Bright Gem of the Western Seas


Editor's Preface
Editor's Introduction

Early Recollections of the Mines
The Gold Fever
The Northern Mines in 1848
Exploring for Gold
The Mines in '49
The Law, Physic, the Press
True Love, Sailors, and the Dandy
"Poor Quality" and the "Prospector"
Digger Indians; the California cart
Rich Resources, and the Miners of '52
Disputed Claims

Tulare Plains
Climate, Soil, and Rivers
The Four Creeks, and the Lakes
Agricultural Resources
Inducements and Mineral Resources
Habits and Customs of the Indians
Indian Modes of Subsistence
Wild Horses
The Bright Gem of the Western Seas

Life in California
The Latest News
Ranchos and Rancheros
The Americans and the Californians
The Newcomers, and Life in the Cities
Money, Crime, the Law, Fast Living
Strong Drink, and Judge Lynch
Trial by Twelve of the Finest
Satan and the Legislature
Getting Religion, Progress, Social Reform
Westward the Course of Empire
My Heart has a Throb for Thee

A report of the Tulare Valley
From Buena Vista Lake to the San Joaquin




Going to the mines
Sutter's Fort in 1848
James Marshall
Sutter's mill
Winter in San Francisco
Jonathan D. Stevenson
Miners' First Commandment
Miners' Second Commandment
Miners' Third Commandment
Miners' Fourth Commandment
An Alcalde at the mines
A Dandy at the mines
A Prospector
Miners' Fifth Commandment
A California cart
Benjamin Kelsey
Ejecting the Squatters
Portion of Frémont and Preuss map, 1848
River mining at Grizzly Flats
Charles M. Weber
Indians gathering seeds
Indians burning their dead
Indians grinding acorns
An Indian fandango
Lassoing wild horses
Map of the Southern Mines, 1852
A man of high social position
A California Pic-nic
A fandango in 1848
A fur trapper
Vaqueros rounding up cattle
San Francisco in 1849
Bullfight at Mission Dolores
Gambling at the monte table
A faro table at the mines
A San Francisco bar scene
Seeing the elephant
Miners' Ninth Commandment
State capitol at San Jose
Miners' Tenth Commandment
Miners' Seventh Commandment
Miners' Eighth Commandment
Miners' Sixth Commandment
George Horatio Derby
San Miguel Mission
Carmel Mission


Editor's Introduction

James H. Carson

James H. Carson, a native of Virginia and the author of the first three parts of this book, arrived in California in January 1847. He was Second Sergeant in Company F, 3rd Artillery, of the regular army. The regiment embarked at New York on the U.S. ship Lexington on July 14, 1846. En route to California the vessel touched at Rio de Janeiro, doubled Cape Horn in October, called at Valparaiso in November, and anchored at Monterey on January 28, 1847. By this time the conquest of California was complete, and Company F settled down to garrison duty in Monterey.

Gold was discovered at Coloma on January 24, 1848. The discovery had the same affect on Company F that it had on thousands of people across the country and around the world: many dropped what they were doing and headed for the diggings. By the end of August the company had lost thirty-three men to desertion, and only about fifty men were still on duty. As he recounts, Carson resisted the temptation for a while, but then—apparently on a furlough—

“He was seized with this new western dance of St. Vitus, and was carried on an old mule to the gold-diggings. He began work at Mormon Island by annihilating earth in his wash-basin, standing up to his knees in water, slashing and splashing as if resolving the universe to its original elements. Fifty pans of dirt thus pulverized gave the fevered pilgrim but fifty cents; whereupon a deep disgust filled his soul, and immediately with the departure of his malady the man departed. On passing through Weber's Indian trading camp, however, he saw such heaps of glittering gold as brought the ague on again more violent than ever, resulting in a prolonged stay at Kelsey's and Hangtown.” (Bancroft, History of California, vol. vi, 96-97.)

In August 1848 Carson joined a party of miners that began to prospect farther south. They worked all the streams down to the Stanislaus River, and there parted company. Carson made a good strike, claiming that he and several others each took out 180 ounces of gold in ten days; Carson Creek and the hamlet of Carson Hill were named for him. Heavy rains came in October, and drove the miners out to the cities.

