I journeyed by slow marches along the banks of the Sacramento, passing several colonies of gold-finders on my way. At noon I halted at one of these, and loitered some little time round about the camp. The rapidly-decaying vegetation—here unusually rank—was producing a malaria, and sickness was doing its ravages; but still the poor infatuated people, or rather such of them as were not prevented by positive inability, worked on until they sunk under the toil. Every one seemed determined to labour as hard as possible for the few weeks left before the rainy season set in, and the result was, that many of them met their deaths. There were others, though, who sought to enrich themselves with the shining gold by a quicker and, perhaps, less dangerous process than all this weary toil.
According to the accounts I heard, life and property were alike insecure. The report ran, that as soon as it became known that a man had amassed a large amount of gold, he was watched and followed about till an opportunity presented itself of quietly putting him out of the way. There had been but few known deaths, but the number of persons who had been missed, and whose own friends even had not thought it worth while to go in search of them, was very large. In every case the man’s stock of gold was not to be found in his tent; still there was nothing surprising in this, as every one made a point of carrying his gold about him, no matter how heavy it might happen to be. One or two dead bodies had been found floating in the river, which circumstance was looked upon as indicative of foul play having taken place, as it was considered that the poorest of the gold-finders carried fully a sufficient weight of gold about them to cause their bodies to sink to the bottom of the stream. Open attempts at robbery were rare; it was in the stealthy night time that thieves prowled about, and, entering the little tents, occupied by not more than perhaps a couple of miners, neither of whom, in all probability, felt inclined to keep a weary watch over their golden treasure, carried off as much of it as they could lay their hands on. By way of precaution, however, almost every one slept with their bag of gold underneath their pillow, having a rifle or revolver within their reach.
That same night I reached the camp of gold-washers, where Lacosse and the trapper had had their horses and packs of provisions stolen from them. The robbery, I believe, was committed by men almost on the verge of want, who thought it a more convenient way of possessing themselves of a stock of provisions than performing a journey to the lower settlements for that purpose would have been, and a cheaper way than purchasing them here, where they run scarce, and where the price of them is exorbitantly high. Other things are in proportion. Clothing of any description is hardly to be had at any price, and the majority of the miners go about in rags. Collected round a rude shanty, where brandy was being dispensed at a dollar a-dram! I saw a group of ragged gold-diggers, the greater part of them suffering from fever, paying this exorbitant price for glass after glass of the fiery spirit, every drop of which they consumed was only aggravating their illness, and, in all probability, bringing them one step nearer to their grave.