“Dear Charlie” — A Gold Panning Contest

californiagoldrush1Horace Snow tells of a competition he and his brother took on, just to liven things up in the summer of 1854. They decided to take turns washing out pans of gold to see which one of them could wash the most gold out of a single pan. He says they did this for several days without there being much difference in the amounts they each washed out, “the biggest pan being $5.00.”

But then—

This day when we came to the ledge my brother began to pick around — it being his turn — and accidentally struck a place which looked nearly yellow with gold!! He jumped for the pan and began to fill it and I looked on. I saw by the dirt that he would take the palm from my honored head and began to remonstrate against his selecting the dirt in such a way and also for rounding up his pan so. But this was no use!

Perhaps he was complaining that his brother was overfilling his pan with dirt.

Finally I offered him a dollar to let me wash the pan. He was bound to wash the pan and away he went. He returned in a few moments and how much do you guess he obtained. Only $19.75!

Now chum Snow wasn’t idle by no means while he was gone and accidentally discovered him a place but when he saw his brother’s gold he thought ’twas no use, for $19.75 was a tremendous pan. However, Snow kept on picking and in a short time got him a pan. Our competition had become very great, so much so, that my brother had to go and see me wash it, for fear that I should come some game upon him. The pan when washed, the gold dried and weighed and, Charlie, how much do you reckon I had? Only the pitiable sum of $48.50!! Wasn’t I tickled!

Then went on to wash out one more pan and got $23.75, “making in all $92.00 in three pan, and all in one day!”

$92.00 for maybe an hour’s work was a magnificent return on their labor — several thousand dollars in today’s money.  No wonder Snow was so tickled. Not every day was so rewarding, but they were doing well. In this same letter of October, 22, 1854, Horace Snow expresses his contentment with his lot:

Charlie, you cannot think of how well we are situated. We have the best cabin, the best table, the best bunks, the best dishes, the most books and more conveniences than any other cabin in Agua Frio Camp. Sometimes I think that I could spend my days here, only give me plenty of [news]papers and enough to read.

Sounds good to me!


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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