Negro Bar History & the Ballou/Scharmann Letters
compiled from Jack Kipp, MyFolsom.Com Guest Columnist

Negro Bar was originally on the south side of the American River, at about where the City Corporation yard is located. Negro miners first started mining gold during the years 1849-50. As far as we know, only a few Negro’s were working there. One, according to Sacramento Court documents, showed that Constable B.N. Bugby testified of a fellow named Smith, “I think he was one of the Negro’s working at Negro Bar”, Smith was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering a man named Freeland Morton. According to the 1852 census, there was a George Stevens listed as a mulatto working as a steward. A John Debity, also a mulatto, was listed as a waiter. In 1860 (Negro Bar had disappeared by then), Alex Holmes, an African American, was listed as a cook living in Folsom, as was Peter Williams. It was little more than a cluster of shacks and tents to shelter the men working along the river. In 1851 there were about 650 residents and it continued to thrive until 1856. James Meredith built the first store and hotel at Negro Bar; the second store was opened by Wm Davidson, followed by a store by Rowlett & Richardson, who ultimately sold to Mr. A.A. Durfee. Later, they both left this area and returned to the East Coast. There were two Durfee brothers from the east, and they were both physicians. A store then could be anything from a tent with barrels and with a plank across them, to a lean-to with a few makeshift shelves. A hotel was usually a large tent with wooden bunks, which miners paid to sleep on. What the miners did was to dig a by-pass of the bend in the river so that they could mine the riverbed. The first attempt was not successful because of a flood that washed it out. The second attempt was also unsuccessful, however the third attempt was successful, and there were reports that the miners found no gold in the riverbed. However, miners working the surrounding area did harvest quite a bit of gold. Then came the floods of 1852, and most of the miners left. It must be noted that at this time, several nationalities were working at Negro Bar, including a German Immigrant and his sons who had crossed the plains. After Folsom was formed, it was known as “under the hill”.

The letter below is a copy of two letters written by Mary Ballou, telling of her trip to California, and the second, a letter to her sons in New Hampshire. Mary Ballou (Simonds) was born in 1809 and passed away in 1894.

Mary Ballou and her husband left two sons in New Hampshire and sailed to California in 1851. They arrived in San Francisco in 1851 and settled in Negro Bar. This is a copy of the letters written by Mary Ballou in 1851 and a second letter on October 30, l852, to her son, Selden. (Including the spelling errors)


Started from Alexandria Newhampshire to go to california Dec 9 1851. left New York Dec 11 went on Board the steamer Ohio. Now so seasick that I cannot write. Arrived at Shagrees Dec 22 stopt at a ranch had coffee, Boiled rice and stewed Beans for supper the Beans cooked in a pot hung to a tree in the bushes. The ranch had factory cloth over the top but no floor but the ground for my bed a valiece for my pillow a hard bed indeed. I wept biterly. there were twenty five in our company all Laid on the ground. The monkies were howling the Nighthawks were singing them Nativs were watching. When morning came the Nativs got the Boat ready. We started on our second days journey up Shagrees river, arrived at Gorgonia Dec 22. Stopt at a Hotell two nights not a pane of glas in the House rough Boards nailed together for Blinds.

Dec 26 left gorgonia on a mule. Stopt at a ranch laid myself down on the ground a weeping. I thought if I had wings how swiftly I would fly to my Home. twenty. started the next morning on the mule travled all day in the hot sun. part the way I walked Part the way I rode and part the way I Laught and part the way I wept. Dec 27 took the steamer. Now so seasick cannot write. Stopt at San Francisco one week from there to Sacramento, stopt with Mr. White a gentleman from Boston one week. Went from there to Mormon Island hired a little log hut. January 11 eat Breakfast on my trunk my husband sat down on the floor and I sat myself down on a three legd stool. There we sat and eat our Breakfast. No one can immagine what my feelings were. The first week earnt 23 dollars sewing for the Spanish Ladies the second week earnt 26 dollars. February 24 gathered a Boquet of flowrs. March 9 taken sick had a soar in my throat. May 4 had an invite to a wedding the Bride 12 years old. September tenth nursed a French Lady one week she made me a present of fifty Dollar gold piece for my weeks work. Fourth of July went out and washed out some gold Dust. Oct first went to work for Mr. Davidson in a Boarding House. He paid me one hundrd a month for five months and my Husband sevnty five Dollars a month for five months. (this was the second business on Negro Bar).

