Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
13
CALIFORNIA

first introduced by the Franciscans in 1771 from Spain, and until after 1860 “Mission” grapes were practically the only stock in California. Afterwards many hundreds of European varieties were introduced with great success. “The state has such a variety of soil, slope, elevation, temperature and climatic conditions as to reproduce, somewhere within its borders, any wine now manufactured” (United States Census, 1900); but experience has not as yet divided the state into districts of specialized produce, nor determined just how far indigenous American vines may profitably be used, either as base or graftings, with European varieties. Grapes are grown very largely over the state. Raisins do well as far north as Yolo county, but do best in Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and San Diego counties. The product is more than sufficient for the markets of the United States. Dry wine grapes do best in the counties around San Francisco Bay, on unirrigated lands; while sweet wine stocks do best in Yolo, San Joaquin and the counties of the raisin grape, and on irrigated lands. In 1900 California produced about three-fifths in value ($3,937,871) and in 1905 the same proportion ($6,688,620) of the wine output of the United States. The value of product more than sextupled from 1880 to 1900. In quantity the product was more than four times the combined product of all other states. The better California wines are largely sold under French labels. Brandies are an important product. They are made chiefly from grapes, and are used to fortify wines. It was officially estimated that in the spring of 1904 there were some 227,000 acres of vineyards in the state, of which exactly five-tenths were in wine grapes and four-tenths in raisin grapes.

Gold.—Between the pastoral period and the era of wheat was the golden epoch of Californian history. The existence of gold had long been suspected, and possibly known, in California before 1848, and there had been desultory washings in parts where there was very little to reward prospectors. The first perfectly authenticated discovery was made near Los Angeles in 1842. The discovery of real historical importance was made in January 1848 (the 24th is the correct date) at John A. Sutter’s mill, on the south fork of the American river near Coloma, by a workman, James W. Marshall (1810-1885). His monument now marks the spot. From 1848 to the 1st of January 1903, according to the state mining bureau, California produced $1,379,275,408 in gold. There were two periods of intense excitement. The first ended in 1854, at which time there was a decided reaction throughout the United States in regard to mining matters. The Californian discoveries had given rise to a general search for metalliferous deposits in the Atlantic states, and this bad been followed by wild speculations. At the time of their greatest productiveness, from 1850 to 1853, the highest yield of the washings was probably not less than $65,000,000 a year; according to the state mining bureau the average production from 1851-1854 was $73,570,087 ($81,294,270 in 1852, the banner year), and from 1850-1861 $55,882,861, never falling below $50,000,000. The estimates of other competent authorities differ considerably, and generally are somewhat less generous than these figures.

At first the diggings were chiefly along the rivers. These were “flumed,”—that is, the water was diverted by wooden flumes from the natural channel and the sand and gravel in the bed were washed. All the “gulches” or ravines leading down into the canyons were also worked over, with or without water. These were the richest “placers,” but in them the gold was very unequally distributed. Those who first got possession of the rich bars on the American, Yuba, Feather, Stanislaus and the other smaller streams in the heart of the gold region, made sometimes from $1000 to $5000 a day; but after one rich spot was worked out it might be days or weeks before another was found. In 1848 $500-700 a day was not unusual luck; but, on the other hand, the income of the great majority of miners was certainly far less than that of men who seriously devoted themselves to trade or even to common labour. Many extraordinary nuggets were found, varying from $1000 to $20,000 in value. The economic stimulus given by such times may be imagined. For several years gold-dust was a regular circulating medium in the cities as well as in the mining districts of the state. An ounce of dust in 1848 frequently went for $4 instead of $17; for a number of years traders in dust were sure of a margin of several dollars, as for example in private coinage, mints for which were common by 1851. From the record of actual exports and a comparison of the most authoritative estimates of total production, it may be said that from 1848 to 1856 the yield was almost certainly not less than $450,000,000, and that about 1870 the billion dollar mark had been passed. Just at this time came the highest point and the sudden fall of the second great mining fever of the state. This was a stock speculation based on the remarkable output ($300,000,000 in 20 years) of the silver “bonanzas” of the Comstock lode at Virginia City, Nevada, which were opened and financed by San Francisco capitalists. The craze pervaded all classes. Shares that at first represented so many dollars per foot in a tangible mine were multiplied and remultiplied until they came to represent paper thicknesses or almost nothing, yet still their prices mounted upward. In April 1872 came the revulsion; there was a shrinkage of $60,000,000 in ten days; then in 1873 a tremendous advance, and in 1875 a final and disastrous collapse; in ten years thereafter the stock of the Comstock lode shrank from $3,000,000 to $2,000,000. This Comstock fever belongs to Californian rather than to Nevadan history, and is one of the most extraordinary in mining annals.

First the “rocker,” then the “tom,” the “flume,” and the hydraulic stream were the tools of the miner. Into the “rocker” and the “tom” the miner shovelled dirt, rocking it as he poured in water, catching the gold on riffles set across the bottom of his box; thus imitating in a wooden box the work of nature in the rivers. The “flume” enabled him to dry the bed of a stream while he worked over its gravels. The hydraulic stream came into use as early as 1852 (or 1853) when prospecting of the higher ground made it certain that the “deep” or “high” gravels—i.e. the detrital deposits of tertiary age—contained gold, though in too small quantities to be profitably worked in the ordinary way. The hydraulic process received an immense development through successive improvements of method and machinery. In this method tremendous blasts of powder, sometimes twenty-five or even fifty tons, were used to loosen the gravel, which was then acted on by the jet of water thrown from the “pipes.” To give an idea of the force of the agent thus employed it may be stated that when an eight-inch nozzle is used under a heavy head, more than 3000 ft. may be discharged in a minute with a velocity of 150 ft. per second. The water as it thus issues from the nozzle feels to the touch like metal, and the strongest man cannot sensibly affect it with a crowbar. A gravel bank acted on by such tremendous force crumbled rapidly, and the disintegrated material could be run readily through sluices to the “dumps.” Hydraulic mining is no longer practised on the scale of early days. The results were wonderful but disastrous, for the “dumps” were usually river-beds. From 1870-1879 the bed of Bear river was raised in places in its lower course 97 ft. by the detritus wash of the hydraulic mines, and that of Sleepy Hollow Creek 136 ft. The total filling up to that time on the streams in this vicinity had been from 100 to 250 ft., and many thousand acres of fine farming land were buried under gravel,—some 16,000 on the lower Yuba alone. For many years the mining interests were supreme, and agriculture, even after it had become of great importance, was invariably worsted when the two clashed; but in 1884 the long and bitter “anti-débris” or “anti-slickins” fight ended in favour of the farmers. In 1893 the United States government created a California Débris Commission, which has acted in unison with the state authorities. Permits for hydraulic mining are granted by the commission only when all gravel is satisfactorily impounded and no harm is done to the streams; and the improvement of these, which was impossible so long as limits were not set to hydraulic mining, can now be effectively advanced. Quartz mining began as early as 1851. In 1908 about five-eighths