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Gold rush miners sought richer diggings

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Miners were, even in the early days of the gold rush, a restless bunch. Almost always discontented they longed for what they termed “big strikes” even though they could make as much in a single month as they could in a year with their former work. Thus they constantly sought new and richer diggings. When word of ground that prospected, or “panned out,” better than usual arrived, a rush to that location would follow. The manner in which the adventurers would come together and jostle each other was said to resemble vultures around a choice find. A mining town would spring up and while some of the newcomers soberly and industrious dug gold others renewed the swearing, drinking, gambling, fighting and general pandemonium of the places they had just left.

It thus became normal in most new camps to adopt rules as early as possible, denoting the size of claims, the amount of work and the kind of notice required to hold those claims. As a general rule a claim was defined by stakes and a written notice posted in a conspicuous place and saying that the spot was held for mining purposes. If the claimant did not work the location the rules required he renew the notice every ten days. If he failed to do so any other person had the right to “jump” or squat upon the claim.

In most of the mining country it became the custom to allow a man to hold as many claims as he wished provided he kept a man at work on each. This worker was considered as standing in for the owner. Yet in all cases of this kind the workman could “jump” the claim himself if he so decided and where the ground proved to be exceptionally rich such cases sometimes occurred. However as a general rule the man working the claim preferred to receive wages, usually six dollars a day, which he could be sure of in any event against the chances that the claim would prove worthless. Thus while it was not uncommon to hold claims by proxy there were difficulties that provided business for the miner’s meeting where such matters were considered and adjusted.

John Rose Putnam is the author of HANGTOWN CREEK, INTO THE FACE OF THE DEVIL and TALES FROM THE PROMISED LAND, hard driving historical fiction from the California gold rush.

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