Rush to Gold: The French and the California Gold Rush, 1848†“1854 9780300182187

The California Gold Rush began in 1848 and incited many “wagons west.” However, only half of the 300,000 gold seekers tr

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Table of contents :
1. FRANCE IN 1848 Another World Turned Upside Down
3. The French Respond to the California Gold Discoveries: Adventure, New Beginnings, and Trade
4. The Rise of the French California Companies
5. The Rush to Gold: Obstacles, Preparations, and Departures
7. IN THE MINES Living and Working in a Masculine Community
Part Three FRANCE
8. The Flowering of the New California Companies
10. French Stories and French Images of California
12. The French Argonauts Encounter the Americans
Part Five FRANCE
14. The French Argonauts Return to France: The Close of the California Adventure
15. The Long Echoes of the French “Rush to Gold” in California
16. The Balance Sheet
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The Lamar Series in Western History includes scholarly books of general public interest that enhance the understanding of human affairs in the American West and contribute to a wider understanding of the West’s significance in the political, social, and cultural life of America. Comprising works of the highest quality, the series aims to increase the range and vitality of Western American history, focusing on frontier places and people, Indian and ethnic communities, the urban West and the environment, and the art and illustrated history of the American West. Editorial Board HOWARD R. LAMAR, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Past President of

Yale University WILLIAM J. CRONON, University of Wisconsin–Madison PHILIP J. DELORIA, University of Michigan JOHN MACK FARAGHER, Yale University JAY GITLIN, Yale University GEORGE A. MILES, Beinecke Library, Yale University MARTHA A. SANDWEISS, Princeton University VIRGINIA J. SCHARFF, University of New Mexico ROBERT M. UTLEY, Former Chief Historian, National Park Service

Recent Titles Nature’s Noblemen: Transatlantic Masculinities and the Nineteenth-Century American West, by Monica Rico Geronimo, by Robert M. Utley Forthcoming Titles Welcome to Wonderland: Promoting Tourism in the Rocky Mountain West, 1920–1960, by Peter Blodgett Land of the Blended Heart: The American Revolution on the Frontier, by Carolyn Gilman The Shapes of Power: Frontiers, Borderlands, Middle Grounds, and Empires of North America from the Seventeenth to the Twenty-First Century, by Pekka Hämäläinen Singing the King’s Song: Constructing and Contesting the Shawnee Nation, by Sami Lakomaki American Genocide: The California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873, by Benjamin Madley The Cherokee Diaspora: A History of Indigenous Identity, 1830s–1930s, by Gregory Smithers Before L.A.: Race, Space, and Municipal Power in Los Angeles, 1781–1894, by David Samuel Torres-Rouff




The French and the California Gold Rush, 1848–1854

Malcolm J. Rohrbough

New Haven & London

Copyright © 2013 by Yale University. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. All images courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Yale University Press books may be purchased in quantity for educational, business, or promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected] (U.S. office) or [email protected] (U.K. office). Set in Electra and Trajan types by IDS Infotech, Ltd. Printed in the United States of America. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Rohrbough, Malcolm J. Rush to gold : The French and the California gold rush, 1848–1854 / Malcolm J. Rohrbough. pages cm. — (The Lamar series in western history) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-300-18140-1 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. California—Gold discoveries. 2. French—California—History—19th century. I. Title. F865.R66 2013 979.4'04—dc23 2012050401 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper). 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Sarah For all the reasons . . .

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Acknowledgments Author’s Notes

ix xii

Introduction 1

Part One France one France in 1848: Another World Turned Upside Down


two News of California Gold Discoveries Spreads across France


three The French Respond to the California Gold Discoveries:

Adventure, New Beginnings, and Trade 37 four The Rise of the French California Companies


five The Rush to Gold: Obstacles, Preparations, and Departures

Part Two California six Voyages and Arrivals


seven In the Mines: Living and Working in a

Masculine Community 110

Part Three France eight The Flowering of the New California Companies nine The Lottery of the Golden Ingots



ten French Stories and French Images of California




Contents Part Four California eleven The French Trade, Mine, and Reflect


twelve The French Argonauts Encounter the Americans thirteen The Last French Argonauts