In the spring of 1849 Carson helped to organize the Carson-Robinson party of ninety-two men for the purpose of prospecting in unexplored areas. They crossed the San Joaquin Valley and reached the Sierra foothills at about Mariposa Creek, and from there prospected northward until they arrived again at Carson Creek and Angels Creek.

In 1850 Carson and a Dr. Roberts formed a partnership to establish a trading business between Stockton and Mariposa. It apparently never came to anything, since Carson came down with a severe attack of rheumatism and became an invalid. He was hospitalized for eighteen months, and after that time went to Stockton to recuperate. A Stockton newspaper, The San Joaquin Republican, announced his arrival in the issue of January 14, 1852.

“Mr. James H. Carson, a pioneer in California, and the discoverer of the celebrated Carson's Creek, has arrived in town. He is on his way to the scene of his early discoveries; we are sorry to say that he has been an invalid for the past 18 months, in the Monterey Hospital, and has lost the use of his speech. He has kindly consented to furnish the readers of the Republican with various interesting particulars in reference to the early history of the Gold Diggings.”

Between January 17 and May 29 the newspaper printed the thirty-three articles, in three series, that are contained in this book. The first two series, “Early Recollections of the Mines” and “Tulare Plains,” were published in a separate form in late March, “at a low price, done up in neat wrappers, for transmission by the post.” In June the Republican added the “Life in California” series, and reissued the whole as a book—the first book ever published in Stockton. It has been republished twice since then, in 1931 and 1950.

Nowhere in these three editions does one learn that a significant portion of the original material was omitted. I estimate that about thirty percent of it has not been printed since it was in the 1852 newspapers. Much of the rest was rearranged when it was put into book form, in such a manner that the continuity of the articles was sometimes lost. The two reprint editions simply replicated the 1852 book; there is no indication that the publishers of those reprints knew that something was missing.

The Republican was proud of what Carson had produced, and I cannot do better than to quote the editors of that paper in the issue of May 22, 1852 as they ballyhooed the forthcoming book.

“Our readers must have perused these life-like pictures of scenes and characters in California, and admired them as the true reflex of affairs here, both in the early days of the gold fever, and of things as they are in the present somewhat more sober days. There is an abandon in the style, a peculiar choice of language, a broad humor, and a liberal soul about them, which are characteristics peculiarly Californian. It is impossible to transfer to paper the characters of scenes here, in the sober language of the Belles Lettres of the Eastern world—any more than you can render in plain Anglo Saxon the coversazione of Paris. Our scenes, to be truly presented, must appear in our language, and in our own loose and fast spirit. Mr. Carson has mixed with all classes of persons in this country—was guide to Gov. Mason and Gen. Riley in their expeditions to the mines, of which we have all heard so much—adventured himself into the first blaze of the gold excitement; discovered Carson's Creek; made gold there by the hundred weight; but, having a lively imagination, afterwards lost it all; got his constitution out of repair, and has anchored at the State Hospital in this city, where he has been obliging us and amusing himself with writing a history of his travels and adventures.”

Later in 1852 the Whigs of Calaveras County desired to nominate Carson to run for the legislature, but he declined. In the spring of 1853 he ran for the state assembly on the Democratic ticket, and was elected by a large majority. Before he could take office he had another serious attack of rheumatism, and died in Stockton about April 20. His widow and daughter arrived in California a month later, nearly destitute. A collection was made on their behalf, and they returned to the East.

Carson was a product of his time. One could make a case that what he said was new, original, visionary—but this is true only in the sense that he was the first of the early miners to pen an “I Recollect” memoir. His series on the Tulare Valley (now the San Joaquin Valley) is indeed original, but his prescriptions of what to do with this unproductive, semi-arid region were driven by the predominant American idea of the mid-nineteenth century: Manifest Destiny. If ever there was a Manifest Destiny man, Carson is the paradigm. He believed that it was the fate of the United States to conquer and settle the continent; to make the land to bud and “blossom as the rose”; to overwhelm the animal-like natives who stood in the way; to exploit everything there is that could possibly be exploited—the minerals, the animals, the soil, the water, everything—all must succumb to the righteous, conquering spirit. Carson's thoughts on damming rivers and irrigating the barren lands sound prophetic: those are indeed the things that have come to pass, but on a gargantuan scale that Carson could not have imagined and with dire results that no one expected.

