Thursday, April 28, 2005

Visit to Canyon Creek

Wednesday morning I met Jeff Darlington of the Placer Land Trust for a brief tour of the Gold Run Diggings and the Canyon Creek Trail. Rain was in the forecast and clouds boiled up ominously to the east, after a grey morning, during which I had fretted, over and over, somewhat to this effect: "Just my luck, that on the one day when Jeff could break away and make the long drive up to Gold Run, to see for himself, something so remarkable--just my luck that clouds would chase shadows into hiding, and thus disguise the rarely beautiful canyon architecture. Plus, we'll probably get pretty wet."

However, it all went well, and much to my surprise the sun broke through the clouds from time to time, and we stayed dry. Jeff is young and fit and we made a near-record-dash down the trail, stopping a minute to look at the great tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. (GRD&M), while I rattled on about the history, the Indiana Hill Ditch, Osmyn Harkness, James Marshall, and the State of CA vs. the GRD&M (1881).

Most of the mines at Gold Run discharged their tailings into Canyon Creek. Here and elsewhere around the hydraulic mines of the Sierra, such creeks-below-the-mines were themselves claimed, and sluice boxes installed to capture gold which escaped the mines above. The last two miles of Canyon Creek, above its confluence with the North Fork, were fitted up this way, with giant sluice boxes. In many places, terraces were blasted from the solid rock to allow construction of these sluices.

The stream of tailings, of mud and sand and cobbles and boulders and mercury and gold, was often split into three smaller streams. Huge iron bolts were set deeply into the bedrock to anchor the sluices, which were subjected to tremendous stresses from the flow of many tons of tailings around curves in the creek. Boulders of up to one hundred pounds were routinely allowed through the sluices of the mines above, in the Diggings. These could become jammed together and back up the tailings-stream. Hence the sluices needed constant attention, and many were the men who died on that job, being somehow pulled into the muddy mess. The boulders were raked out using a custom tool called a "sluice fork."

The upper mile of sluices were owned by J.A. Moody, for whom Moody Ridge is named. The lower mile were owned by W.H. Kinder, and later by the GRD&M. A remarkable historical record exists for the mines of Gold Run; many were the books and newspaper articles which described these mines, and of course there are also the 45 volumes of testimony taken in State of CA vs. the GRD&M, when the defense called many witnesses to testify to the history of the mines at Gold Run.

The men who tended the sluice boxes worked 12-hour shifts, for which they were paid $2.50. A single clean-up of Moody's Canyon Creek sluices could yield $25,000. Moody likely employed ten or twenty men, and it must have cost thousands of dollars each year in materials alone, to maintain and rebuild the sluices.

There was enough trouble with thieves stealing gold and amalgam from the sluices that, by 1870, it was not too uncommon for the owners to install booby-traps, with trip-wires connected to shotguns, or to cans full of black powder and nails.

One of the odd little nuggets of history which emerged, during my near-constant blather on the little old trail, involved the Anti-Chinese movement in California, which peaked in the late 1870s. A constitutional convention was held in 1879, and one of its fine fruits was a new state holiday: Anti-Chinese Day. I wonder if it was ever taken off the books.

Recently my son Greg wrote an essay for his history class at Alta-Dutch Flat School about the internment of California's Japanese, during WWII. He was struggling a bit, so I helped him Google some information, and told him about the Fighting 442nd, an all-Japanese unit in the U.S. Army, which was the most-decorated American unit in the war. Quite a few of Placer County's Japanese Americans fought in the 442nd. They saw much action in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Their casualties were severe.

One might have thought they would be given a hero's welcome upon their return to Placer County.

But no.

And when the Doi family were finally allowed out of their internment camp, up by the Oregon border, in the summer of 1945, and moved back into their home near Loomis, their fruit-packing shed was dynamited and burned, and men surrounded their house, pouring rifle fire into it.

Now, here is an example of justice in Placer County: the men responsible for this atrocity were all captured, and all confessed. And they were all acquitted.


There is a long tradition of such "justice" in Placer County.

Here is a letter-to-the-editor of Auburn's Placer Herald, from July, 1870. The author signs himself "Truth." One should know that in those days the Republicans stood for human rights, and the Democrats in opposition, and that the Sacramento Union was Republican, the Herald, Democratic. Also, from my research into Gold Run history I can deduce the names of many of the men mentioned below: for instance, J.H.T. is J.H. Talbott, one of the first mining claimants at Gold Run, back in 1851-52; and J.M. is the above-mentioned J.A. Moody. The terms "Celestial" and "mongolian" and "pigtail" refer to Chinese. The term "flume" refers to a sluice box.

