Michael White on the Gold Rush 1848-1849

When the discovery of the gold placers I started for Mokelumne, was taken sick there and did nothing. Mounted my horse and with only about $200 worth of gold that I got for some horses which I had sold, came away. Suffered terribly on the way, and finally reached the house of my brother-in-law, Isidoro Guillen, in Santa Clara.


On my way I was the recipient of much kindness from Mrs. Robert Livermore, the wife of him after whom the town of Livermore was named. She was a native of California of the Sanchez family of San José. I believe she was a daughter of the old Alférez [Ensign, or Second Lieutenant] José Sanchez. She would receive no pay, but I left her, quite against her will, one little chunk of gold weighing 5 ½ ounces that I had picked up on the Stanislaus.


Note: This was Josefa Higuera, wife of Robert Livermore who owned the Pozitos Rancho, now Livermore Valley―and the Canada de Los Vaqueros on the road from San Jose to Sacramento. It was undoubtedly at the latter place that White received Mrs. Livermore's care. The term Santa Clara at that time had a wider meaning than the immediate Mission community of that name. (Giffen.)


After recuperating my health at Santa Clara, went back to Stanislaus to Murphy's diggings. I worked there for myself some three weeks and dug out nearly $2000. The diggings were very rich. Some days I would get out 8 and 9 ounces. One day I found a chunk weighing 7 ½  ounces. That day got over one pound of gold.

There was a cooper that had been paid off from the U.S. sloop of war, St. Mary's. His name was Edward. He had a tent and invited me to stay with him, each one cooking his own food, and working for himself. I generally got up very early, cooked my own and his breakfast, went to my work, and sometime after he would come to work alongside of me. He was a very good man.

One morning I went to my work and saw several Spaniards on the bank watching if I was picking up any gold. I did not give out to them that I understood Spanish, and did not want to speak to Ned, for the reason that I had my mouth full of gold. I used to put all the gold I picked up in a day into a small soda can, but not wishing to make any rattling, whenever I picked up a chispa [small particle] I would put it in my mouth.

Most of the gold was of the size and form of musk melon seed. It was very dangerous to let any one see what was picked up. It was that morning I got the 7 ½ ounce piece. Ned spoke and said, "Chummy, how are you getting along?" I returned no answer, then he picked up and threw at me what he thought was dirt. It struck me on the back. The dirt fell off and I found it contained a piece of gold of 2 ½  ounces.

The Spaniards went away and I showed Ned what I had, and he said, "Damn you, you always have good luck. I can get no luck at all." I answered him, "How can you have any luck if you heave it away?" He said that he had not hove away anything, and then I showed him the piece of gold he had thrown at me. He looked at it, and pronounced it only a piece of rock. I then put it in my pocket. He could not work for some time and kept growling, and I laughing at him. Finally, he wanted me to let him see it again. We had more chaffing. At last I gave it to him with the advice never to heave gold again at my head, for if he did I would keep it.

He was highly pleased and went to work like a negro. Next he begged me to let him have the 7 ½  ounce piece and I let him have it for a like amount in fine gold. I would have done anything for that man and I think he would have done the same for me. A good natured fellow from Massachusetts, about 6 feet in height, raw boned. There was no vulgar way about him, and it was evident that he had been well brought up by his parents, or whoever had the care of him in early life.

Time out, y’all. Sure, “works like a negro” is a pretty racist this to say, which isn’t surprising because this incident took place in 1848, before abolition, and was reported in 1877, a less enlightened time. The thing I think that’s kind of funny here is that “work like a negro” meant “hard-working and industrious” and then White went on to say what a great guy Ned was and how well brought up. Contextually, “working like a negro” is a real compliment, and something we all should to aspire to, regardless of race.

A few days after I left him there with an Irishman that I had hired to wash the dirt, for I had never thought of washing any dirt myself. All the gold I got was picked in crevices of the bed rock.

I came down to San Francisco one or two days before Christmas, 1848. Came away in February 1849. It was snowing and raining and blowing nearly the whole time I was there. I had taken passage on a Colombian Brig to San Pedro, and every morning that we lied in San Francisco, we had to clear the decks of snow in the morning. Oakland was as white as a sheet.

Stayed at home till the middle of April, and then started to go back to the same diggings. When I got to Stockton met my Irishman and asked him about Ned, and he told me that Ned got out 25 pounds of gold out of the dirt I had hove out, and as I couldn't wash out any dirt for want of water, when the rains came on, he washed, got the gold and left for home. I asked the Irishman if Ned had paid him, and he said yes .

I went on the Mokelumne hill again. There I got a little over $5000 in gold in about three weeks, and took the gold to Stockton, where I deposited it with William Stockton. He was a New York rough who had belonged to Col. Stevenson's Regiment. Went back to work on the Calaveras, got about $3000 more, and the weather being insufferably hot, I came down again and as far as San Francisco.

[Now improbable as it is that Michael White knew someone in the town of Stockton (which was named by founder Charles Weber to honor Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who White was already familiar with) it does appear to be the case that he deposited his money with William B. Stockton [1809-1864], a member of Co. F, New York Volunteers, who came to California in 1847. The mystery goes a little deeper: The Stockton family papers in the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library has an intriguing item, a deed of James Maugham to Robert F. Stockton & William B. Stockton for property in Glynn Co., Georgia dated December 9 1831. Did White trust this William B. Stockton because he was Robert Stockton’s brother?]  

Went to Stockton and couldn't get my money. Stockton had spent it. He had number of lots there and advised me to go and sue him and get a writ of attachment of the lots. I applied for the writ and the Judge wouldn't give it to me. The Judge wanted to bring me in as a common of Stockton's. I refused to submit to it as I was not such, but a mere depositor, which Stockton acknowledged, saying he had spent the money, thinking he could have the amount before I should call for it. I employed Lawyer [William] Fair (the husband of the woman that a few years ago killed Crittenden in San Francisco) to recover the money for me.

The agreement was that in case he recovered the whole, his fee was to be $800. I was left without anything. In the morning I was assured I should get my money in the evening, and in the evening that I would get it in the morning, and I never got it because Mr. Fair recovered the money and made away with it. I got a letter from him that he had collected the money and was sorry that he had spent it and possessed nothing to replace it with.

The story of the Fairs is a strange one indeed. The New York Times carried the story that Laura Fair, an “actress,” shot Judge Crittenden through the chest, in full view of his family, on November 4, 1870. It was her second attempt, motivated by the fact that he’d broken off their affair. As for her husband, lawyer William Fair, “through pecuniary embarrassment and domestic trouble, Mr. Fair became despondent in mind. In 1860, while on a visit to [San Francisco] he committed suicide by blowing his brains out at the office of Dr. Murphy on Washington Street in the building now known as the Examiner office.”

White also knew the victim. In 1856, he sold a half-interest in the El Cajon De Muscupiabe grant to Isabel Granger and Charles Crittenden. Odd, huh?


Michael White in the Gold Rush 1848-49


Read and post comments | Send to a friend


~ by ravenjake on February 9, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: