Bright Gem of the Western Seas
Recollections of the Mines
of the Tulare Valley
Going to the mines
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 thenapparently 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 bookthe 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 worldany 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 countrywas guide to Gov. Mason and Gen. Riley in their expeditions to the mines, of which we have all heard so muchadventured 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, visionarybut 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 exploitedthe minerals, the animals, the soil, the water, everythingall 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'sor California'sdestiny lay in the Pacific. Perhaps the American flag someday would wave over the Hawaiian or Japanese islands.
Carson also had the attitudescommon at the timeof 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 rememberedin perhaps a superficial and romantic waythe lives of the Mexican/Californians just before California was conquered and the immigrants rushed in.
George Horatio Derby
George Horatio Derby
(18231861), 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
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 185051. 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 sunstrokeor some other debilitating illnessand 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.