News From the Gold Country: Josiah Roop Writes Home

Clear Creek

Clear Creek

The first part of Josiah’s correspondence is a bit wordy, but I do like how he passes on some of the “local” nomenclature to the folks back home. Further down, he relates an incident which shouldn’t be missed!

For the Huron Reflector
Interesting Letters from California.

We are permitted to publish the following letters from Josiah Roop, of Republic, Seneca county, now in California:

CALIFORNIA, May 5, 1850.

My Dear Friend:
Here way up in the very northern part of California, near the Oregon line, placers as rich as ever were discovered, are daily coming to light. — Less than a year ago, nought but the poor, miserable Indian and the wild beasts of the forests traversed these rugged mountains, some of whose peaks are covered with everlasting snow. Now the white man, by hundreds and by thousands, are following up every river, creek, streamlet and gulley (or “gulch” as the miners term it) to their very source amidst these snow-capped hills “prospecting,” which being interpreted signifies, “hunting for a good place to dig.” This “prospecting” is an exciting business.

A company varying in number from three to a dozen, start out with their knapsack of provisions sufficient for a week’s subsistence — their blankets, shovels, picks and pans, not forgetting that most faithful of mountain friends, the deadly rifle, without which no prospector ever thinks of going, with the necessary amunition and the sharp butcher or bowie knife belted to their side. Thus equipped, they leave some trading post on a prospecting tour — gulches and rivulets are passed by, by those who have the vanity to believe that they know the unerring characteristics of a rich placer, while those who take things more deliberately, halt and prospect the very spot thus passed over by their comrades, commence digging, and filling their pans and washing the soil or “dirt,” as it is universally called here, soon the “oro” (Spanish for gold) glitters most charmingly in the bottom of their pans. Those in advance being informed of the luck of their more tardy companions, return, and not unfrequently wash out several pans of dirt without scarcely getting a single particle.

Discouraged at their ill success compared with their more fortunate neighbor, whose every pan adds from twenty-five cents to a dollar to their pile, they damn the diggings and themselves, and try their luck somewhere else, frequently taking out more than a dollar to the pan full. Such is the luck of the prospector. Night with her sable mantle, eventually overtakes them. Their simple, rough and coarse fare is partaken of with a relish not known to your city gents; and soon under some large tree, with his blanket wrapped round him, and his rifle at his side, lies the prospector fast asleep, dreaming pleasantly about those near and dear whom we have all left behind us. The fiery, impatient seeker after fortune will wash but a pan or two, not more than three at most without getting a good pan, before they will abandon the prospect for another, and thus from spot to spot and from place to place they travel, until there is not a river in California which they have not prospected. I have known many who have been prospecting for more than a year, and have not yet found a good place to dig. — Others equally anxious to get gold, but not so persevering, will try prospecting a week or two, swear that the mines are worth nothing, abandon the mines, hire out, get money enough to return, and go home cursing the country, while the steady, persevering, untiring workman, is sure eventually, to strike a rich lead, and at the expiration of the month he will have averaged his ounce a day, and may have made his pile in the course of a single month, as is sometimes the case.

Three men left here for their homes in Richland county, Ohio, a few days ago, with over $3,000 apiece, having dug it out of a gulch close by. Mining, to ensure success, like all other business, requires steady, persevering, unremitting labor, and that of the severest and most toilsome sort too. True, some miners are more lucky than the rest, and indeed more so than the great majority of them, and have made big fortunes in a very short time. But as a general rule, the steady laborer will average his ounce a day, and this is about a safe estimate of the fruits of the labor of those who work hard and regularly all day. Many do not average even half an ounce, owing principally to their unsteady, roaming, restless, changing disposition.

And as regards the comparative quality of the different mines, I am decidedly of the opinion that one river in California is as rich as another, and as a general rule to ensure success, I advise the miner to stick to one placer until he makes his pile.

MUST READ! Below is Josiah’s personal account of what must have been a terribly heartbreaking (and wallet breaking) setback he and his friends and/or partners experienced.

Mining is emphatically hard work; I speak what I do know, having tested it myself. I have labored forty days (and forty nights I had almost added) upon a canal and dam on Rose’s Bar on Yuba River. Yes, my dear sir, fifty of us poor devils wrought, like men never wrought before, on that dam and upon that canal. Never did the southern slaves work half as hard. Long before the dawn of day, from the middle of September to the first of November, could be seen the camp-fires of the dam company blazing high around our camp-kettles, and at sunrise every man who failed to answer to his name at roll-call was fined three dollars, and if he were not on the ground within one hour after that time he was dockt one half a day. One hour was given us at noon, and the same rigid law applied to us at roll call, as in the morning, our daily labors ceased only when the sun had disappeared behind the western horizon, and by the time we returned to camp, built our fires, baked our pan-cakes, fried our pork and ate our luxurious supper, our soft, downy bed on the rocky ground was of all luxuries, I assure you the most luxuriant, and with one blanket wrapt around us we would soon be sleeping, and oh how sweetly! Verily, “sweet is the sleep of the laborer.”

On the Monday preceding the 1st of November, the drain being completed, and every thing ready for the setting of the machines, I concluded to hire a substitute, as I wished to go to Johnson’s Ranch on Bear river some fifteen miles distant to look after some cattle I had there. Previous to leaving, I was offered a thousand dollars cash down for my interest in the dam, but my expectations of a big raise were decidedly in the ascendant, caused no doubt by seeing Dr. Shelby (formerly of Maryland, but now of Louisiana?) wash seventeen dollars out of a single pan-full of the dirt procured in the bed of the old channel which had been drained.