Part Five France fourteen The French Argonauts Return to France: The Close of the

California Adventure 237 fifteen The Long Echoes of the French “Rush to Gold”

in California 253 sixteen The Balance Sheet




Bibliography 325 Index 335 Illustrations follow page



I have pursued this project over several years on two continents. The scholarly and personal debts that I have incurred have the same extended reach. Let me begin by expressing deep appreciation to three institutions for financial support: the University of Iowa, the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Huntington Library, and the Camargo Foundation. The initial support came in the form of the University of Iowa’s Global Scholar Award, which provided financial assistance over two years. This award made possible my first sustained research in France. The Department of History also made available research assistance, and I wish to acknowledge the work of Caroline Campbell, Rebecca Church, Russell Johnson, and Richard Mtisi. Colleagues in the department have assisted me in many ways. In this connection, let me mention James Giblin, Colin Gordon, Jennifer Sessions, and Alan Spitzer. The University of Iowa Libraries have offered an array of resources. I especially wish to thank John Schacht, colleague and friend, for his many helpful suggestions. Next, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship provided through the Huntington Library sustained this project and helped it to grow. I am greatly indebted to Robert R. Ritchie, director of research, for his continuing advice and support. Colleagues and friends at the Huntington who have helped with continuing advice and counsel over many years include Shelly Bennett, Bill Deverell, Barbara Donagan, David Igler, Michael Johnson, Alex Kendall, Susi Levin, Karen Lystra, Robert Smith, and Samuel Truett. ix


Acknowledgments The Manuscript Collections at the Huntington have been an invaluable resource. Special thanks are due Peter Blodgett, Sara Hodson, and David Zeidberg. Finally, the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, provided me a residential fellowship, and I used its wonderful facilities and hospitality to write much of a first draft. I wish to thank Michael Pretina and Christian Luciani for their friendship and assistance, as well as several fellows at the foundation for lively criticism: Peter Baker, Rachel Fuchs, Cheryl Krueger, Martin Levin, and Rosalynn Voaden. My appreciation extends to Monsieur Brun’s inimitable café, which dispensed hospitality to the foundation’s fellows. As befits a study with its focus on France, the sources are largely French. The richest depository is the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. This study has benefited by the opening of the new Bibliothèque, with its comfortable working conditions, helpful staff, and extensive newspaper holdings. These included more than a score of French works on the French participation in the gold rush. Many of these were by contemporaries; others were by historians anchored in the twentieth century. Among the former were a number of works of drama and fiction, giving an added flavor to the “rush to gold.” All were available in the Bibliothèque. I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of its librarians as guides to its fine collections. French scholars have greatly assisted me. In the early stages of this project, Pierre Lagayette (Paris IV) invited me to participate in a conference, and his edited collection of the papers contains my first publication to emerge on this study. Claudine Chalmers (French by training, American by residence) shared with me her detailed study of the French in San Francisco during the gold rush period. My greatest debt is to Annick Foucrier (Sorbonne), whose scholarly publications on the interactions between France and California in the nineteenth century set the scholarly standard in this field. I owe much to her work and to our conversations. Four scholars (and friends) read an earlier version of this study: Stephen Aron (UCLA), Peter Blodgett (Huntington Library), Philip T. Hoffman (California Institute of Technology), and Walter Nugent (University of Notre Dame). Their incisive comments have been of great assistance. To Helen Chenut I owe special thanks for helping me to find accounts in the possession of French families whose relatives participated in the California gold rush. I owe a special debt to two families who provided me with unpublished materials: Monsieur Jérôme Ansart du Fiesnet (Besançon) and Monsieur and

Acknowledgments Madame Michel Lamontellerie (Tourtoirac). Their manuscript materials have greatly enriched this study. Closer to home, I am grateful for the vital assistance of Mianne Hanley. She has played a crucial role in transatlantic communications. I also wish to express my appreciation to three Paris friends: Shirley Jaffee and Holly Hutchins-Puéchavy and Michel Puéchavy. They are wonderful guides to the “City of Light” and its endless mysteries and surprises. I also wish to acknowledge the helpful staff and rich resources at the Houghton Library in Harvard University. Both assisted this project. Tatjana Lorkovic of the Sterling Library in Yale University provided important advice and counsel. At Yale University Press, Christopher Rogers, Christina Tucker, and Ann-Marie Imbornoni have answered innumerable inquiries promptly and with good humor. Bojana Ristich’s careful copyediting has helped to give shape and precision to the manuscript. I also wish to acknowledge two anonymous readers for Yale University Press, whose comments were also most helpful. Finally, my greatest debt is to Sarah Hanley. She introduced me to Paris and to its libraries, cafés, museums, gardens, restaurants, and galleries, and she also shared her many Paris friends with me. Without her infectious enthusiasm, this project would never have been begun.




