Herman Treadway Wilson letter to Omar and Janice Wilson (August 13, 1932)
Dear Omar and Jane,
Of course, mother has informed you of the result of our undertaking. I am now waiting for funds to defray expenses of the return trip, and I am telling you it hurts to have to send home for it. Your proposed trip here will now likely be abandoned, although you could come even after we leave and occupy the shack. We shall leave the keys with Harold Bearsford. I can imagine that one would not enjoy it too much without a hiking companion, and likely about one trip would suffice Jane for the balance of her life.
The alluring months of September and October are near at hand and when that matchless artist Mr. J. Frost starts out with his brushes and pots of colors to tint the oaks, maples, and dogwood tucked away among the pines, cedars, and spruce, these hills will be an art gallery to shame and any found behind wall of stone.
With nothing better to do these idle days, one must think. A most profitless occupation it is and to me these past three years a most distressing one. However bad a habit it may be, it is like breathing. Nothing but sudden death can stop it. From off the back porch where we do our cooking, and looking southward down Mary’s Crevice over the middle Yuba to the hills beyond, we see one of man’s monuments marking his struggles for gold. The old San Juan hydraulic mine from which unknown fortunes were torn from mother Earth. There will stand for ages, as a marker for future generations, this vast scar upon the landscape commemorative of the struggle, adventure, romance, sorrow, and crime which attended all of those bygone plungers into easy and sudden riches. Here was a busy roaring camp. San Juan town was a busy roaring camp town. One can see red-shirted minors and silk-vested plug-hatted mine owners boisterous and eager. Here we see the typical bar room and dance hall, noisy and vicious.
Gold. It was so plentiful and easily picked up in every gulley, creek, or riverbed that people scarce knew how much they had and only those who shipped to the mint ever had any true reckoning. This mine posted 10,000 inches of water. Put into giant nozzles it would rip out a mountaintop. The waste of fine gold would have made Midas blush at the paucity of his wealth by comparison. “Who cares for fine gold! We are getting rich and there is no end to it.” For 25 to 30 years, these mountain tops were torn and rent asunder for millions of the precious metal and in the process, the little fellow in the gully or canyon below was, so to speak, buried alive, his workings and himself ruined by the avalanche of tailings for the big fellow above.
In due course of time, the legislature passed a law against hydraulicking and the big operations had to stop. Then came the flood; a human locust swarm of pigtail Chinese to work these tailings and fine-comb the river banks and bottom. They sluiced, rockered, and panned the gravel. They drained the river and spooned the dust from the rock crevices. In our small valley, six miles from here, there were 4,000 Chinese encamped. Now it is known as Celestial Valley. Gold. Where are they, the thousands who struggled and schemed and fought and killed to get it, and where is the gold? How much better is anyone or the world for having torn it from the bowels of the earth? Now comes on the heels of this great world depression, another swarm of humanity. It is neither bold nor boisterous nor vicious, it is a swarm of the meek, which the Bible says shall inherit the earth.
What the big fellow threw away, what escaped the keen Celestials’ eye, is being painfully sought by the present swarm. For what? Not riches, nor glory, nor adventure, nor romance. There is but scant romance in bacon and beans, but that is what they are after. Bacon and beans. From 50 to 80 years ago these hills and valleys and canyons and towns were vibrating with animation. Sudden riches and sudden death were daily happenings. Not alone was there human animation, the forests were alive with bear, deer, wolf, lion, cat, etc., to say nothing of small game. Today all is a dead stillness. One might travel all day or several days and hear neither the voice of man nor the cry of a single thing except now and then a bird. It is as a graveyard of memories long past.
Sitting on the steps of most any mountain, combined grocery, post office, garage, and soft drink stand, one may observe an old timer or two, and would wonder if they are real, or just become petrified to carry out the general scheme of deadness. No, on second look, the old boy is not dead for he has turned his head to relieve his watering jowls of a copious stream of liquid tobacco. He is simply living in the glamour of past glory and dead only to the fact of present existence. These old boys must live on tobacco and departed glory, for they never work, they are as immobile as the eternal hills but not half so pleasing to look at. If I thought that prolong residence in these parts would alter one’s physiognomy to a resemblance of the native born, I should hotfoot pronto.
To return to gold; about 10 miles east by north of us is another old hydraulic mine similar to San Juan but four or five times larger. Not even the old timer will try to give one an estimate of the amount taken out, but it would make the Queen of Sheba’s mines of Ophir look like a penny arcade.
Where is it all now and where are those who wrote the work? Where all the glory and honor and wealth? The glamour of the glitter and gold? T’is as a shadows shadow; the dream of a dream undreamt.
Looking eastward from the kitchen door onto the bare hillside of some eight or ten acres. One’s retrospective eye can see shadowy forms moving in the moonlight of the evenings and other sitting forms about tiny campfires. Since the memory of the earliest settler. this has been an open field without shrub or tree. Before the rude advent of the white man, and for sometime thereafter, this was an Indian campground. Around on all sides was in the virgin forest untouched by acts and saw a forest swarming with wildlife, the happy hunting ground. Gold was on every hand, free for the picking up, but it meant nothing to the red man. He could not eat it, he could not barter with it because it had no value to the tribes man with whom he would barter. For personal adornment it was too heavy, and it was useless for either spear or arrowhead. A nice round river pebble at the end of the rawhide thong would crack a bear’s skull or conk a rival tribesman much better than an equal weight of gold nuggets. It had no value! Thus does environment alter the scheme of mortal existence. This hillside is covered with thousands of chips left by the old arrow makers of distant days. Some more of agate, some resembling jasper, some of flint. Have also found a bone grinder or pestle with which the ignoble Digger Indian prepared his savory grasshopper pate de foie gras.
Lest I weary you with further rambling, I shall close.
Love to all,