“Dear Charlie” — A Day in the Life

Horace Snow spent most of his almost two years in the California goldfields in Agua Frio, a little mining camp in Mariposa County. On October 9th, 1854 he wrote to Charlie Fitz to “tell you of one day in our lives.”

minersten2

Vignette from The Pioneer Ten Commandments, Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

[This] morning I awoke very early and was thinking about — well, I have forgotten what — when all at once a big rat who was running along the logs missed his calculations and fell smack into my stationary box. This aroused me from my calm content and in less than one minute I was up, had a candle lit and after him with a sharp stick — for I always keep one beside me expressly for this purpose. I hunted him around the flour barrel, the dutch oven, the pile of wood, but at last he got away from me, “knowing better the ropes” and made good his escape.

Not having violated the 13th Commandment [does anybody know what that was? –ed.], I now built a fire and began to prepare breakfast. I first put some water on to heat to wash the dishes with, for just as we were done with supper last night, our nearest neighbor made us a a call and so we deferred until morning, though this was against one of our regulations. As soon as the water was hot, I put the chocolate on and washed the dishes.

I had not need to cook this morning as we had beans yesterday and they were not all gone. Bread we always bake night beforehand. Therefore, before the first rays of sun peeped over the hills, I had breakfast all ready, which frugal meal consisted as follows: beans, boiled ham, bread, butter, cheese, chocolate, cold water, boiled rice, sugar, with pepper, vinegar and salt. And true to say, I was the only person up to enjoy the warm breakfast and morning air. However, by relieving them of a few blankets, I soon had them before the fire!

Breakfast being over, we put the unconsumed food in the cupboard, which, by the way, is a Natick shoe box,* turned our plates the other side up, changed out woolen shirts and went to work, which time was about sun half hour high. We picked and shovelled until noon — our guide being the shade of a tree — when my brother brought a pail of water. I built a fire and Spear set the table. Dinner the same as breakfast, tea substituting for chocolate.

Afternoon the same as forenoon and when night came my brother made the bread, Spear washed the dishes, and I boiled the rice. We had rice and molasses for supper, with a sprinkling of biscuit and butter. As we have no milk, we use molasses in its stead. The day passes this way and all for a little Money!

They were industrious and sober Yankees, and they were doing quite well at finding gold and saving money.

*Natick, Massachusetts was a center of shoe-making, especially the heavy boots and brogans worn by miners and other laborers.

 

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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