I took the path along the American River, which was my guide and provided me with a refreshing drink whenever I suffered from thirst. After I had gone twenty-five miles I found a great bank, also called a bar, where three hundred men were busily washing gold. There was a prospect here for a diligent worker to earn five dollars a day. On the first of June 1850, I set to work. I paid a hundred dollars for my outfit and the necessary utensils. The situation was quite different from my former experiences, for this is the region where gold was first discovered, and my camp was only twenty-five miles from Sutter’s Mill where the first nugget was found.
On the twelfth of June, elections were held for a judge and constable. New gold diggers arrived daily. I had again collected one hundred dollars and hoped fervently that I would soon be able to increase this little sum for gold rules the world—without it even the most talented man is but a poor wretch. Illnesses were frequent and I witnessed many deaths, chiefly from diarrhea and ague. The heat, which sometimes reached one hundred and twenty degrees, was unbearable during the day, but the nights were cool and gave us a chance to get a strengthening and reviving sleep. Everyone arrives with his blankets slung over his shoulder and immediately sets up his hotel wherever he pleases. We worked hard; everyone was busy with wheelbarrow, shovel and hoe, digging into the gold containing earth. Everyone carries two pails on his shoulder, suspended from a yoke. The yoke, pails and soil together weigh a hundred and twenty five pounds. This burden is carried for two hundred and sixty-five paces up to the river. In order to spare myself the weight of the yoke and the pails, I filled a sack with the soil and carried it to the river where my younger son daily washed about two hundred and fifty pails. This quantity was worth from twelve to fifteen dollars.
Provisions were somewhat cheaper here, and conditions in general better than my previous camp. Potatoes cost twenty cents a pound, beef twenty-five cents, flour sixteen cents, and everything else in proportion. Here, too, the people were beginning to take the earth to the river in carts. My wagon was still standing at the first station on the Feather River, one hundred and twenty-five miles away. I decided to go there, buy a horse and then drive back.
On the second of August 1850, I got back to Negro Bar, and was delighted to see my sons well and working busily. I now had the advantage of being able to transport the soil to the river in my cart, but my profits were small. My horse’s food cost fifteen dollars a week, which means it’s more expensive to feed a horse than a man. I paid eight dollars for 100 pounds of hay, barley or oats. On August fourteenth, a company was formed to change the course of the river and to lead it into a canal, as had been done elsewhere. The work was calculated to take six weeks and the company expected to reap a rich harvest from the dried riverbed. I allowed my two sons to join the company in order to see whether anything would come from it. In the meanwhile conditions began to change decidedly. Traders became more amenable; the drivers going to the mines grew more polite and it was easily seen that the gold was giving out, so that a lucky find was a rare occurrence.
So life goes on in the California mines. The digger laboriously scrapes together a hundred dollars in one place and then leaves it for another in the hope of having better luck there. While on his journey, he uses up the previously earned hundred dollars and has to begin to start all over again. I took care not to leave Negro Bar, for I was tired of traveling, and my sons were busily occupied. It was a pleasure to see them dig the gold earth and earn about twenty dollars a day. In the meanwhile the company was paying six dollars a day to two laborers who were to dam the river. I could not work much myself, for many hardships that I had suffered had considerably weakened me. The Company’s progress was satisfactory, but many were exhausted by the oppressive heat. Sixty or seventy people fell ill at the same time. This was caused by their immoderate use of water and by their irregular life. Those who ate in public houses where they had to pay fourteen dollars a week were better off. In the latter part of August, I went to Sacramento and bought a cartload of provisions.
The prosperity of Sacramento City is built on a weak foundation. Although the city grows every day, still everywhere you go, you hear complaints about the bad business condition. I easily discovered the cause of these complaints. They are simply due to the fact that no one will show himself in his true colors; all wish to be merchants. There are just as many traders as miners, and everything is based on a cutpurse system. Even the price of real estate has fallen considerably. I was watching an auction of lots, and no one bid as much as the owner had to pay in taxes. Business and high prices are now waning, just as quickly as they once rose. For instance, the steamer plying between Sacramento and San Francisco, a distance of one hundred miles, had formerly charged twenty-five dollars per person; now her owners are satisfied with one dollar. The trader who had demanded two hundred percent was now happy to get fifty. But the gold miners were not benefited by this change, for while in the first year a man earned eighty dollars or more per day, there were many now searching in the dug-up gold field who had to be satisfied with two or three dollars a day, and out of this they had to pay at least one dollar a day for board. There are almost as many thieves as honest men; one will murder then other for the sake of gold, they rob and steal whenever they can, and the only thing which preserves a semblance of justice is the Lynch Law. If a murderer is caught, his captors make short work with him, and hang him on the spot.
Towards evening on October eighth our dam and our one-mile canal were completed. On the following morning the dam broke, and our two month’s labor was all for naught. I felt like kicking myself when I thought of the $580, which I had paid for wages. There were 260 people, in the same predicament as myself, and each one could read sympathy in the face of the other. The company decided to cease building until the first of May of the following year. It was a sad sight to see these men go their several ways in deep vexation. Like snails, everyone took his house on his back and went away to seek his fortune elsewhere. [Mr. Scharmann evidently left Negro Bar to go south looking for gold]
On the eleventh of October 1850, my eldest son complained of feeling ill, and I also did not feel well. On the same day we both took to our beds. I do not know what was the matter with me, and the two doctors did not know either, but my son Frederick had catarrhal fever. On New Year’s Day, 1851 we felt strong again for the first time, but we had spent four hundred dollars and someone had stolen my horse. In the meanwhile an epidemic of cholera had broken out in California. It did not extend to the mines, but in Sacramento about fifteen hundred people died, among them Mrs. Hart, my friends wife. I visited him and told him of all my troubles. He presented me with one of his mules, and obtained a cartload of provisions for us, since I had no more money. With these gifts I returned to my camp at Negro Bar.
