Henry Vizetelly.

California Four Months among the Gold-Finders, being the Diary of an Expedition from San Francisco to the Gold Districts online

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had tethered to a neighbouring stunted tree, had strayed away, and
although he followed his trail for some time, he was eventually obliged
to give up the search. The remainder of this and the following day he
wandered about at random, amidst a wild and sterile country, furrowed
with tremendous chasms several hundred feet in depth, and the edge of
which it was necessary to skirt for miles ere a crossing-place could be
found. During this time poor McPhail fared very hardly. He saw numerous
herds of elk, but they bounded past unharmed: he had no rifle. He tried
in vain to find some edible roots, and was at length reduced to the
necessity of chewing grass and the pith of alder trees.

Throughout this period his sufferings were excessive; but as the time
passed and brought no relief, he experienced a sickness and nausea of
the most gnawing and horrible description. He became so weak that he
could hardly stand. At length at sunset, on the third day of his
wanderings, he laid himself down upon a spot of grass, and fell into a
kind of stupor, in the full belief that he would only wake in the
agonies of death. It was then that he was discovered by the two Indians
who brought him to the camp. They behaved with great humanity towards
him, allowing him, however, to eat, first of all, only a few morsels of
the dried meat which they had with them, that he might not harm himself
by over-eating, after such a lengthened fast. As his stomach by degrees
recovered its tone, they permitted him to take further nutriment; and
after encamping with them on that and the following night, he felt
sufficiently recovered to proceed on his journey to this camp. His kind
benefactors understood a few words of Spanish, and he was enabled to
explain to them the part of the country he wished to reach. They
undertook to guide him thither - told him they would arrive there after
having slept once, and by slow marches made their way to Bear Valley,
which they reached on the evening of the second day. McPhail expressed
his surprise on finding that he had wandered no greater distance off.
He showed his gratitude to his guides by presenting them with the two
large holster pistols which he brought with him from Oregon; and on the
following morning they took their departure from the camp.


The Author inclined to return to the coast
Sickness in the camp
Provisions run low
What is to be done with the gold?
Proposal to convey it to the coast
Short rations
Indians visit the camp
The invalids of the party
The conveyance of the gold again discussed
Suspicions began to arise
Captain Sutter's receipt missing
Bradley's explanation
Further discussion about the gold
The matter at last arranged
No chance of rain.

_August 29th_. - We have led a lazy life of it these last few days. The
excitement we have lately undergone has unfitted us for regular labour;
and, besides, one has had altogether a tolerably long spell of toil.
Although, ever since we have been fairly settled here - now about a
month - we have not worked more than from four to five hours daily, and
have taken it by turns to go out on hunting expeditions, still I think
most of us have had enough of it; and were it not that the rainy season
will soon set in, when we shall be compelled to give over work, I
should, for my own part, feel inclined to return to the coast
forthwith. Sickness has begun to show itself in our camp, and we have
three men now laid up: Bradshaw, whose wound, though healing, will
still confine him for many days; Biggs, who has had a severe attack of
fever, but is now recovering fast; and Bowling, who lies inside the
shanty in an almost helpless state. My stock of drugs, too, is nearly
exhausted. Thank God, my own health has altogether been most excellent.
Although the vegetation dying off in the valleys at this time of the
year gives rise to a sort of malaria, still, from the herbage not being
of so rank a character about here as it is in the lower settlements,
the effects are by no means so injurious; besides, the cool air from
the mountains acts as a wholesome check.

Our provisions have run very low; nearly the whole of our flour is
exhausted, and we are forced to live on the produce of our hunting
expeditions. The little flour we have is set apart for the invalids of
the party. Yesterday our hunters came in, after being absent all day,
with only a black-tailed deer and a couple of hares; quails, however,
are tolerably plentiful. Lacosse and the trapper have volunteered to
set off to Sutter's, and bring us up a supply of breadstuffs sufficient
to last us until the sickly season sets in. I believe it is arranged
for them to start off tomorrow.