1 piastre = $1 $1 = 5.5 francs 1 ounce of gold = $16 Average daily wage of an unskilled French worker: 2.5 francs Average daily wage of a skilled French worker: 4.5 francs Estimated annual income for a working French family: 1,000 francs Average cost of passage, Le Havre to San Francisco: 1,000 francs Average individual daily return in the California goldfields in 1849: 100 francs Average individual daily return in the California goldfields in 1850: 60 francs Average individual daily return in the California goldfields in 1851: 40 francs Average individual daily return in the California goldfields in 1852: 30 francs1 TRANSLATIONS

All translations from the French are the author’s unless otherwise noted.



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On a Monday morning, January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall opened the mill race of John Sutter’s mill on the American River. When the water had cleared, Marshall saw flakes of mineral in the bed. He immediately identified these particles as gold, and later primitive tests confirmed his judgment. By this act, Marshall unleashed a series of events that would influence the history of California, the American nation, and peoples around the world, from Western Europe to China. In spite of Sutter’s determination to keep the gold discoveries secret, the news spread rapidly in ever-widening circles. In the summer and autumn of 1848, the first wave of gold seekers came from Oregon, the Hawaiian Islands, Peru, Chile, and Mexican Sonora. In 1849, prospective “Argonauts” (a term that would come to have universal use in describing gold seekers) from most of the nations and principalities of Europe joined the rush to California and with them, prospective miners from Australia, and in the next year, from several provinces in China. Within two years of Marshall’s discoveries, news of California gold circled the world, leaving in its wake cycles of doubt, acceptance, and finally gold mania. In the twelve months from the middle of 1848 to the middle of 1849, gold fever took hold. It spread unevenly in terms of time and the nature of the impact. In some places, government officials and newspaper editors attempted to dampen interest and immigration for personal and national reasons. In several countries, the immediate response was commercial and only gradually came to include numbers of individuals. Almost everywhere, the California gold discoveries were viewed through the prism of local interests. Thus, for example, economic hard times made emigration to California more desirable. Another significant dimension was the aftershocks of the political revolutions of 1


Introduction 1848. The failure of many of these uprisings drove liberal dissidents into exile. In these respects, 1848 was one of the most remarkable years of the first half of the nineteenth century. The series of events that we refer to as the California gold rush captured the attention of peoples and governments around the world and produced a series of surprises for participants and historians alike. For the participants, the surprises included the dramatic California landscape, economic opportunities in both the mining camps and the emerging urban centers, and the hardships of labor in the mines measured against the chance of unimagined wealth. For the miners in the camps, this new setting included living and working in a masculine world that would require exercises in domestic self-help such as cooking, washing, and sewing. Among the surprises for the historians was the large number of foreign groups. Their presence, at least in the early years, was submerged by the noise and universal presence of the Americans, and they are often overlooked or regarded as victims of American xenophobia. The French were among these foreign groups, and they were neither shadowy nor victims. In the “rush to gold”—the universal French expression in use at the time was “la ruée vers l’or”—they arrived in large numbers—some thirty thousand at the height of their presence—from a variety of places and through many different travel arrangements. These arrangements reflected a range of social and economic conditions as well as the participants’ diverse origins. This is a book about the intrusion of California and America into French life with the powerful pull of wealth in the form of gold discoveries. They were an attraction that would involve large numbers of French people over three years. They took place at a time of accelerating changes in France that involved the countryside and the cities, the shape of the government and the political principles that defined it, and the future direction of a nation whose people were still, in many ways, regional rather than national in identity. As the title and the five sections of this book suggest, this is a study of the French and the California gold rush set in both France and California. On balance, the emphasis of the study falls in France. It begins with the arrival of the news of the gold discoveries and the response to the news. The response was a mixture of commercial excitement and personal decisions by individuals. The California gold discoveries represented the first French contact with California on a large scale. This study then traces the preparations for emigration to California, the departures from France, the voyages, and the arrivals. Eventually some eighty-three California “companies” were organized as platforms for

