All my great-great-grandfather needed, as he searched for gold when he arrived at the Feather River near Sacramento in 1848, was a common kitchen spoon and a graveled river bank. The gold nuggets were sprinkled along the river’s edge, waiting for someone to pick them up. Any man could easily scoop up $2-300 worth of the precious metal in a day’s time.
As winter moved in, he mined along the American River and by spring had accumulated a sizeable stake. My great-great-grandfather, working alongside others, rapidly filled his “poke” with newfound wealth, jesting that something other than gold would have to become the standard for money. Gold in plentiful supply had lowered the price to fourteen dollars an ounce and the cost of eggs, if one could find any, soared to twenty-five dollars a dozen. Any foodstuffs brought a premium price.
An overabundance of gold did not bring a life of leisure as time to spend the precious metal did not exist. As the winter of 1848 progressed into spring, men like my great-great-grandfather grew bored with the lack of activity and were anxious to return to their homesteads. Being gone for any length of time, they ran the risk of having their land claim jumped in their absence and losing everything they’d worked for.
My great-great-grandfather ventured into San Francisco to buy farm implements and other necessary items to improve the homestead. The costs were ridiculous, but he purchased a plow, farm wagon, harness, mower, and rake as well as many small items which would make living conditions more comfortable when he returned.
Passage was booked on the pilot ship Hackstaff, a 250-ton vessel recently arrived from New York. The ship’s owners hoped to make their fortune in the gold fields by transporting people between San Francisco and the Columbia River. What the passengers didn’t know was the man sent to captain the vessel knew nothing about the Pacific Ocean. The size of the ship was also questionable, those on board wondering how it would brave the swells of the Pacific. My great-great-grandfather claimed it was possible to stand on the bow and dip water from the ocean with a tin cup. But with gold in a pouch and his equipment on deck, he joined the others as they headed north.
Trouble was about to find the sailing party.
Acknowledgements: All The Way West, Hallie H.Huntington