_September 1st_. - There have been several discussions as to the
prudence of keeping the large quantity of gold we have already procured
in camp, when we are liable to be surprised by the Indians, who for the
sake of it would tomahawk and scalp us all round. It seems to have
spread from tribe to tribe that the yellow earth which the pale faces
are in search of will buy not only beads and buttons and red paint, but
rifles, and charges of powder and ball, scarlet blankets, and the
"strong water," which the Indian "loves, alas! not wisely but too
well." Some are of the opinion that we ought to keep it by us, always
leaving a proper guard on the look-out, until we finally abandon the
digging, when we could return with it to the settlements in a body.
Bradley and Don Luis are rather opposed to this plan, and volunteer to
take the gold themselves to San Francisco or Monterey immediately, and
deliver it into the custody of some merchant there on our joint
account. I don't like this suggestion, for the amount is sufficiently
large to tempt any one to make off with it; besides, it would be
dangerous to send it without a strong guard. To-day we have put
ourselves on short rations, as our stock of provisions is getting very

_September 2nd_. - The camp generally seem to be in favour of Bradley's
proposition. Some of the more timid ones consider that we shall be in
constant danger for the next two months before the rainy season
commences, when we must give over work. It is a great pity that the
gold was not sent down at the time Lacosse and the trapper left.

Three Indians came into the camp last night, belonging, we believe, to
some tribe no great distance off. We gave them a good supper; and after
it was over we took care to make as much display as possible of our
firearms and bullet-pouches, and to see that our horses and mules were
well tethered before we turned in for the night. Story and McPhail were
the first guard. The three Indians wrapped themselves up in their
blankets, and slept just outside the tent; and after a good breakfast
in the morning took their departure, shaking hands with our party all
round, and expressing by other signs their satisfaction at the
treatment they had met with. Biggs is nearly recovered from his attack,
and will commence work again in a couple of days; meanwhile, he is
doing guard duty. Dowling and Bradshaw are still both very ill.

_September 3rd, Sunday_. - Bradley repeated his proposition to-day,
that himself and Don Luis, accompanied by José, who was to take charge
of a couple of horses, with packs containing the bulk of the gold,
should start off the following morning. Story was of opinion that they
ought to be attended by a guard as far as the Sacramento Valley; but,
to our surprise, Bradley and Don Luis opposed this suggestion, on the
score that such a precaution was unnecessary.

Yesterday evening I took an opportunity of speaking privately to
Malcolm and McPhail in reference to Bradley's proposition, and also in
reference to his and Don Luis's peremptory dismissal of Story's
suggestion, without even allowing it to be discussed. We then brought a
circumstance to our recollection which had never struck us before,
namely, that neither of us had ever seen Captain Sutter's receipt for
the gold Bradley had deposited in the Captain's charge, and we
determined to bring the matter up the first opportunity. To-day,
therefore, while we were at breakfast, Malcolm asked Bradley if Captain
Sutter had given a receipt for the gold, when he answered "Yes,
certainly;" but, to our surprise, stated that he had had the misfortune
to burn it. He went on to say, that while on his return to Weber's
Creek, during a halt he made, he had struck a light for his cigar, and
had incautiously used the receipt for that purpose. He had mentioned
the matter to Don Luis, he said, the same day he returned. Malcolm,
McPhail, and myself, looked at each other, but we felt bound to believe
Bradley's statement. We arranged, however, during a stroll we made from
the camp, after breakfast was finished, not to agree to Bradley's
proposition in reference to the conveyance of our present stock of
gold, unless one of us three formed one of the party accompanying it.

After dinner, I brought the subject forward by observing, that if it
was intended Bradley's plan should be carried out, Malcolm would desire
to form one of the party; and as an excuse for his going, I stated that
I wished him to get me a supply of drugs at San Francisco, as the
little stock I had brought with me was quite exhausted; - foolish-like,
not thinking at the time that Bradley and Don Luis could have procured
them quite as readily as Malcolm, and that I was therefore giving no
reason at all for his accompanying them. Malcolm, however, came to my
relief, by stating he had business at San Francisco, as he wished to
see the captains of some of the vessels in the harbour there that might
be bound for the Columbia River. Bradley gave Don Luis a side-look, and
said that no ships bound for the Columbia would be found at San
Francisco at this time of the year. Biggs, however, who knew more about
the shipping at that port than any of us, observed there would be; and
rather a warm discussion ensued, which was interrupted by Story and
McPhail both saying to Bradley, that as Malcolm really wanted to go to
San Francisco, they had better go in company. As there could be no
possible objection to this course, it has been finally arranged for
them to start off on the 5th (Tuesday). José was to be left behind.

