This flourishing mining town is situated in latitude 39°, among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or as the words signify in English, the Snowy Saw Mountains. It is built on the top of a hill, at the bottom of which, some two miles distant, runs the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American river, or of the Rio de Los Americanos, as it was called by the Mexicans.
It is situated at an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet above the level of the sea. The climate for the greater portion of the year cannot be excelled for its beauty and salubrity.
The atmosphere is cool, bracing and exhilarating. No noxious gases are wafted upon its wings. No invisible poisonous malaria forms a part of its composition.
Innumerable springs of water flow from our mountain sides, clear as crystal and cold as the banks of snow from which it was formed. It is generally impregnated with iron, which gives it an agreeable taste and tonic properties which the water of the valleys does not possess.
In summer the days are very warm, the thermometer frequently rises as high as 100° in the shade, and in low situations it has occasionally reached 120° in the shade, yet the nights, fanned by gentle freezes from the snow-clad Sierras, are always cool and refreshing.
The sky, for eight months of the year, is clear and serene. No dark clouds obstruct the rays of the. sun by day, nor of the moon by night. This is the appearance during (the dry season. But when the wet season arrives, what a change! Then winter sometimes pounces upon us suddenly like the eagle upon its prey. Then our mountain forests present the appearance represented by pictures of the high latitudes. The forest trees are principally evergreens; the damp snow adheres to their branches in large quantities, causing them to droop and point downwards toward the earth, as if attracted by the snowy carpet which covers the ground and everything upon it to the depth of several feet.
A sight of this scene, especially when the large feathery snowflakes are falling thickly all around, is indeed the most dreary and the most sublime which I ever witnessed. And while this dreary aspect is exhibited on our mountains, it is remarkable that by going a distance of four or five miles, to the valleys of some of our deep canons, you will find a summer climate, where the ground is bare, and mules and other animals live and fatten upon the growing vegetation.
To breathe our mountain air, free from fogs, from clouds and from malaria, to drink our pure water, distilled by the hand of Nature from banks of snow in the mountain tops, and distributed to us in sparkling rivulets, which flow from their sides to ride over our hill tops and gaze upon the beautiful scenery, which Nature in her wildest mood has painted, in the most romantic colors, is an enjoyment which would well repay our friends below who live in the smoky, dusty, impure, foggy atmosphere of the cities, for making our mountains a visit.
Two years have elapsed since the above sketch was penned. Mule loads of gold have been taken from our gulches, placers and hills. Water is now brought into our town for mining purposes from thirty miles distance further up in the mountains. Wheelbarrows for removing rocks, and sledges for breaking them have given way to derricks; some of which are propelled by water power. Wrought iron pipes are superseding flumes. Improved methods of saving gold have been discovered. Mountains have been leveled, the glittering treasure precipitated and the alluvion sent to Sacramento, to be deposited in bars, or to reclaim tule lands, according to circumstances. Ground which a few years ago was not worth working, is now, in. consequence of improvements in mining, very valuable.
But like all Californians, we have had our drawbacks. In July, 1857, a devastating fire swept over the whole town like a mighty wind, and almost as rapidly, destroying the labor of years in a single hour. The town was rebuilt on the same site, but the tunnels which everywhere run under the streets and houses, together with the rapid removal of the earth around it by the miner in search of gold, with the water which flows through a score or more hydraulics, has been rapidly undermining its foundation, and causing the ground upon which it was built to slide, thus compelling its removal to another site. A new site has been selected and most of the business houses removed to it, and new ones erected thereon, while fully 80 acres of land, including the old site, is, Cottonocracy like, in a state of active secession, intent on dissolving the Union.
The night previous to the present day (March 28th) was a sleepless one with many of our inhabitants. The whole secession district moved about two feet during the night, and what made it worse was, that some portions of it, South Carolina like, moved faster than the rest. Timbers cracked over people’s heads like South Carolina rifles, causing many fears, but hurting nobody. Sectional cracks run under many houses, causing one part to secede to the south, while the other remains with the north, thus seriously endangering the union. But the foundation of the secession district is very unstable and good judges think it cannot hold together long. The superstructures erected thereon are tottering and falling, threatening to envelop the occupants in total ruin. Many of the inhabitants of the secession district are, like Southern Yankees, moving northward where things are more stable.
But while secession movements are unsettling everything in the south, the “more perfect union” at the north stands firm. Two stone fireproof stores bid defiance to the devouring element. Two clothing stores provide for the wants of the outer man, while five provision stores make good provision for his interior, and provide him with mining implements and other necessary articles. Three hotels and two restaurants cater to the appetites of citizens and strangers, two expressmen and four barbers get a good living by shaving, two limbs of the law profit by the moral ills of man, and three disciples Esculapius relieve his physical ailments. Two bakers furnish the staff of life, and fourteen grogsellers life itself. Five shoemakers, armed with hammer and lapstone, pegs, flax and bristles, labor industriously to produce a good understanding in the neighborhood. Two German tailors, grow fat upon cabbage, as Germans and tailors generally do.
Six sons of Vulcan smite at the anvil, do dirty work, and make clean money. One watchmaker teaches how to go upon tick, an art the people are not slow to learn. Five billiard and gaming saloons furnish recreation, and some of them show greenhorns that “here’s the place to get your money back.” Two livery stables contain fast horses for the use of fast men. Two tinmen make tin ware for the tin and sell hardware for hard money. Two druggists sell pukes and physics, paints and perfumes; also sarsaparilla which cures all the diseases flesh is heir to, except coughs, colds and consumption, and they are abundantly provided for with their Cherry Pectoral. Over 40 Free Masons scribe their acts by the compass and measure them with the square. More than 60 Odd Fellows teach the duty of relieving the distressed, visiting the sick, burying the dead, comforting the afflicted, assisting the widow, and educating the orphan. Over 100 Sons of Temperance, under the banner of Love, Purity and Fidelity, are loud in their praises of cold water, and severe in their denunciation of grog. One Methodist preacher expounds the gospel to an average congregation of about 50 persons, and administers the emblems of the Savior’s, body and blood to about 20 communicants. One schoolteacher labors assiduously to teach the young ideas of 40 or 50 scholars how to shoot. One musician tries equally hard to teach how to sing. Two justices gravely explain what is the law, and one sheriff and. two constables attend to its execution. The hammer of the auctioneer strikes one, two, three everything is going, going.