Carson anticipated the railroad, knowing for a certainty that it would come and being wrong only in predicting its most likely route. He looked beyond the end of the continent, and prophesied that America's—or California's—destiny lay in the Pacific. Perhaps the American flag someday would wave over the Hawaiian or Japanese islands.

Carson also had the attitudes—common at the time—of one whom we would undoubtedly now castigate as a racist. His contempt for and hatred of Indians was pure and naked. (Two and three-fourths of the articles in the "Tulare Plains" series are about Indians; they were not included in the 1852 book.)

But the purpose of printing James Carson's articles in their entirety is neither to condemn nor to praise. It is to present to the people of the present time a better notion of what it was to be one of the early miners, an explorer of California lands as yet uninhabited by Americans, and one who remembered—in perhaps a superficial and romantic way—the lives of the Mexican/Californians just before California was conquered and the immigrants rushed in.

George Horatio Derby

George Horatio Derby (1823–1861), born in Dedham, Massachusetts, graduated from West Point in 1846 and was assigned to the topographical engineers. His first duty was to survey the harbor of New Bedford, Massachusetts. During the Mexican War he saw action at Cerro Gordo, where he was wounded. After the
war Derby explored and surveyed in Minnesota, and then spent a year at the Topographical Bureau in Washington, where he polished his skills as a topographical draftsman. He then was transferred to the Far West, arriving at Monterey by ship on June 10, 1849. During the next two years he led four field expeditions for the purposes of exploration, road-building, and mapping.

The first of these expeditions was a reconnaissance of a portion of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys in September 1849. Derby's report, with an excellent accompanying map, was printed in House of Representatives Executive Document No. 17, 31st Congress, 1st Session, 1850. Derby spent the winter of 1849-50 in Monterey, and in April and May of 1850 made the reconnaissance of the "Tulare Valley," as the lower part of the San Joaquin Valley was then called. His report was not published for another two years: Senate Executive Document No. 110, 32d Congress, 1st Session, 1852. Derby's superbly done map, which accompanied the report, was far superior to anything that existed up to that time. It has been reproduced at full size from an original copy. Although the gold discovery had occurred more than two years earlier, there were as yet no towns in the Central Valley south of the San Joaquin River. Indeed, the only whites encountered by Derby south of the San Joaquin were three men who were operating two ferries across the Kings River, and a man by himself on his way to establish a ferry across the Kern.

Derby's report is lucid and detailed, and is replete with precise descriptions of Indians and the terrain--especially of the appearance and scope of Tulare Lake and Buena Vista Lake, which have long since vanished. (It should be noted that when Derby referred to the head or upper end of the Tulare Valley, he meant the south end.) Derby was a skilled engineer and cartographer, a man who took his military duties seriously, and in fact comes across as the diametric opposite of his other persona: alias Squibob, alias John Phoenix.

Derby's renown is as California's first humorist--a wit and a wag of great imagination and originality, a legendary practical joker, a satirist, and a drawer of absurd illustrations. He used his talents to puncture the pompous and to lampoon staid conventions. His articles appeared originally in California newspapers and periodicals. A collection of these articles was published in 1856 as Phoenixiana; it eventually went to twenty-six printings. Another collection, the Squibob Papers, was published in 1865. George R. Stewart wrote a biography of Derby: John Phoenix, Esq., The Veritable Squibob (1937). And in 1990 Richard Derby Reynolds, a distant relative of George Horatio Derby, resurrected the best of Derby's articles under the title of Squibob, An Early California Humorist.

Lieutenant Derby conducted a four-month-long expedition to the Gulf of California and the lower Colorado River during the winter of 1850–51. Later he went back east, but returned to California in November 1852 and was stationed at San Diego for two years. He was married at San Francisco in January 1854. He then spent a year in the Oregon Territory, returned to San Francisco, and sailed for Panama and the East in November 1856. During the remainder of his military career he was engaged in constructing lighthouses at various places on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He apparently suffered sunstroke—or some other debilitating illness—and was on sick leave for the last year and a half of his life. He died in May 1861 at the age of thirty-eight, leaving a wife and three children.