The takings of the past week have been very good, considering that we
have two of our party absent, and three laid up with illness. The sky
has been a good deal overcast to-day; but still, from what I learn,
there is no chance of rain for another month.


The party start for the coast
How the carrying of the gold was arranged
The escort
Character of the country they passed through
Halt at noon
An alarm
A discovery
The escort return, keeping a sharp look-out
A merry evening
The narrative resumed
A loud whistle
"The best part of the gold is lost"
The party are sullen and angry
Malcolm is missing
Don Luis's explanation
A lasso whirls through the air
A horse shot
Malcolm falls to the ground
Bradley fires, and with effect
Retire to cover
A discharge of rifles
The enemy wheel off
Malcolm's horse is missing
Malcolm found to be insensible
More horsemen
Tomas Maria Carillo
Robberies at the mines
Brutal conduct
A litter procured
Malcolm conveyed to a shanty
A kind Californian woman
A volley of inquiries about the gold
"It is the doctor you have to thank for that"
The Author's reflections.

_September 5th_. - This morning, the party bound for the coast started
off as agreed on. We rose before daybreak, breakfasted, and got the
horses in readiness just as the sun showed over the mountain. At my
suggestion, Malcolm had the strongest horse we possessed allotted to
him, as it had been arranged that he should carry the bulk of the gold,
and that Don Luis and Bradley, who were to take as much as they could
carry in their saddle-bags, were to form the guard. This plan was
adopted in preference to having a led horse, which it was thought would
greatly impede their progress, and prevent the party from reaching the
settlements on the Sacramento that night. Bradley and Don Luis each
took with them eighteen pounds weight of gold; Malcolm, who was
unencumbered by anything, and merely carried a brace of pistols in his
belt, took very nearly seventy pounds. To relieve Malcolm's horse as
much as possible, three of us, who were to act as an escort to within a
few miles of the Sacramento Valley, were each to carry fifteen pounds
weight of the gold so far as we went. This escort was composed of
Story, José, and myself.

We started off soon after sun rise, amidst the faint cheers of our
invalided companions, and, as it was necessary for the escorting party
to return to the camp that night, it was agreed that we were to retrace
our steps at noon or thereabouts. The commencement of our ride was
through an open country, broken up by boulders of granite and clumps of
dark grey sage trees, when, after ascending some low rocky hills, their
summits crowned with a dense forest of gigantic pines, we entered a
grassy valley, lined with groups of noble cedars, whose spreading
branches offered a most inviting shade. Every now and then, we had to
make our way down the sides of huge chasms which intercepted our
progress, and then to toil slowly up the difficult ascent.

At noon we halted and took shelter from the sun in a little dell with a
gushing spring bubbling up in the midst, and a patch of willows
fringing the banks of the running stream. We scampered our horses down
it, dismounted, and, turning them loose to graze, seated ourselves at
the base of a huge rock of granite. Our wallet of provisions was
opened, and we soon made a hearty meal. Just as we had finished, some
loose earth and a few small stones came tumbling down from above,
knocking every now and then against the projecting ledges of rock in
their descent. We immediately started up, thinking it might be some
grizzly old bear anxious to make a meal of us, and Bradley and Malcolm
scrambled up above to get a shot at him. But he had been too quick for
them, for just as they reached the top, they heard the branches of the
trees crackling in a tuft of underwood opposite, which lay between us
and a deep water-course we had just crossed. As a fatiguing journey was
before them, they did not think it worth while to give chase to the
brute, and were on the point of descending again into the little hollow
where they had left us, when the print of a man's foot caught Bradley's
eye in the soft sandy earth. Several others were noticed close by, none
of which, Bradley protested, had been made by our party, and certainly
not by a bear, but by some sculking Indians, who had been very likely
hovering about us. They hastened to communicate this intelligence to
us, and it was decided that as the party bound for the coast were now
within some few hours' ride of the upper settlements on the Sacramento,
no Indians would be daring enough to attack them, and it would hardly
be worth while for us to accompany them further. We, however, insisted
upon riding a few miles more on the road, which having done, we took
leave of them with many wishes for their safe and speedy return, and
turned our horses' heads round in the direction of the camp.

