in the pans by hand, but the better plan is in a kind of inclined trough with cleats nailed across the bottom. A grate is placed over the highest part of this trough, upon which the gravel is thrown, afterwards the water. The gold passes into the trough, the gravel and stones are removed, and by a constant dashing of water and rocking the machine, the earthy matter is washed off, leaving the gold mixed with black sand in the bottom of the machine. These are separated by drying them in the sun and blowing off the sand, leaving the gold pure. You would be astonished at the ease with which the precious metal is obtained ; any man by common industry can make $25 a day. We visited a great many parties at work as high up the American Forke as Sutter's saw-mill, fifty miles above his fort, and there struck to the right and left into the mountains. In the bed of the stream the gold is in fine scales, whereas in the hollows and ravines it is of coarse and of irregular dimensions. I have seen a great many pieces as heavy as two or three ounces, one of six ounces, and have heard of one of six pounds. In the mountain ravine several men have made $8000 or $10,000 a month. Everybody is at perfect liberty to go where he will, but the gold occurs so plentifully that there is no quarrelling, no collisions. We saw a great deal of gold, and, as near as we could then estimate it, about four thousand people were at work getting out about $50,000 of gold daily. This gold occurs in the whole western slope of the Sierra Nevada north and south of Sutter's. Exploring parties not satisfied with $25 and $50 a day are looking for the pure metal unmixed with earth. Gold is so common that it can be bought for $8 or $9 the oun,ce, and it is worth in Valparaiso qr the United States $16 or $18. The sudden development of so much wealth has played the devil with the country. Everybody has gone there, save women and officers. Our soldiers are deserting, and we can't stop it. A tailor won't work a day, nor a shoemaker, nor any other tradesman, all have gone to the mines. The sailors desert their ships as fast as they come on the coast, and we have been waiting a month to send an express to the United States, but no vessel can get a crew to leave the coast. We remained up there among the mountains a few days, and saw enough gold to carry conviction of the truth of the most exaggerated accounts that had previously reached us. We hurried back to Monterey to despatch a courier to Washington, but no vessel has yet been able to leave the coast for want of a crew. We are now hourly expecting a small schooner from San Francisco, which is reported about to make an effort with three or four men to get to Valparaiso. When we were in the midst of despatches about the gold mines and mania, here comes the notice of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace, and Great Jehovah, what a treaty ! A conquering army, in the country of an enemy, making such terms ! No wonder we could not impress the Mexicans with respect for us. Had we burned their capital, blown up San Juan d'Alloa, knocked down Mazatlan, and gone back to the United States, it would have been a better treaty than the present one. If we were at war, we should not have made apologies for it by paying fifteen millions and imposing on ourselves conditions that cannot be fulfilled. Every article of the treaty is just such a one as Mexico would have imposed on us had she been the conqueror. Mexico did not relinquish Lower California. It is many years since she has had more than a shadow of an authority here. But I have no doubt the treaty will be overhauled thoroughly by the papers at home. Peace increases our difficulties here tenfold. The Volunteers all have to be discharged, and in Upper California will not remain over a hundred soldiers at seven dollars per month. Of course, they are deserting as fast as they can, and in a very short time there will not be a dozen left, and we officers will be alone in this country, with heavy magazines and valuable stores unguarded. Peace, too, makes this American territory in which the military officers can exercise no constitutional authority. So that, at a critical moment, all force, civil and military, is withdrawn, and the country filled with the hardest kind of a population of deserters and foreigners.
All are now so intent upon getting plenty of gold that they cannot think of the danger that envelops us. The administration have left Colonel Mason in a tight place, with no troops and no civil powers. A government of some kind must exist here soon, or the devil will be to pay. Sonoma is the residence of General Guadelupa Vallejo, who was the great man of that section at the time of the change of flags. He is far better educated than any of his countrymen, lives in some comfort and style, and managed to secure some fifty or one hundred leagues of land in the olden time.
These people don't care a for a man who can't enforce his orders by soldiers. Two years ago they revolted at having garrisons in their towns, but now that these garrisons are about to be broken up, they beg and implore for protection, saying the Indians will ravage and destroy, steal their women, the horses and cattle. All this is true, but no human power or feeling will draw from the mines as heterogeneous a crowd as were ever crowded in a small corner of earth's surface. I suppose the official documents sent to the adjutantgeneral will be called for by Congress, and will be printed. The maps accompanying are the best that have yet been compiled. Ord drew the large one, and I the small ones. If I have time I'll sketch you a sheet to show the position of the Gold District.
- William Sherman