Introduction emigration and investment. The French emigrants who made the long voyage landed in San Francisco and marched to the distant goldfields. In both locations, they found themselves confronted by Americans. The relationship between the two groups was complex, a mixture of admiration and assistance on one side and intense competition and friction on the other. Whatever the conditions and circumstances of the encounters, the French held their ground. The first reports in the French newspapers from the California goldfields spoke in awed tones of the great wealth found by ordinary citizens in this world of wide-open opportunity. Gradually, a second cycle of descriptions appeared, this one based on letters from the early French arrivals. These accounts, more immediate for they reflected the experiences of French people, noted the immensity of the landscape in California, the astonishing economic opportunities in many occupations and in many places, and the reality of making one’s way in a strange place surrounded by strange people and a strange language. These reports gave a specific dimension to the heretofore golden outlines available in the press. The emerging news was both exciting and troubling: it indicated a mixture of great opportunity at several levels surrounded by an emerging society that seems to be without structure, law, or restraints of any kind, except for individual weapons. Spurred by such reports, back in France, another cycle of interest and emigration began to take shape. This was bounded, on one side, by a new surge of California companies organized for investment and emigration and, on the other, by the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. This was a great national lottery whose profits would be used to send five thousand French people to California at the expense of the government. Eventually, this official emigration moved some 3,300 French citizens to California. In California a growing sentiment crystallized against foreign miners, especially those who did not speak English. A series of confrontations between the French and the Americans grew out of these rising tensions. That these clashes were, for the most part, resolved peacefully was a reflection on the prompt intercession of outside officials, mixed with the shared knowledge that violence in any form was bad for the mining business, which repaid a continuous application of labor. In the greater measurement of economic benefits, a peaceful settlement and return to work were preferable to a bloody alternative in a land with no government entity to provide hospitals for the wounded or pensions for the disabled. Within California, the emphasis of this book falls on miners and mining. It focuses, therefore, on the goldfields and the gold camps. Of course, there was another dimension of the French presence—namely, in the towns and the



Introduction city of San Francisco. Here the French acted within the context of a growing urban presence. Yet as the cry “the rush to gold” suggests, the focus of French commentators, authors, and artists was on the goldfields, where the real drama of the search for riches was played out. The two words “California” and “gold” remained the passwords for this short but intense interlude in mid-nineteenthcentury France. Throughout, individually and collectively, through the letters and writings of those who came to California, the French attempted to understand and come to terms with the Americans. The future of California was obviously American. But how much of the rest of the Pacific was also squarely in the sights of the Americans, and who was to counter their imperial designs? As the much maligned but still captivating Lottery of the Golden Ingots was laid to rest through the long-anticipated drawing and the departure of seventeen lottery ships, so the last vestiges of this great French presence in California drew to a close in late 1852. By then, the loud roar of the rush to gold had been reduced to a quiet murmur.

Part One


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FRANCE IN 1848 Another World Turned Upside Down


The year 1848 was a momentous twelve months in the life of the French nation, bounded on the one side by the revolution that established the republic and on the other by the election by universal male suffrage of Louis Napoléon Bonaparte as its new president. This year and the events within it would define the outlines of the nation for the next twenty years. The context for these dramatic changes lay in the recent history of the French nation and its responses to major changes in this world. In 1815, France emerged from a quarter-century of revolution and war as the same rural and decentralized nation it had been. Beyond the central feature of Paris and its influence, most French people lived in the countryside or small villages, where they worked the land. The lack of any kind of national transportation system—to be remedied only with the appearance of a railroad network in the 1850s—kept people isolated socially, politically, and economically. Economic exchanges were local, except in rare cases where a major town or city provided an accessible market. The most important influences were the church, the tax collector, and one or more large landowners. Education was minimal; illiteracy, widespread. Regional languages and cultures were a strong influence. Contact with a wider world was minimal, and where it came into play, almost entirely negative. Visitors or officials from a distance were almost always the bearers of bad news. Embedded into life on these small farms and villages was an aura of permanent class distinctions of the highest order. At the top rested a few hundred families, some with titles but all with large landholdings; at the bottom, a large 7