Thursday, the 1st of November, came, and with it came rain, and it continued to rain day and night and beat upon that dam, and notwithstanding it was built upon a rock and built with rocks, it fell, and with it fell all our hopes of future greatness — and great was the fall thereof. Sufficient work was done with the machines previous to the breaking of the dame to test the extraordinary richness of the bed of the river — one single quicksilver machine having taken out over $1,000 on Wednesday. — But there was not enough taken out to liquidate the damages assessed against us by those whose claims on the bar we had injured in consequence of changing the channel.

Our company was therefore flat broke. Our whole stock, consisting of quicksilver, machines, quicksilver tools, &c., were sold at public auction. machines worth $500 sold for $100; quicksilver, which cost us $10 per pound, sold for $4 and $5. On receiving this direful intelligence, I swore vengeance against all dams — and especially against all hard work. — I have never been on Rose’s Bar* since, neither have I struck a lick in the mines since I left that dam.

*The site I linked to, South River Park Adventures, has wonderful pictures and maps of the area. There is one mention that I found of “Rose’s Bar,” and it says that it is “15 miles downstream from Bridgeport.”

I went to trading in provisions and miner’s tools, and have been thus engaged ever since, and have thus far been successful. You may recollect of my prediction about the speculation in cattle, made in a letter written you last Fall. I purchased six yoke of oxen, four yoke from our own mess, and the others from Sietz and his mess, for which I paid $50 a yoke. I succeeded in finding but four yoke, which I sold in December for $600, thus doubling the investment in about three months, after losing one-third of the stock. Next August, September and October will the same speculation be presented to those who choose to go into it.

Of the Republic boys who had a share in that celebrated dam, were my friends Amsden, Stickney, McClung, McArdle, Seitz, Cloud, Holmes, Hease, and this “hombre,” (Spanish for “man,” or “individual.”) Parks traded his interest to Cloud for his interest in his bakery, and by this transaction was the lucky hombre. — Stickney, Parks, Amsden, Sayre, Gardiner and Wagner are now at one of the richest bars on Yuba river, not doing much not it is true. on account of the high stage of water, but as soon as the waters subside, they are sure to make their fortunes by next Fall.


In a letter dated May 14th, Mr. Roop says:

Coming up the Sacramento not long since, the steamer which I was in accidentally upset a whale boat, in which were 4 men; one of whom drowned. Enquiry was made of his rescued comrades; who he was — they were unable even to give his name — they had employed him that morning to work his passage up to Marysville; he had told them that he wished to go to the mines. He had a family at home and was out of money, that was all they knew about him. They said he was a well dressed, resectable looking man. His body was recovered. Thus his family, like many others, will never know what has been the fate of those they hold most dear.

Taking them altogether; I am free to say that the Republicans will render as good an average account of themselves as any other company who have left the States. Their health has generally been good — no one died save old Mr. Kline, whose infirmities should have admonished him never to have started. They all got in, in good time and the prospects of all now are A. No. 1. I do not think that any of the Seneca Tribe will make a big fortune — that is fifty thousand — always excepting our mutual friend, Brewster, who is in a fair way to make his half million. He now is one-third proprietor of one of the largest houses in San Francisco, the firm of which is “Plummer, Keith, & Co.”

You need not to look for any one else of the Seneca tribe coming home very rich next winter. But then there will no one have less than three hundred ounces of he dust, unless disease, death, or some untoward event should transpire.

Marysville, California 1850

Marysville, California 1850

I have alluded to Marysville a couple of time in this communication. For your information I will just tell you where it is. Marysville is situated in the forks and at the junction of the Yuba, with Feather River. It is beautifully located; high above Sacramento city. It is the county seat of Yuba county, and contains some 2,000 inhabitants, although four months ago it was not even surveyed. Steam boats arrive and depart daily from Sacramento city. Sacramento city is the point where the largest class of steamers stop; and Marysville where the smaller steamers stop. Hitherto no steamers have gone up any further. But recently, both the Yuba and Feather, have been gone up several miles by steamers, and towns have been laid out on both rivers, and they will become settled too. But after all, Marysville is destined to be one of the largest towns of California. Its proximity to the richest mines, (being only some 10 miles to the first rich diggings,) and its situation at the confluence of those tow rich rivers, its high and dry site, must make it a large city. I went there in January, and if I had had sufficient nerve to have bought some 20 lots on credit of 60 and 120 days, as they were offered me, I should have been amongst you ere this letter reaches you, with my “pockets full of rocks.” But I was fearful — I was too cautious. I rented a lot at a hundred dollars a month, for twelve months. I soon sub-let it for $300 a month, payable in advance. Thus realizing a profit of $200 a month. This is small business, to be sure; but then it is an item, whereby you can judge of the increase of the value of property in Marysville.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Aug 13, 1850

In case you missed Josiah’s previous correspondence, you can find it HERE.

You can also click on my Gold Rush category for more from his friends.

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3 Responses to “News From the Gold Country: Josiah Roop Writes Home”

  1. taylor Says:

    who drew the picture of the california gold rush miners looking for gold. need response ASAP

  2. mrstkdsd Says:

    Sorry, I have no idea. It can be found on, but they don’t list the artist for any of the gold rush pictures they have on there. It says they are Giclee Prints, which is some sort of process, not the person who did them.

  3. Donatillo Says:

    I draw alot of them and paint a few but did not know who did these.

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