Oct 25 sent eight hundrd Dollars to the States expences for sending 24 Dollars. Nov 25 put Mrs Anderson to bed with a pare of twins without any assistance. I thought it a hard cas that I could not have some help. Nov 29 laid out Mrs Andersons child two years of age. Tuesday Dec 25 cooked a Christmas Dinner for twenty-four gentlemen and ladies. I will give you a little more detail of my journey while on Board the Ocean Steamers. I was so sick I could not sit up nor write. When we left the Ocean steamer we were let down by rope into the small Boat and rowed by the nativs as far as the Boat could for shoal water and then carried a shore in the Nativs Arms and set on dry sand. once while croosing the Land on the Mules we came to a river, the bank on the river was so steep that we had to be carried acrost by the stoutest gentlemen the Natvis leading our mules acrost and then sat on our mules again to go in a foot path through Bushes and through mudholes. Our saddles had a Horn on the back and on the front. I had all that I could do to hold on with both hands to keep from falling off. You can judge whether you would enjoy such a ride or not.

We stopt at Panamar two weeks. I earnt 12 Dollars while there making Pants. When Sunday morning came I awoke by the Fife and Drums beating. I asked the cause. I was told that was to let the People know that it was Sunday morn. The meat market there was a square piece of Land the Spanish Ladies and Gentlemen seting down on the ground with their Baskets of eggs and potatoes. They cut meat in strips and hung it up on trees and poles. We paid ten cents a quart for water; it had to be brought a long distance on mules. I can give only a sketch of my journey. It was a hard road to travel I can asshure you.

Mary Ballou

October 30, 1852

dear Selden, We are about as usual in health. Well I suppose you would like to know what I am doing in this gold region. Well I will try to tell you what my work is here in this muddy Place. All the kitchen that I have is four posts stuck down into the ground and covered over the top with factory cloth—no floor but the ground. This is a Boarding House kitchen. There is a floor in the dining room and my sleeping room coverd with nothing but cloth. We are at work in a Boarding House.

Oct. 27. This morning I awoke and it rained in torrents. Well I got up and I thought of my House. I went and looket into my kitchen. The mud and water was over my Shoes. I could not go into the kitchen to do any work to day but kept perfectly dry in the Dining, so I got along verry well. Your Father put on his Boots and done the work in the kitchen.

I felt badly to think that I was detined to be in such a place. I wept for a while and the I commenced singing and made up a song as I went along. My song was this: to California I did come and thought I under the bed I shall have to run to shelter me from the piercing storm. Now I will try to tell you what my work is in this Boarding House. Well somtimes I am washing and Ironing, somtimes I am making mince pie and Apple pie and squash pies, Somtimes frying mince turnovers and Donuts. I make Buiscuit and now and then Indian jonny cake and then again I am making minute puding filled with rasons and Indian Bake pudings and then again a nice Plum Puding and then again I am Stuffing a Ham of pork that cost forty cents a pound. Somtimes I am making gruel for the sick now and then cooking oisters, somtimes making coffee for the French people strong enough for any man to walk on that has Faith as Peter had. Three times a day I set my Table which is about thirty feet in length and do all the little fixings about it such as filling pepper boxes and vinegar cruits and mustard pots and Butter cups. Somtimes I am feeding my chickens and then again I am scareing the Hogs out of my kitchen and driving the mules out of my Dining Room. You can see by the descrption of that I have given you of my kitchen that anything can walk into the kitchen that chooses to walk in and there being no door to shut from the kitchen into the Dining room so you see the Hogs and mules can walk in any time of day or night if they choose to do so. somtimes I am up all times a night scaring the Hogs and mules out of the House. Last night there a large rat came down pounce down onto our bed in the night. Somtimes I take my fan and try to fan myself but I work so hard that my Arms pain me so severely that I kneed some one to fan me so I do not find much comfort anywhere. I made a Bluberry puding to day for Dinner. Somtimes I am making cramberry tarts and baking Chickens that cost four dollars a head and cooking Eggs at three dollars a Dozen. Somtimes boiling cabbage and Turnips and frying fritters and Broiling stake and cooking codfish and potatoes. I often cook nice Salmon trout that weigh from ten to twenty pound apiece. Somtimes I am taking care of Babies and nursing at the rate of Fifty Dollars a week but I would not advise any Lady to come out here and suffer the toil and fatigue that I have suffered for the sake of a little gold—neither do I advise any one to come. Clarks Simmon wife says if she was safe in the States she would not care if she had not one cent. She came in here last night and said “Oh dear I am so homesick that I must die,” and then again my other associate came in with tears in her eyes and said that she had cried all day. She said if she had as good a home as I had got she would not stay twenty-five minutes in California. I told her that she could not pick up her duds in that time. She said she would not stop for duds nor anything else but my own heart was two sad to cheer them much.

