|“There is plenty of Gold so I am told at the banks of the Sacramento”
(Line in a German sailors shanty)
Today we are thrilled to walk through an old ghost town looking at now ancient artifacts, trying to imagine what life was like, how them gold diggers lived. We proceed through the old wooden buildings trying to breathe by-gone days. We touch old tools, take pictures of everything like we want to take home the spirit of those old times. But are we able to comprehend what we are looking at? Wouldn’t we have to step into a time capsule and be transported back 150-200 years to really understand?
What were the days of a Gold Miner (49er) like?
Early on between 1848 and 1849 it wasn’t uncommon that a miner dug up gold worth $2000 a day, though the average miner would have been lucky to find gold for $10 a day.
49'er and Mule (Source: Library of Congress)But soon all of the easy gold was found. Some struck it rich, others barely had enough to eat.
After 1852 there was hardly any surface gold left to be found. Surface gold panning was no longer profitable.
Being a miner also was a dangerous business. Thousands of miners died on the journey or under prospecting. Diseases and accidents took a high toll on many miners.
How did miners live out in the rugged terrain?
Camping was the way most miners lived out at their claims. As RVers we can relate to this simple form of life. Meals were cooked over the open fire and usually contained beans, bacon or local game. The food was not very nutritious, often resulting in poor health. The lack of fresh fruits and vegetables made scurvy a common problem.
Even though one often finds an old rusty bathtub in the ghost towns, personal hygiene was generally poor and mostly clothes were never washed.
The camps and mining towns springing up were built with canvas tents and wooden buildings. many were destroyed by fires.
Weather conditions like extreme heat during the summer, heavy rain and snow at other times could make life in the camps and at work difficult. Many miners spent the winters in San Francisco.
Miners Camp in the Evening
Life in the bigger camps were dominated by men. Of those very few women living in the camps some were involved in housekeeping others had other more dubious sources of income.
Card games, gambling and betting were common ways to pass the time.
Like in the oil camps of today gold digging drove up the prices paid for everything. The average worker might make anywhere between $6 to $10 per day. Food and supplies could cost much more than that.
Getting to California could cost as much as 6 months of earnings and often the miner had no money left to buy basic supplies.
It might be interesting to have a look at prices paid at “Lassen’s Ranch” on September 17 1849:
If we compare these prices with what we pay for the same today and factor in that more than 160 years are gone, we realize that life was very expensive in those days.
I have found an eyewitness report ("The California Gold Rush, 1849" EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2003) describing what was going on at Sutters Fort along the American River. A book has also been written about the Swiss Citizen Johan Sutter, who fled his home land leaving wife and children behind for many years. He became the “Kaiser of California” after he acquired widespread areas in the Sacramento area and started a large trading company. When gold was discovered on his land he wasn’t able to keep gold diggers out ending up loosing almost everything he had strived for.
Thanks for stopping by.