All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Mammon by George Frederic Watts (image from

Mammon by George Frederic Watts (image from

A tale of sickness, death and loneliness in the Gold Country.

Life and Death in California

We quote the following from the California Journal of A.G. Lawrence, Esq., published in the Cleveland Herald. Its melancholy picture is no doubt too true, and shows how little of real humanity and human happiness can exist in a land where Mammon is the only God, and selfishness reigns supreme:

“A great percentage of the inhabitants are sick, and I have seen more dejected countenances and pale faces here than I ever saw in the same length of time before. I should think that one half of the population sleep in tents, and are consequently exposed to the weather, which is more changeable than I have ever known in any other country. It is not safe for any one to be out after dark, as the air is so damp and penetrating that no clothing, however thick and warm, affords security.

I never saw so many with colds, and colds here are of a more malignant character than elsewhere; they affect every part of the system at the same time, making a man unfit for anything. For instance, I have known persons in perfect health, and by going into crowded rooms but for one minute, and out again, have, on going into the air, taken a cold which was almost equal to being smitten with the plague. — Colds almost invariably settle on the lungs and produce a cough. There is an incredible amount of consumption here. It is painful to see the disregard for life, especially of the lives of others. One evening while I was on ship board, the mate came on board and said he had just seen a man on the hill laying on the ground with nothing but a blanket, and was dying. He had been in a tent, but his companions had taken that flimsy habitation from over him, and the heavy night dews were falling on this brow, soon to be cold in the embrace of death.

None to watch o’er him,
None to speak the last, the parting word,
Which, when all other sounds decay,
Is still like distant music heard.
The tender farewell on the shore
Of this rude world, when all is o’er
Which cheers the spirit, ere its bark
Starts off into the unknown dark.

The next morning he was dead, and none knew who he or his friends were. — Of course his remains were hurried away, and he sleeps where none hereafter can find his resting place. As one passes through the muddy streets he is constantly met by pale faces, and emaciated forms in tattered garments. It requires no soothsayer’s aid to know that such have no health, and no friends, and such being the case, can they be otherwise than miserable? Three fourths of those who come from the mines are of this character — having lost health, made no money, and are without the means to leave the country, “they are left to the rude mercy of a stream that must forever hide them.”

One remark I should have made in the proper place, though of itself of no importance. About one-fourth of the houses in the place are built of scantling, and sided up and roofed with cotton sheeting; the roofs are painted to keep out the water, but such houses are entirely unfit to inhabit, as in rainy weather they are very damp, and in cold weather very cold.

I have not seen a funeral since my arrival here, and the fact is, that when men sicken and die here, there is no ceremony about the rites that follow — their remains are hurried off in as little time as possible, and buried in all ways. The undertaker has his tent and sign on a hill, in sight of the whole town; around it may be seen a large pile of empty boxes ready to be used as coffins as occasion may require. If a man dies with an abundance of money he is interred in a coffin, prepared with a gold plate, stating name, age, and residence, and perhaps that it (the plate) is of California gold, but if the hapless man dies possessed of none of that which is strong and sure to make friends, he usually is interred in an old dry goods box. To the dead all places are alike.”

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Mar 19, 1850

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