Now I will tell you a little more about my cooking. Somtimes I am cooking rabbits and Birds that are called quails here and I cook squrrels. Occasionly I run in and have a chat with Jane and Mrs Durphy (Durfee) and I often have a hearty cry. No one but my maker knows my feelings. And then I run into my little cellar which is about four feet square as I have no other place to run that is cool. Oct 21 well I have been to church to hear a methodist sermon. His Text was let us lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easely beset us. I was the only Lady that was present and about forty gentleman. So you see that I go to church when I can. November 2well it has been Lexion day here to day. I have heard of strugling and tite pulling but never saw such aday as I have witnessesd to day the Ballot Box was so near to me that I could hear every word that was spoken. The wind Blows verry hard here today. I have three lights Burning and the wind blows so hard that it almost puts my lights out while I am trying to write. If you could step in and see the inconvience that I have for writing you would not wonder that I cannot write any better you would wonder if I could write at all. Not withstanding all the dificuty in writing I improve every leishure moment. It is quite cool here my fingers are so cold that I can hardly hold my pen. Well it is ten o clock at night while I am writing, the people have been Declareing the votes, I hear them say Hura for the Whigs and sing whigs songs. Now I hear them say that Mormon Island has gone Whig and now another time a cheering. Now I hear them say Beals Bar has gone Whig now another time cheering.well it is getting late and I must retire soon there is so much noise I do not expect to sleep much tonight. There has been a little fighting here to day and one chalenge given but the chalenge given was not accepted they got together and setted their trouble. Now I will tell you a little of my bad feelings. On the 9 of September there was a little fight took place in the store. I saw them strike each other through the window in the store. One went and got a pistol and started towards the other man. I never go into the store but your mother’s tender heart could not stand that so I ran into the store and Beged and plead with him not to kill him for eight or ten minutes not to take his life, for the sake of his wife and three little children to spare his life and then I ran through the Dining room into my sleeping room and Buried my Face in my bed so as not to hear the sound of the pistol and wept Biterly. Oh I thought if I had wings how quick I would fly to the States. That night at the supper table he told the Boarders if it had not been for what that Lady said to him Scheles would have been a dead man. After he got his pashion over he said he was glad that he did not kill him, so you see that your mother saved one Human being’s Life. You see that I am trying to relieve all the suffering and trying to do all the good that I can.

There I hear the Hogs in my kitchen turning the Pots and kettles upside down so I must drop my pen and run and drive them out. So you, this is the way I must write—jump up every five minutes for somthing and then again I washed out about a Dollars worth of gold dust the fourth of July in the cradle so you see that I am doing a little mining in this gold region but I think it harder to rock the cradle to wash out gold than it is to rock the cradle for the Babies in the States.

Oct 11 I washed in the forenoon and made a Democrat Flag in the afternoon sewed twenty yards of splendid worsted fringe around it and I made a whig Flag. They are both swinging acrost the road but the Whig Flag is the richest. I had twelve Dollars for making them so you can see that I am making flags with all rest of the various kinds of work that I am doing and then again I am scouring candle sticks and washing the floor and making soft soap. The People tell me that it is first Soft Soap they knew made in California. Sometimes I am making mattresses and sheets. I have no windows in my room. All the light that I have shines through canvas that covers the House and my eyes are so dim that I can hardly see to make a mark so I think you will excuse me for not writing any better. I have three lights burning now but I am so tired and Blind that I can scearcely see and here I am among the French and Duch and Scoth and Jews and Italions and Sweeds and Chineese and Indians and all maner of tongus but I am treated with due respect by all of them.

On the night of Election the second day of November [?] was Burnt down and some lives lost. Adams express office was Broken open by a band of robbers and a large quanity of money was taken. They took one man out of bed with his wife took him into the office and Bound him laid him on the floor and told him to give them the key to the safe or the would kill him. One of the robbers staid in the room his wife his face was muffled and Pistols by his side and told her that if she made any noise for so long a time he would kill her. Only immagine what her feelings must be. I lived close by the office. I went in to see her the next morning she told me that she nearly lost her sences she was so frigtned. I immagine you will say what a long yarn this is from California. If you can read it at all I must close soon for I am so tired and almost sick. Oh my dear Selden I am so Home sick I will say to you once more to see that Augustus has every thing that he kneeds to make him comfortable and by all means have him Dressed warm this cold winter. I worry a great deal about my Dear children. It seems as though my heart would break when I realise how far I am from my Dear Loved ones this from your affectionate mother.

Mary B Ballou

There was a German immigrant, Mr.H.B. Scharmann, who along with his wife, two sons, and a daughter left New York for the gold fields in California on the twentieth of March 1849. They took various means of transportation to Independence, where the wagon train was formed and departed. During the trip west, Mr. Scharmann lost his wife and daughter to illness. The trip must have come thru the Feather River area, as Mr. Scharmann makes several references to Marysville and the surrounding area. The small group of Mr. Scharmann and his two sons, after arriving in Sacramento, journeyed up the American River to Negro Bar. The following comes from his diary:

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.

Note: Mr. Scharmann ultimately wound up in New Orleans.

Jack Kipp was a lifelong Folsom resident, and served as mayor twice.
His knowledge of Folsom was amazing, and will be missed. Jack passed away in 2006.