Letter from California.
Fort Grizzly, El Dorado Co. Cal.,
Dec. 12, 1854.
“Yet onward they passed on their weary way; now toiling up some steep ascent, and again descending to cross some rapid mountain torrent. The shades of evening found them among the tall and gloomy pines; here they made their camp.”
After quite a long silence, I again communicate with you. Since I wrote you last, I have, as you perceive, left my old “stomping ground” on the Spanish gulsh, “evacuated those premises,” and in company with two others, with all our household goods, traps, and furniture, packed on the backs of two horses, “emigrated” to this place, on the south fork of the Cosumnes river, where we arrived, after two days hard travelling, ever a rough and mountainous road. Since then, we have been busy getting our camp ready, and preparing for the winter, and are now snugly ensconsed in a good substantial log house, with provisions &c., “laid in,” and are fully prepared to stand quite a wintry siege.
In the fall of 1850, a few hardy and daring adventurers ventured up thus high in the mountains, "prospecting" for "new diggings," and finding here some pretty good "prospects," they braved the deep wintry snow of this elevated region, and remained here that Winter; and as the Indians were somewhat hostile and troublesome, they built a small fort of logs and mud, for protection, and called it "Fort Grizzly," from the fact that "Grizzly Bears" were right plenty about here at that time; since then the Indians have become peaceable, and the march of civilization has forced the "Grizzlies" to remove their haunts, up nearer the summits of the Sierra. They are still occasionally seen about these parts, hunting for acorns, but being rather of an unsociable disposition, “Grizzly” keeps as much as possible out of the way of white men, modern improvements, and rifle balls. The weather holds good as yet, and just at present, the winter rains seem no more likely to set in than they did last July. A few weeks ago, we had several showers, and many people thought the “rainy season” had set in, but no; that was rather too early; I think the rains will set in about Christmas. Considerable snow has fallen in the mountains just above here, which has had the effect to drive the deer down, and, as many hunting parties are out, the deer have to suffer. I shot two fine does, day before yesterday, near the camp, so just at present, we luxuriate on “venison.” Most miners are now in winter quarters, and anxiously waiting for the rains, to supply them with the necessary water. In all the principal “dry diggings,” water has been introduced from the rivers and creeks, by means of flumes, canals, and ditches, but all such water costs from fifty cents to a dollar, per inch, while rain water costs nothing; therefore many prefer waiting awhile, to paying from five to ten dollars, or more, per day for water, as they would have to do at present, and busy themselves throwing up dirt, preparing their sluices, digging races and ditches, and making all ready to “pitch in,” as soon as they have water. The overland emigration has stopped for this season, on account of the snow in the mountains; we are near the main southern emigrant road, and the last trains passed here a month ago; since then, the snow has fallen and some of the last trains from Missouri are detained in Carson Valley on the other side of the Sierra, as they are too late to get over the summit, they will have to winter there, and cross the mountain next season, after the snow melts, which will be from the first to the middle of June. Most of the trains that came in this season brought families, and in some of the wagons, or riding on horse back, sat blooming, pretty, bright-eyed, marriageable young damsels, the very sight of which would gladden the heart of an anchorite; of course all such arrivals are acceptable, and possess great interest in the eyes of the young "bachelors" with which California abounds. Women and children generally stand the journey across the plains better than the men, probably because they do not have so hard a time of it, not having to drive cattle or "stand guard" nights. An immense amount of sheep and cattle were brought across this season, and all the trains lost more or less of their stock; many lost from a third to a half of their cattle, and I saw one man, with his family, from Tennessee, coming in, working a yoke of cows in his team, having lost all his oxen except one yoke. "Don't care," said he, "as long as I get the old 'ooman and the young'uns through safe." Of those last, various sized boys were walking along ahead, while the girls rode in the wagon with the "old 'ooman."
The morality among the cattle is owing to the bad water, reed, heat, dust, and fatigue of the route; in coming down the Humboldt, the water is very bad, containing a large proportion of alkali, so that there, and after getting to Carson river, large numbers of the cattle died. I know of several, who brought large droves of cattle across, who say they shall lose by the speculation. The Indians too, have been unusually troublesome this season on the plains, stealing cattle, cutting off stragglers &c., and at Fort Larimie they have had a skirmish with a small detachment of U.S. troops, in which the Indians were victorious, and said that if “Uncle Sam” had any “better men” he had “better send them along.” If a few troops who were used to the Indian mode of fighting, were to be sent out along the emigrant route, I think it would cause the “red skins” to become a little more civil, and show them that “Uncle Sam” is not the “sardine” they take him to be; but to send out a lot of U.S. regular troops, thinking to fight the Indians in platoons, is sheer folly; a lot of California miners, “armed and equipped: as they saw fit, could whip a body four times their number, of the best Indians that ever had buckskin; for most miners understand the working of a “revolver,” and as for “rifle shots,” there are no better in the world than are to be found here in the mines; and like Indians, they would fight Indians with the advantage however of being able to whip them. –The Chinese still swarm as plenty as ever in the mines; “birds of a feather,” they always “flock together;” but they are obliged thus to do, as they are prohibited from mining, in about all of the principal mining localities, and have to confine themselves to the river banks, aed diggings which the people do not think worth working; they are very industrious however, and often strike upon a place which a place which others have left, where they make good wages; after all, I think John Chinaman is as successful, or at any rate saves up about as much money, as the generality of the mining population; we don’t often hear of “big strikes” being made by them, for the very good reason that they never tell of it when they do find a “good lead.” These moon-eyed, long-tailed Celestials are indeed a "peculiar people," and although they are of the "nonresistant" order as far as other people are concerned, yet occasionally the newspapers of this state contain accounts of fights among themselves in the mines, regular pitched battles sometimes. At Greenwood valley, last summer, they had quite a "muss;" several hundred of them pitched in and made a great noise and commotion, and several of them got hurt.
At Mariposa, and at Jackson too, "big battles" were to have come off, and all the blacksmiths in the vicinity were employed in making swords, pikes, spears and a sort of pruning hook or sickle which they attach to the end of a long string and throw it like a lasso; this is said to be very efficacious in extracting the heads of the enemy; but the authorities interfered and put a stop to the matter. These fights are generally imputed to differences, somewhat like that which at present agitates their native empire, but as I understand it, this is a great mistake. These quarrels are in some instances the result of local animosities at home, something like those we see between people of different towns, or sections of the older European countries, and even of our own. They occasionally arise from the feuds and quarrels of clans and families, some of which are ancient, honorable, and proud, like those of Scotland, although in California, these clans do not maintain any distinct organization, or generally manifest any more serious opposition, than the petty annoyances of individual intercourse. Sometimes these people, like our own, quarrel about their “claims,” and in one way or another, become “belligerent,” though after all, their warfare is rather of the windy kind, and its explosions are rarely mortal. Not a few of these fights are caused by their females, all, or nearly all of which are of the worst class, and also by squabbles originative in their gambling houses. Such, as I understand it, have been the causes of most of the fights among the Chinese in California. They are much like what have caused quarrels, crime, bloodshed, and murder, among the other populations of this state, and although “John Chinaman” will “gas” “blow” and quarrel, yet there quarrels are always among their own people, and trouble no one but themselves. But I have trespassed on your patience too long, already; my sheet is full, and as my subject may be getting rather dry, I’ll quit; so for the present, adios. CALIFORNIA.