I have the honour to be an inhabitant of the village of Salmon Falls, Eldorado, California. It is a place set in a ring of mountains; a scene of a prison with high walls, practicable only in those places through which our friendly river makes his entrance and his exit. We call the village Salmon Falls, because the river contains salmon, and is broken very near us by a water-fall of about sixteen feet, up which the fish now and then succeed in leaping. The right of fishing, by tacit consent, still belongs to the Indians, and in summer they come down to catch the salmon, both by spearing and by nets. Our fishing in the river is for gold; of which it is said to contain not shoals. Every year we dam small portions of it, and having then drained by ditches or flumes, look for the scales that we love better than scales of any fish that swims. Frequently, after months of toil and patient industry, the river-bed, after it has been drained off, displays only a barren stretch of rock, and we have lost our labour. Fortune at other times is very kind to us.
Not long ago this village was a canvas town; but it has become now a substantial place, and we inhabit wooden houses. In the street between these houses there walk men of almost all nations under the sun. At one door is perhaps a group of Americans, of white men, as they are often called, in contradiction to the rest, who are all considered foreigners. Over the way may be a crowd of Chinese in their own odd costumes, with hats of wicker-work, like saucepan-lids, with bodies wrapped in three or four dark-blue cotton jackets of unequal length, the undermost padded throughout; with sublimely baggy trousers, and slipshod shoes; every man, too, with his tail touching the ground, thanks either to nature’s liberal supply of hair, or to the silk cord with which deficiency is eked out and concealed. The Chinese have a quarter of their own in our village, where they have merchants of their own race, who keep stores supplied with their own proper commodities. Among these may be quoted ducks preserved in oil; fins and tails of fishes, with the fishes also dried and pickled – very good eating, let me add; and beans made into a paste with a particular kind of oil, highly offensive to the nose of the mere western barbarian. They also, of course, deal largely in rice and tea.
The collector of the tax on foreign miners comes to our village monthly, and exacts four dollars (about sixteen shillings and eight-pence) per month from each Chinaman, German, Frenchman, Englishman, or other foreigner who has not yet taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. At first John Chinaman did not consent to this arrangement, and was not home when the collector called, having gone off to hide among the woods and hills. A few peremptory sales of his mining tools for one-tenth of their value soon opened his eyes to his own interests, and he now pays the tax without a murmur. For this payment a foreigner receives a license to work in the mines for one month; if unable to produce this license when called upon to do so, he is liable to a heavy fine and imprisonment.
Greater, however, than the diversity of people is the diversity of dress among the dwellers in our village. In the street one may remark, of course, the general absence of coats. Nearly every citizen is in his shirtsleeves; but the shirts are of every hue. One shines with the glory of scarlet; arm-in-arm with scarlet is perhaps a shirt of the very brightest blue; there are reds of every shads; greens, yellows, greys. Then the variety becomes bewildering by crossing of all these colours in every form of check. In the other garments there is almost equal diversity. A genuine hat subjects its wearer to a heavy fine in the shape of “drinks for the crowd.” Low-crowned, wide-brimmed, narrow-brimmed, round-topped, or double-up-and-may-be-sat-upon-without-injury form of hats, are met with in great variety. One youth wears a tall brigand’s hat, another a Mother Shipton’s – that is to say, a perfect cone.
The village of Salmon Falls contains four stores, or general shops. The largest is a framed building, forty by twenty feet, two stories high, lathed and plastered inside, and painted white outside, with a roof covered in shingles. It turns one gable-end to the street, and has glazed doors in the front, and two windows in the upper story. It has also glazed doors in round each corner, so that it fronts three ways. On the shelves inside are arranged all kinds of ready-made clothes, reams of letter-paper, boxes of envelopes, bottles of ink, boxes of candles and soap, of raisins, of matches, tin plates, knives and forks, spoons, sacks of salt, cheeses packed in tin, and marked “prime English dairy,” tobacco, pepper, snuff and sago. On the floor there are barrels of flour, ham, pickled pork and beef, salmon, mackerel, sliced and dried apples. There are sacks also full and half-full of flour, Indian meal, beans, coffee, sugar, onions, potatoes, cabbage. Again, there are in store barrels of gin, rum, whiskey, and brandy, as well as kegs that contain nails, pickles, cider; firkins of butter, and barrels of hard bread and soda crackers.