Agua Frio [Fria] Creek
Alta California, The
American River
Angel's Creek
Angel, Henry
Animals and game
Aram, Joseph
Atache [Tachi] Indians
Avenal Creek
    See Dick's Creek

Belcher's ranch
Bonsell's Ferry
Buena Vista Lake
Buena Vista Lake Slough

Cajon Pass
Calaveras River
California cart
California government
California Legislature
Californian, The
Carmel Mission
Carmel River
Carmel Valley
Carson's Creek
The China trade
    as farmers
Choinimni Indians
Cholame Valley
Chowchilla Indians
Chowchilla River
Chunut Indians
    See Sin Taché Indians
Colton, Walter
Cottonwood [Cotton Wood] Creek
Cottonwood Summit
Cowees [Kaweah] Indians
Curtis's Creek

Deer Creek
    See Moore's Creek
Derby, Lt. George H.
Diablo, Mount
Dick's Creek
Digger Indians
    burning their dead
    gathering food
    modes of burial
Dry Creek
Dry Diggings
    hanging at
    See also Hangtown and Placerville

Seeing the Elephant
Estero Bay

Fages, Father Pedro
Fast living
Feather River
Folsom Lake
Font, Father Pedro
The Four Creeks [Kaweah River]
    See also Francis River
Francis [Frances] River
    See also The Four Creeks
Frémont's Creek
Frémont, John C.
French Camp
Fresno River
Fresno Slough
    See Sanjon de San José and San Juan Slough

Garcés, Father Francisco
Garner (Gardner), William R.
Garner, William Robert
Ga'wia Indians
    See Kaweah Indians
Gold discovery
    effects of
Gold mining
Gopher Creek
Grizzly Flats

    See also Dry Diggings and Placerville
Wild horses
    catching of
Hunters and trappers

Indian Commissioners
Indian fandango
Indian Reservations
Isabell, Dr. James C.

Jones and Rider
Judge Lynch

Kaweah Indians
Kaweah River
    See The Four Creeks and Francis River
Kelsey, Benjamin
Kern River
Kings River

Labor, price of
Lake Slough
Los Angeles
Lynch law

Mariposa Creek
Marshall, James
Mason, Richard B.
Medical treatment
Merced River
Miner's burial
Miners' Ten Commandments
Mission Indians
Monterey River
    See Salinas River
Moore's Creek
Moore, Tredwell
Moquelumne Hill
Moquelumne River
Moraga, Gabriel
Mormon Gulch
Mormon Island
Murphy's Diggings
Murphy, Daniel
Murphy, John
Murray, Michael

Natividad, Battle of
Notonoto [Nutunutu] Indians
    main rancheria

Pacheco Pass
Panoche [Penoche] Pass
Paso de Roblas [Paso Robles]
Phalen, William
    See also Dry Diggings and Hangtown
Poso Creek
   See Cottonwood Creek
Preuss, Charles

Randall, Dr. Andrew
Rich Gulch of the Moquelumne
Rio de Santiago [White River]
Rio Seco
Robinson, George

    See also Sutter's Embarcadero
Sacramento (a horse)
Sacramento River
Sacramento Valley
Salinas River
San Carlos de Monterey
San Francisco
San Joaquin River
San Jose
San Juan Slough
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo Bay
San Miguel
San Miguel Mission
San Miguel pass
San Simeon Bay
Sanjon de San José
Santa Anna Pass
Santa Cruz
Santa Margarita
Semple, Robert B.
Sierra Nevada
Sin Taché Indians
Soldiers' Gulch
The southern mines
Stanislaus River
Stevenson's volunteers
Stevenson, Jonathan D.
Suisun Bay
Sullivan's Diggings
Sutter's Creek
Sutter's Embarcadero
Sutter's Fort
Sutter's mill,
Sutter, Johann A.
Swamp lands

Taché Indians
Taché Lake
    See also Tulare Lake and Tule Lake
Tejon Pass
Telamni Indians
    See also Thulimé Indians
Thulimé Indians
Tinte Taché [Wowol] Indians
Ton Taché [Tinte Taché] Indians,
Ton Taché Lake
Ton Taché swamp
Trials by jury
Tulare Lake
    See also Tule Lake and Taché Lake
Tulare Valley
Tule Lake
    See also Tulare Lake and Taché Lake
Tule marshes
Tule River
Tuolumne River

Vigilance Committee

Walker's Pass
Weber, Charles M.
White River
    See Gopher Creek
Wilson, John
Wood's Creek
Wood, ____
Wood, John
Wowol Indians
    See Tinte Taché Indians
Wright, Dr. A. S.,

Yuba River

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