France and seemingly permanent peasant class, doomed to hard work in the fields at all seasons for marginal returns, in a world like that of their parents and grandparents. Further disadvantaging the larger group were local restrictions about hunting, gathering, the use of vacant lands, and continuing tax liabilities. Adding to the influence and command of the few were education and literacy, the capacity to read and understand written documents for business and pleasure and to respond accordingly.1 In 1789, this structure and these privileges had come under attack. Several cycles of revolutionary governments had attempted to modify and then abolish these privileges. As popular movements moved forward to change French society, they were accompanied by an equally fervent and driven opposition, who saw the very foundations of the nation under assault. Some of this opposition was internal; other parts were represented by the thousands who went into exile. One of the noteworthy changes in the lives of the peasantry was the rise of a nationalist fervor that would lead to their widespread recruitment into an army that would fight battles across Europe, eventually into Russia, for twenty years. At the conclusion of the Napoleonic experiment, France was welcomed back into the club of civilized nations, its armies disbanded, its great military victories and losses consigned to history books and memorials, and its government and economy reconstituted in what seemed familiar forms. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna defined the new shape of Europe, to the extent that it was new. Monarchies, including that of France, were restored (as well as they could be), and the long deliberations that closed France’s first great revolutionary period seemed to restore the status quo ante bellum everywhere, but especially in France, which had been defeated. A single noteworthy addition to the French forms of government was the National Assembly, perhaps the most important surviving institution of government from the revolution. The Assembly was elected by limited suffrage and represented the interests of a narrow group of French citizens, but for the first time, it provided a degree of popular expression. The heady principles of the revolution—even its excesses—were kept alive by groups unhappy with the new French nation, which in their eyes was not new but old. Opposition of various kinds lived on in intellectual salons in Paris; in the working-class neighborhoods of Paris, Lille, Lyon, and Rouen; and in some parts of the countryside. This uneasiness emerged in the uprisings of July 1830, when, after fifteen years on the throne, Charles X attempted to increase his authority at the expense of the National Assembly. Turmoil rapidly engulfed Paris, the king abdicated, and two weeks later Louis-Philippe took the oath as

France in 1848 the new King of the French. The Revolution of 1830, as it came to be called by historians, was quick and largely bloodless, especially when contrasted with 1789 and subsequent events of the 1790s. The accession to the throne of Louis-Philippe, the “Bourgeois King,” carried with it, for many, the optimism of a new government with new policies. As it turned out, the new king pursued no basic reforms of the kind republicans had sought. Instead, in his first months on the throne, the king’s ministers mounted attacks on freedom of the press, on the right of association, and on the independence of the National Assembly. These were all fundamental issues for republicans. Of course, the king had inherited several long-standing problems for which he was not directly responsible. These included failures of the harvest, a rise in the cost of living, and food shortages. By the close of his first two years, a strong and determined republican resistance had appeared, and this opposition movement had spread to the working classes. The insurrection in June 1832 was the physical manifestation of this opposition and a strong strain of disillusionment with the new government. That the rebellion was quickly suppressed did not make its brief history less violent and bloody. The troops of the regular army, the National Guard, and the Municipal Guard remained loyal. By the time the last barricades had been taken in the Paris neighborhood of Saint-Antoine, forces loyal to the government had suffered three hundred casualties, including one hundred dead. The numbers of the dead and wounded of the insurgents were not exactly known, but they probably reached four hundred. There were also fifteen hundred prisoners, and their trials kept the issue alive in working-class neighborhoods and in the press. The insurgency had failed, but as in so many cases, the blood and trials would lay the basis of a continuing protest movement. Later uprisings also failed to generate widespread participation, but taken together these continuing outbreaks suggested a nation with many disaffected groups. The king seemed perplexed. He appeared in public on a regular basis, exhibiting considerable personal bravery. Louis-Philippe tried to dilute these turbulent moments with compromises of various kinds. Although he believed in a strong monarchy and censorship, he believed that his personal rule and the devotion of French people to him (represented by the cries of “Vive le Roi!” when he appeared) would diffuse revolutionary sentiments or at least direct them elsewhere. He hoped to govern as a benevolent monarch, supported and even loved by his subjects. As the decade of the 1840s moved forward, various strands came together in a surprising and unexpected way to produce a successful popular uprising. The first of these was the ongoing demand—now under way for more than a