One portion of the store is parted off from the rest, and devoted to liquor bottles and decanters. This is the “bar.” The bar is made attractive by showy labels on the bottles that contain brandy peaches, brandy cherries, brandy neat as imported, champagne, and other well-beloved potations. There are also handsome jars devoted to sardines and spices. On a shelf over these are hermetically sealed oysters, lobsters and clams; with caddies of tea, and fresh-ground coffee; also cream of tartar and carbonate of soda, used as a substitute for yeast. The roof of the store is not left vacant. Over head, on nails driven into the beams, are suspended, to the annoyance of tall men, boots. Boots of all sorts and sizes. French-calf with pump soles, thick cowhides, India-rubbers, grained leathers and split leathers, and warranted waterproofs; among them are to be seen the Best Boot in the Store, the Cheapest Boot in the Store, the Most Serviceable Boot in the Store, and a multitude of others labeled, which all hang together there. It is a pity that hey will not hang together many days upon the feet of purchasers.
Our store of course contains the digger’s ironmongery: picks, warranted not to break in the eye; steel shovels; axes and hoes; pick-handles and axe-handles; crowbars, coils of rope, coffee-pots, teapots, frying-pans, camp-kettles, and tin pans for washing out gold. There we may also buy strong purses to hold the gold, and iron safes to hold the purses.
Our currency at Salmon Falls is as motley as our dress. We have no need of money-changers. No foreign coin is quarreled with. When the exact value of any piece is doubtful, it is appraised roughly in a few moments to the perfect satisfaction of all parties. I take as I write a handful of silver coin at random from the money-drawer. What do I turn out? One dollar, Spanish, 1720; a five-franc piece of Charles X; a dollar, republic of Bolivia, 1850; a five-franc piece of the Empire, 1811; one of Louis Phillipe, Roi des Francias, 1834; another, Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité; another, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Empereur; all equally esteemed here, and current at the uniform rate of one dollar. Among smaller coins, I find the English shilling, the one-franc piece, the Spanish pistareen; all ranking as equals with the American quarter-dollar. Copper currency we men of Eldorado scorn. We have none, and we wish for none; but we equalize our smallest coins by passing one kind at a small premium, and others at a discount. Our smallest coin is one-tenth of a dollar, called by us a “bit.” With this coin the most one can purchase is a cigar of cabbage-leaves, a glass of poor liquor, or a box of matches.
We have no church in Salmon Falls. Many villages in the adjoining counties are ahead of us in this and some other respects; but Sunday is the great marketing day.
Our village has a mill situated at the Falls, where an overshot wheel drives a saw. This mill is on the banks of a river several miles above us, and the business of floating the cut logs down the river in the season of high water is attended to with some danger. Our location has a bridge, the third that we have built; the two before it having been washed away during the freshets of past winters.
We are not a dull community of men, being cheered by the ladies of our village. We have married ladies and young ladies, who come out at our balls, and dance for the real love of dancing. The enamoured youth may, if he be brisk, see the belle of the ball-room up with the lark the next morning milking the cows; for every fair maid of Salmon Falls believes in work when it is the time to work, and dancing when it is the time to dance. We blend the gaieties of town with the charms of country. We are proud of our gardens. Here up in the mountains many a little valley is to be seen carefully ploughed and sown, soon rewarding labour with fine fields of grain. We raise melons of all kinds without any exertion, and in immense quantities. They are of a size and quality unknown in London or Paris.Finally, and in farther proof of our activity, I will only add that our village has the aqueduct of a water company running through it, and that the reservoirs of several other companies are within sight. These works supply the water used in washing the gold. The largest of these channels carries the water over twenty miles.
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