Gold Run, July 2d, 1870

Editor Herald:-It is surprising to see a paper like the Sacramento Union showing its ignorance of California life, and nobody, as far as I have seen, willing to inform them of it. The Union has repeatedly tried to make people believe that the Chinese, as a class, are less given to offenses against the law than any other class, taking for its authority and proof the statistics of the State prisons. I intend to give the Union a few facts as they occurred in this precinct, which polls less than 200 votes; and I know from a long residence in the mines that it is about an average way of dealing with Chinamen who are caught stealing and robbing.

W.H.H., a storekeeper, detected a Chinaman stealing in his store. He did not call a constable, or prosecute him in the County Court, but tied him up in his cellar and beat him to his heart's content, and afterwards invited others, not belonging to the store, to try the good qualities of the blacksnake on the pet of the Union. Sometime during the night, he turned the Chinaman loose, more dead than alive. This is fact No. 1--not included in the statistics of the State prison.

J.H.T. and C.C., owners of claims adjoining each other, caught two Celestials cleaning up their flume. After a pretty close chase they brought them to town, held a consultation with other miners, and concluded to take them out of town and administer sentence upon them; and rumor has it that at least one of them will never rob sluices again. Fact No. 2--not taken from statistics.

J.M. noticed a pigtail very busy in his tail flume, without being aware of having hired him to do so; and not believing that the Chinaman was doing any good to his (M.'s) prosperity, he stopped him, and after a struggle tied his hands and brought him to town. If my recollection serves me right, this Chinaman did not have the benefit of increasing the per centage of Chinamen in the statistics of the State prison. Fact No. 3.

J.K., old man W., and others living in the neighborhood, had their cabins broken into, and contents abstracted. One day they found three Chinamen very industriously packing up grub, clothing, etc., in one of the miners' cabins; and after a short consultation agreed on a verdict. At least one of the Chinamen never stole again. Dr. Nelson, formerly of Dutch Flat, at present in Sacramento, can give the Union the particulars of this case, as well as others, inasmuch as he gave his testimony before the coroner's jury. Fact No. 4.

R.B. (now deceased), being hired to look to the tail flume of J.H.H., seeing some Chinamen in an "undercurrent" belonging to the flume, evidently cleaning up, and as he had a shotgun with him, and did not deem it prudent to go near them, he fired, and in about a week a dead Chinaman was found in the vicinity, with a few drops of cold lead in his back. Fact No. 5.

I could go on almost until the columns of the Placer Herald would be crowded with facts of this kind, but I hope the Sacramento Union will come to the conclusion that the statistics of the State prison will not hold good as proof that the Chinese as a class are little given to offenses against the law. And, furthermore, that the people of the mining districts generally take the law into their own hands, and save the County and State thousands of dollars every year, and prevent the necessity of building branch prisons, which would be absolutely needed if they prosecuted every rascally Chinaman caught robbing and plundering good citizens.

If it were possible to give full statistics of such facts as I have given above, through the whole State, the number would be three times as large as the whole number of convicts now at San Quentin, white, black and mongolian; and I feel safe in asserting that most of the Chinese convicts at San Quentin are sent there from the larger cities and towns, where officers and courts are handy.

If the Union doubts any of my statements, I can furnish them the full names of the persons mentioned above.

-After I had written the above I learned that last night (July 1st) about 2 o'clock, G.B., hired by Bradley & Co. to watch their flume, saw Chinamen in the flume cleaning up, and having more buckshot in his gun than he wanted to pack, let one barrel of it fly, and if the tracks of blood which some of the men found this morning are any indication, there will be a Chinese funeral shortly, and I will notify the editors of the Union in time, by telegraph, if they will act as pall bearers.

Well, at any rate.

Jeff and I stopped by the Big Waterall, then the Terraces, and felt a few vagrant raindrops while scampering down to a point low on the main trail which offers quite a fine view up the canyon into Giant Gap. The clouds didn't just threaten, they plainly promised rain, so we decided to play it safe and start back up. We took the side trail off to the Blasted Digger, which has an even better view into Giant Gap, and beyond. Fog was boiling up at the base of Sawtooth Ridge, east of Euchre Bar, a certain sign that showers had just fallen there; and we could actually see the rain wisping from the clouds, in that area. It would not be long in reaching us, so we hurried up and out and reached my car at the Dutch Flat exit just as the first peal of thunder boomed.

It was a fine little jaunt into the great canyon, and it could be that the Placer Land Trust will play a very significant role in land acquisitions at Gold Run.

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