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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Goin' Upriver to the Gold Mines

In 1849, gold rushers who went West by sea still had to travel upriver to reach the interior gold regions, after their ship landed at San Francisco. California’s navigable rivers were the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, both suddenly awash with bedazzled, but inexperienced, treasure hunters. One man’s memory, published in 1855 and probably typical, is an informative, amusing account of his upstream adventures.


The name of the diminutive craft which floated us up the Sacramento River has escaped our memory, but we remember distinctly paying $32.00 in advance passage money, and laying in a bag of stores consisting of rice, flour, sugar, coffee, pork and other luxuries.

Our boat had accommodations for six and no more; yet the forty-odd souls of us on board started about sundown in high spirits, saying goodbye to our round-Cape Horn fellow passengers still on the beach, and cheering others who planned to sail the San Joaquin River, bound for Stockton.

Shall we ever forget that trip? The dark, cold night, tossing about in Suisun Bay, huddled together like sheep, wasn’t it jolly? The hot sun of the next day, and the next and the next—the mosquitos! —warping through the slough, hauling and tugging at ropes; and this after paying $32.00 passage money!

Each night we tied up, and slept in onshore in the bushes (what a comfortable, most romantic idea). On the third day our provisions gave out, and we were obligated to row in a smaller boat some five miles—up as far as where the slough meets the Sacramento River—in search of food. A man named Barber lived there, opposite an Indian village. We gave Barber two dollars each for a biscuit and a bit of pork, and it was the best meal we had ever eaten. Whew! Wasn’t we hungry?

Slept rather cold that night, as we unfortunately slipped in getting back on board the boat and took an unwilling bath in the Sacramento River.

Our voyage soon was ended, with blankets on our backs, pistols in our belts, and frying pans in our hands. We leaped on shore, in Sacramento City. Shady groves of green oaks; here and there tents of adventurers like ourselves, a beautiful spot—but we weren’t staying, we were bound for the gold mines!

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