Feeling rather fidgetty at the incident of the morning, we passed the
spot where it had taken place, keeping an anxious look-out in every
direction, and after a hard ride of several hours, reached the camp
shortly after sundown, glad that we had escaped any disaster. We had a
merry evening of it; a double allowance of whisky was served out, and
we drank our friends' safe arrival and return.

* * * * *

I now sit down for the first time, after a lapse of several weeks, to
resume the continuation of my narrative. Late in the evening of the
5th, while my companions were chatting over the fire, and I was engaged
in writing, we were interrupted on a sudden by a loud whistle, the note
of which I thought I could not be mistaken in. "Sure that's Bradley,"
exclaimed I; the others thought not, and, catching up their rifles,
examined the flints. The whistle, when again repeated, convinced every
one, however, that my first surmise had been correct. In another minute
Bradley galloped up to us, and Don Luis soon followed after; but, to
our astonishment, Malcolm was not of the party. "My friends," exclaimed
Bradley, "a sad disaster; the best part of the gold is gone - lost
beyond a doubt." "Lost!" said I, expecting some treachery on the part
of Bradley and Don Luis; "How? I don't believe it; I never will believe
it." Bradley gave me an angry look, but said nothing.

"Where's Malcolm?" exclaimed I. "Dead by this time, I am afraid,"
replied Bradley. "Good God!" I exclaimed aloud, and involuntarily
muttered to myself, "Then you have murdered him." I noticed Bradley
examined the countenances of the whole party by turns, and, as my eye
followed his, I saw that every one looked sullen and angry. He, too,
evidently saw this, and said nothing more the whole evening. Don Luis,
however, volunteered the following explanation of the mystery.

He informed us that, after we had parted from them, they put their
horses into a quick trot, to escape as soon as possible into a more
agreeable-looking sort of country. They suspected some vagabond Indians
were hovering about, and as the ground they were travelling over
afforded too many opportunities of concealment to gentry of their
character, they were anxious to reach a more open district. Their road
lay, for several miles, over a succession of small hills, intersected
by valleys covered with stunted oak trees, and with here and there a
solitary pine. Just at a point, when they were winding round a ridge of
hills, which they imagined separated them from the Sacramento Valley,
having a small skirting of timber on their left hand, he, Don Luis,
being slightly in advance of Bradley and Malcolm, happened to turn his
head round, when he saw a horseman stealthily emerging from the
thicket, at a point a short distance in their rear. In a very few
moments another horseman joined the first, and before Don Luis could
give an alarm, the second rider, who, it seems, was an Indian, had
risen in his saddle and had flung out his lasso, which, whizzing
through the air true to its aim, descended over Malcolm's head and
shoulders. Don Luis, who saw all this, immediately jumped from his
horse, and, placing his finger on the trigger of his rifle, fired just
as the Indian was galloping away. The ball entered his horse's head,
when the beast was brought to a stand, and, in a second of time, rolled
over with its rider beneath it, just as the noose had tightened, and
Malcolm was being drawn off his horse to the ground. Bradley, who only
knew of the danger they were in by hearing the lasso whirl through the
air, immediately dismounted, and, like Don Luis, sheltered himself
behind his horse, while he took aim and fired. His never-failing rifle
brought down one of their enemies, a swarthy-looking man in the usual
Mexican sombrero, off his horse to the ground. In the twinkling of an
eye they led their horses behind some boulders of granite which
afforded them cover, and from behind which they saw four men come
charging down upon them. But Bradley and Don Luis, skilled in this kind
of warfare, had already stooped down and reloaded. Don Luis was the
first to let fly at the advancing party, but without success. His shot
was answered by a discharge of rifles from the enemy, which whistled
over his and Bradley's heads. Crack went Bradley's rifle again - "And
you would have thought," said Don Luis to us, "that the ball had split
into four pieces, and had given each man a tender touch, for they
wheeled round their horses in an instant, and galloped off, driving
Malcolm's horse before them, which we never saw again."

Don Luis then went on to say, that as soon as they saw the coast was
clear, they left their cover and sought out Malcolm, who was lying on
the ground with the lasso lightly pinioning his arms, and to all
appearance dead. On a closer examination, however, they found that he
still breathed, and also that he had been severely trampled on by some
of the horses of the robbers in their retreat. Bradley pulled out his
bowie-knife and cut the lasso in a few moments, when they tried to
raise him up, but found that the injuries he had sustained prevented
him from standing. He was, in fact, quite insensible. At that moment
they were alarmed by the sound of voices, and looking round they saw a
party of horsemen riding up at full speed from the direction of the
Sacramento. They gave themselves up for lost, but, to their delight,
the new-comers proved to be a party of miners, who hearing so many
rifle-reports in such rapid succession, had immediately hastened to the
spot. Don Luis supposed that the robbers had seen their approach, and
that this, and not the bullet from Bradley's rifle, had been the cause
of the scoundrels' precipitate retreat. They found the Indian's horse,
to the saddle of which the lasso was attached, quite dead. The Indian
himself had managed to crawl off, though doubtless much hurt, as Don
Luis saw the horse roll right over him. The body of the robber shot by
Bradley was found; life was quite extinct, the ball having passed
through his chest in a transverse direction, evidently penetrating the
heart. He was recognised by some of the miners - natives of the
country - as one of the disbanded soldiers of the late Californian army,
by name Tomas Maria Carillo; a man of the very worst character, who had
connected himself with a small band of depredators, whose occupation
was to lie in wait at convenient spots along the roads in the
neighbourhood of the sea' coast, and from thence to pounce upon and
plunder any unfortunate merchant or ranchero that might be passing
unprotected that way. The gang had now evidently abandoned the coast to
try their fortune in the neighbourhood of the mines, and, judging from
the accounts which one of the miners gave of the number of robberies
that had recently taken place about there, their mission had been
eminently successful.

"Our first care," continued Don Luis, "was to see to poor Malcolm, and
our next object was to go in pursuit of the ruffians. On intimating as
much to our new friends, to our surprise they declined to render us any
assistance. Their curiosity, which it seems was the only motive that
brought them towards us, had been satisfied, and I felt disgusted at
the brutality of their conduct when they coolly turned their horses'
heads round, and left us alone with our dying friend, not deigning
further to notice our appeals to them for assistance. No, they must set
to work again, digging and washing, and we might thank ourselves that
their coming up had saved _our_ lives; this was the burthen of their
reply. In their eager pursuit of gold, they had not a moment to spare
for the commonest offices of Christian charity. At length," said Don
Luis, "in answer to my passionate expostulations, backed by the offer
of any reward they might demand - which offer alone gave force to my
words - two of them consented to return in about an hour with a litter
to convey Malcolm to their camp.

"The litter they brought was formed of branches of trees tied together,
and covered thickly over with blankets. On this Malcolm was slowly
borne down the hill-side, until a rude shanty was reached. He was
carried inside, and we were fortunate enough to meet with a kind
Californian woman, who promised to attend on him while we returned here
for your assistance."

In reply to my inquiries, Don Luis said that he thought there were no
bones broken, but poor Malcolm was dreadfully bruised, and his flesh in
parts much lacerated. He feared, however, that he had experienced some
severe internal injuries. As it was utterly impossible for me to have
found my way to him that night, I determined to take a short nap and
hurry to him the following morning.

During Don Luis's recital I did not for one moment think of the gold
which we had lost; all my sympathies were with my poor friend. But, at
the conclusion of Don Luis's narrative, I saw that but few of my
associates participated in my grief. Don Luis was immediately assailed
with inquiries rudely addressed to him in reference to the missing
gold. In reply, he stated that we all knew that Malcolm carried in his
saddle-bags the great bulk of the gold they were conveying to San
Francisco; and that, of course, when the robbers drove off the horse,

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Online LibraryHenry VizetellyCalifornia Four Months among the Gold-Finders, being the Diary of an Expedition from San Francisco to the Gold Districts → online text (page 8 of 10)