Saturday, May 1, 2010


The year was 1849, or maybe it was 1852 or perhaps 1872.  I can't recall.  In any case, not far from North Bloomfield

 in a clearing on the banks of Humbug Creek, some miners had made a camp.

They brought their gear in wheelbarrows down to their canvas tents

and then made their way down to Humbug Creek to pan for placer gold.

It was called Humbug Creek for a reason, and no gold did they find.

Soaking wet and freezing cold, they made their way back to the clearing to prepare for the coming night.  They'd need a bench to keep them off the cold, damp ground:

 A lantern:

And a candle to put in it:

Most of the miners had been down at the creek panning for gold and had missed the terrifying sight of the cauldron of wax catching fire and threatening to burn the camp, the forest and perhaps even themselves before a few of the brave and resourceful put it out.

Round about three o'clock, by someone's pocketwatch, they heard tell of a richer strike not far off.  It was so rich that a mining company had bought it and set about hydraulic mining, blasting away hillsides with modified cannons

and creating a 2 mile long, 600 foot deep canyon that would come to be known as Malakoff Diggins.

Some parties undertook a trek to the mine.  The late afternoon sun grew hot and the miners stripped off their flannel shirts to get cool while inspecting the equipment.

Back at camp they were welcomed by a true feast.

Someone rang the bell to call everyone to dinner (but not this little miner).

And others began serving chicken and dumplings, black beans, green beans,

and switchel to drink

and for dessert peach and blueberry hand pies.

After dinner a miner by the name of One Eyed Charley took out an English flute and played Sweet Betsy From Pike and Oh California as others hammered away on unfinished projects.

Domingo Ghirardelli happened by and sold hot chocolate by the campfire from a canvas tent:

After supper feverish work resumed on the lanterns as the sun was going down and no one wanted to stumble about in the dark.  With lanterns lit someone had a notion to strike out for the old graveyard.  There many a story too chilling to recount was told.

By the light of a full moon and their dwindling candles the miners made their way back to their canvas cabins and settled down to sleep.  Sometime in the night a fearful storm set in.  Tent flaps blew open, rain leaked upon the miners' meager possessions and blankets.

Hot coffee and flapjacks with chocolate chips saved the morning.

Some miners, disillusioned with the lack of gold and uncomfortable conditions, apprenticed to a blacksmith.

I do believe some of them were hooked.

With rain unabating the miners packed up, abandoned their wet tent cabins

and headed back toward Frisco and warm, dry beds for the following night.


Mars said...

Hadyn and I looked at your pictures together. It must have been a fantastic experience! You know, I think I've always had a bit of east coast history-centrisim in me too. But then, I have friends from England and they put me in my place! When I said my house was OLD, about 150 years, they laughed at me. Made me feel like a jumped up whippersnapper.

Next time you do the east coast thing, LMK! We can secretly be history snobs together. :-P

Kristin said...

I love the format of this post because not only is it a story but it weaves living history and homeschooling together seamlessly.

I've heard that Emeryville was formed from the sediment of hydraulic mining--and that the sediment is still working it's way into the Bay--and so is the mercury--EEK!

The girls' dresses are adorable.

patricia said...

Absolutely amazing. You've inspired me to dig into California history with my own next year. It sure looks like a trip to Malakoff Diggins would be a fantastic culminating celebration.

The photos are wonderful.

I loved your previous post on not originally embracing California history too. Californians have no history? Maybe you should send that docent a link to this post!

Susan said...

Mars, I'd love to do history with you and Hadyn next time we're on the East Coast (July!). Actually, I hated history as a child (as taught in school) and one of the best things about homeschooling for me has been discovering that history is so far from boring.

Kristin, thanks! I had no idea that Emeryville was formed from hydraulic mining sediment. Was it dredged from the bay, I wonder? I do know that Malakoff Diggins, while a great history spot, is also still a major environmental disaster awaiting remediation. Lots of silt still coming off those bare cliffs.

Tricia, I sure wish I could send the docent a link! When I was in elementary school we had to color a Civil War map.

The map showed the states that seceded set apart from the rest of the country by a gap that was contiguous with the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. I colored the ocean blue and then went on coloring blue right into that gap.

In my mind the states had actually picked up and physically moved away. It was not till years later that I consciously examined this belief and rejected it as impossible. Those early memories can sink deep!

I'm really so grateful to the docent. I'm not sure if I would have examined my bias had I not confronted it in someone else.