What it Was Like to Be a 49er in the California Gold Rush

In the early days of the pioneer miners of California, searching for gold was a tough occupation. Even in those days gold was not easy to find. Lets consider a little of what life was like:

A "prospector" goes out with a pick and shovel, and a wash-pan; And to test the richness of a place he digs down till he reaches the dirt in which it may be expected that the gold will be found; And washing out a pan full of this, he can easily calculate, from the amount of gold which he finds in it, how much could have taken out in a day's work. An old miner, looking at the few specks of gold in the bottom of his pan, can tell them value within a few cents; Calling it a twelve or a twenty cent (per pan) "prospect," as it may be. If, on washing out a pan full of dirt, a mere speck of gold remained, just enough to swear by, such dirt was said to have only "the color," and was not worth digging. A twelve-cent prospect was considered a pretty good one; But in estimating the probable result of a day's work, allow had to be made for the time and labor to be expended in removal top-dirt, and in otherwise preparing the claim for being worked (all these prices being represented at a value of $ 20 Per ounce for the gold they recovered).

To establish one's claim to a piece of ground, all that was requisite was to leave upon it a pick or shovel, or other mining tool. The amount of ground allowed to individual individual varied in different diggings from ten to thirty feet square, and the local law was fixed by the miners themselves, who also made their own laws, defending the rights and obligations of those holding claims; And any dispute on such subjects was settled by calling together a few of the neighboring miners, who would enforce the due observation of the laws of the diggings.

The apparatus generally used for washing out the gold was a "long tom," which was nothing more than a wooden trough from twelve to twenty-five feet long, and about a foot wide. At the lower end it widens considerably, and on the floor there is a sheet of iron pierced with holes half an inch in diameter, under which is placed a flat box a couple of inches deep. The long tom is set at a slight inclining over the place which is to be worked, and a stream of water is kept running through it by means of a hose, the mouth of which is inserted in a dam built for the purpose high enough up The stream to gain the requisite elevation; And while some of the party shovel the dirt into the tom as fast as they can dig it up, one man stands at the lower end stirring up the dirt as it is washed down, separating the stones and throwing them out, while the earth and Small gravel falls with the water through the sieve into the "ripple-box." This box is about five feet long, and is crossed by two partitions. It is also placed at an inclining, so that the water falling into it keeps the dirt loose, allowing the gold and heavy particles to settle to the bottom and be eaten, while all the lighter things washes over the end of the box along with the Water. When the day's work is over, the dirt is taken from the "riffle-box" and is '' washed out "in a" gold pan, "which is a round tin dish, eighteen inches in diameter, with shelving sides three or In inches deep. In washing out a pan full of dirt, it has to be placed in water deep enough to cover it over; the dirt is stirred up with the hands, and the gravel thrown out; the pan is then taken in both hands , And by an indescribable series of maneuvers all the dirt is typically washed out of it, leaving nothing but the gold and a small quantity of black sand. This black sand is mineral (some oxide of iron), and is so heavy that it is Not possible to wash it all out; it has to be blown out of the gold afterwards when dry.

Another mode of washing dirt, but much more tedious, and probably only returned to where a sufficient supply of water for a long tom could not be obtained, was by means of an apparatus called a "rocker" or "cradle." This was merely a wooden cradle, on the top of which was a sieve. The dirt was put into this, and a miner, sitting alongside it, rocked the cradle with one hand, while with a dipper in the other he kept baling water on to the dirt. This acted on the same principle as the "tom," and had previously been the only contrivance in use; But it was now seldom seen, as the long tom effected such a saving of time and labor. The latter was set immediately over the claim, and the dirt was shoveled into it at once, while a rocker had to be set alongside the water, and the dirt was transported to it in buckets from the place that was being worked. Three men working together with a rocker one digging, another carrying the dirt in buckets, and the third rocking the cradle would wash on an average a hundred bucketfuls of dirt to the man in the course of the day. With a "long tom" the dirt was so easily washed that parties of six or eight could work together to advantage, and four or five hundred bucketfuls of dirt a day to each one of the party was a usual day's work.