This region proved to be one of the most fruitful, and by February first, the number of gold diggers had reached eight hundred. Fortune at last smiled on me, and allowed me to earn thirty dollars a day. My hands grew so stiff that it was hard for me to write. The candle in my tent was continually flaring because of the wind, but still I kept up my diary, in order to complete this modest, but truthful account. On April first 1851 I met two Frenchmen who had just come from the Klameth and Scotch River regions. They told me gold was being found there and that a man could easily make from eight to ten dollars a day. They also said that because of the existing conditions men soon tired of the work. Provisions are so high that daily board costs four to five dollars. A pound of flour or of salted meat costs $1.25, a bottle of brandy, five dollars.
I removed my tent from its former place in order to dig there, and found it yielded a considerable amount. My sons found from thirty-five to fifty dollars worth of gold dust. It’s too bad that this place was only an acre in size. On April seventeenth, I left Negro Bar, and went to Nevada City, Bear Creek and other places north. May seventh, I returned to Sacramento City, after a two hundred and twenty mile round trip. I will shortly have to return to Negro Bar in order to scrape together three hundred dollars more and then I will leave immediately. May 1851, Yesterday evening I reached Negro Bar once more and I can honestly say that every one was glad to see me. The company, which had been ruined here in the previous year, was reorganized yesterday. Tomorrow we will begin again
To dam the river and repair the canal, they hope to make their fortune by leading the river through this canal. I still have a share in the company, so I will help and see how it will turn out. June first. The work with the company goes on ceaselessly. I have one laborer working in it and have to pay him five dollars a day. These people are so lazy, that one person always puts the work on another; so not much is accomplished. Moreover, the heat is do great that no work can be done from eleven A.M. to four P.M.
July second. I have not made any entry for a long time, because although there has never been a lack of noteworthy happenings, still there was never anything pleasant to write about. You hear of nothing but murders and thefts, which are of daily occurrence. July fifteenth. Our canal is completed and we are only taking the precaution of waiting until the water has subsided a little more, so that no harm can be done to the ditch. I have again paid $240 in wages as my share and I am anxious to see what will happen. July twenty-first. The heat is almost unbearable. I am satisfied if it is only 100 degrees; but usually it is 100 to 118 degrees in the shade, and in this heat we have to work without even a refreshing drink. August first. To-day we had bad news. The canal had broken again. It takes at least a week to repair it, and if the company does not guard it most carefully, it will be broken again, for we have rascals aplenty around here. Only a few days ago, there was another murder; four robbers killed a man and then took $140 from him. To be sure, the rascals were caught and will shortly be hanged, as they deserve. But still there are plenty more at liberty. August second. This burning heat continues constantly. For several weeks the thermometer has registered 108 degrees from 12 till 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Not a drop of rain has fallen for several months and none can be expected for three months to come.
August fourth. To-day the heat has somewhat abated. We have also been made happy by the news that those people, who succeeded in drying the riverbed, have hopes of a rich harvest. Well, to-morrow we will see whether our work will be rewarded and whether the riverbed really is as rich as has been reported. I will rejoice only when I have convinced myself of the truth. Besides our canal represents a great amount of work; it is fully a mile long and the actual riverbed is now 200 feet wide, so that our half-year’s work ought to be rewarded. August fifth. At least I have succeeded in scraping together my three hundred dollars. My good spirits have returned together with the prospects of soon be able to leave the country, but I am still bothered by illness. I have not been entirely well since I came to California. As soon as the scurvy left me, another sickness took its place. This one no doctor could diagnose. Anyway the doctors here are worth nothing. They scarcely know enough to cure a cat. Woe to him who falls into their power, for their ignorance is only exceeded by their covetousness! I will name only one doctor with a feeling of respect and gratitude. That is Doctor Klein who saved my son’s life. August sixth. As yet I have said nothing about the wild Spanish cattle. Just now I was forcibly reminded of them, because I had to flee from a wild ox. A butcher has a corral quite close to my tent into which he drives his cattle and keeps them until he is ready to slaughter them. One of these oxen was not satisfied with his prison, so he got out and ran straight for my tent. They run about without any cowherd or any supervision. The lazy Spaniard does not bother about his cattle until he wishes to slaughter or sell it, which happens very often nowadays because of the increased population. The Mexican is much too lazy to catch and train the cows. He would rather do without any milk.
August ninth. Our splendid feat of engineering is completed at last. It really is a pleasure to see how the water is held up by the dam and how it runs off through the new canal. Unfortunately, however, this huge work, which took six months to build, is in vain. Our time and money have been wasted, our trouble is all for nothing, for there is no gold in the riverbed. August tenth. To-day a deathlike silence broods over our Negro Bar, for all the other industrious miners have left the place. I, too, am going tomorrow. Mr. Scharmann left the area, but latter reported that since mines have become so much poorer, provisions have also become much cheaper. Sauerkraut, which was selling for $1.00, a pound is now selling at 8 cents, and everything else is in proportion.