Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

Gold fever

Rougher and more hilly become the roads as we gradually penetrate farther and farther into the foot-hills. We are now in far-famed Placer County, and the evidences of the hardy gold diggers' work in pioneer days are all about us. In every gulch and ravine are to be seen broken and decaying sluice-boxes. Bare, whitish-looking patches of washed-out gravel show where a "claim " has been worked over and abandoned. In every direction are old water-ditches, heaps of gravel, and abandoned shafts - all telling, in language more eloquent than word or pen, of the palmy days of '49, and succeeding years; when, in these deep gulches, and on these yellow hills, thousands of bronzed, red-shirted miners dug and delved, and "rocked the cradle" for the precious yellow dust and nuggets. But all is now changed, and where were hundreds before, now only a few "old timers " roam the foot-hills, prospecting, and working over the old claims; but "dust," "nuggets," and "pockets " still form the burden of conversation in the village bar room or the cross-roads saloon. Now and then a "strike " is made by some lucky - or perhaps it turns out, unlucky - prospector. This for a few days kindles anew the slumbering spark of "gold fever" that lingers in the veins of the people here, ever ready to kindle into a flame at every bit of exciting news, in the way of a lucky "find" near home, or new gold-fields in some distant land. These occasions never fail to have their legitimate effect upon the business of the bar where the "old-timers" congregate to learn the news; and, between drinks, yarns of the good old days of '49 and '50, of "streaks of luck," of "big nuggets," and "wild times," are spun over and over again. Although the palmy days of the "diggin's" are no more, yet the finder of a "pocket" these days seems not a whit wiser than in the days when "pockets" more frequently rewarded the patient prospector than they do now; and at Newcastle - a station near the old-time mining camps of Ophir and Gold Hill - I hear of a man who lately struck a "pocket," out of which he dug forty thousand dollars; and forthwith proceeded to imitate his reckless predecessors by going down to 'Frisco and entering upon a career of protracted sprees and debauchery that cut short his earthly career in less than six months, and wafted his riotous spirit to where there are no more forty thousand dollar pockets, and no more 'Friscos in which to squander it. In this instance the "find" was clearly an unlucky one. Not quite so bad was the case of two others who, but a few days before my arrival, took out twelve hundred dollars; they simply, in the language of the gold fields "turned themselves loose," "made things hum," and "whooped 'em up" around the bar-room of their village for exactly three days; when, "dead broke," they took to the gulches again, to search for more. "Yer oughter hev happened through here with that instrumint of yourn about that time, young fellow; yer might hev kept as full as a tick till they war busted," remarked a slouchy-looking old fellow whose purple-tinted nose plainly indicated that he had devoted a good part of his existence to the business of getting himself "full as a tick" every time he ran across the chance.

Quite a different picture is presented by an industrious old Mexican, whom I happen to see away down in the bottom of a deep ravine, along which swiftly hurries a tiny stream. He is diligently shovelling dirt into a rude sluice-box which he has constructed in the bed of the stream at a point where the water rushes swiftly down a declivity. Setting my bicycle up against a rock, I clamber down the steep bank to investigate. In tones that savor of anything but satisfaction with the result of his labor, he informs me that he has to work "most infernal hard" to pan out two dollars' worth of "dust" a day. "I have had to work over all that pile of gravel you see yonder to clean up seventeen dollars' worth of dust," further volunteered the old "greaser," as I picked up a spare shovel and helped him remove a couple of bowlders that he was trying to roll out of his war. I condole with him at the low grade of the gravel he is working, hope he may "strike it rich " one of these days, and take my departure.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 26th Apr 1884 (14:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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