France decade—to broaden the suffrage. Another was a series of economic crises that culminated in widespread harvest failures in 1845 and 1846. The long-suffering peasantry of the villages and countryside found itself hard pressed with the failure of the rural economies. In Paris (with a population of almost one million) and other cities, an industrial depression had filled the streets with the unemployed. The migration of the desperate landless from the countryside increased these numbers. For the first time in a generation, a great mass of French workers in countryside and city found a degree of common cause with the middle-class republicans who had preached so long from their salons and clubs to little or no audience but themselves.2 THE REVOLUTION

Hard times in the countryside generated in France, as elsewhere in Europe, emigration to the towns and cities. Employment was scarce to nonexistent in all these urban places. For the new arrivals, the harsh, closed economy of urban life gave rise to a cry of “the right to work” (le droit du travail). That Frenchmen and Frenchwomen should have the right to gainful employment, however difficult the task and meager the wage, seemed embedded in the principles of the revolution. The presence of large numbers of unemployed worried local officials. The customary institutions of charity and benevolence were quickly overwhelmed. For the largest part of the French population, the most important issue was not the franchise or individual expression or even “the right to work.” Rather, it was the price of bread. The cost of bread and its availability became the benchmarks that led to domestic disturbances. The variables were the harvests and the activities of speculators and merchants. These economic factors made no difference to families in the countryside, small villages, cities, or even Paris. In all these places, individuals and families had to eat, and bread was the staple of every meal. When it was not available, available only in short supply, or priced beyond the means of the ordinary people, widespread protests often appeared. Between 1846 and 1847, the price of wheat doubled. Accordingly, in parallel fashion, discontent appeared among wide segments of the population. The explosion of these discontents into revolutionary fervor happened rapidly and almost by accident. Banquets became a key mechanism in the expression of popular discontent, a device created to evade the censorship associated with public meetings and the press. Reformers scheduled a continuing series of dinner meetings to express their views. They used the banquets to campaign for enlarging the suffrage and to promote the right to work.

France in 1848 The first such banquet was held in Paris in July 1847, and the banquet movement expanded across the nation and became increasingly radical as the demands for relief in the face of economic depression blended with the long-standing demands for suffrage reform. The scuffles between street marchers and the authorities in Paris over the issue of banning a banquet led to a confrontation on the evening of Wednesday, February 23, 1848. With neither the protest crowds nor the soldiers under effective control, the front ranks of the two groups converged and jostled. A shot rang out, and immediately the soldiers fired a volley. The final casualty count, as well as the circumstances of the tragic encounter (who fired first at whom and for what provocation?), was disputed, but some sixty Parisians died. Marchers paraded their bloody bodies through the streets. The demonstrations grew. Barricades of paving stones went up, and leaders urged the crowds to armed resistance. After all, they argued, peaceful marches had led only to a bloody massacre. The next day, all of Paris was in turmoil. The troops, on the streets for fortyeight hours, were withdrawn to the barracks. To the military, the withdrawal was a maneuver to consolidate forces and to issue new orders. To the crowds and their leaders, the withdrawal was a retreat, clear evidence that the government and the military had been intimidated by the power of the assembled citizenry. The government of Louis-Philippe had ceded the streets to the crowds of angry demonstrators. Shortly after noon, the king abdicated in favor of his grandson. It was too late. With the king’s departure—he would go into exile in Great Britain—the crowds surged forward to occupy the important public buildings. The monarchy had fallen. Popular leaders immediately formed a provisional government, which met and proclaimed a republic.3 THE REPUBLIC

This spontaneous popular uprising, later called the Revolution of 1848, had succeeded in toppling the monarchy. Almost literally overnight, France became a republic. The fall of the monarchy was so sudden that even the most ardent republicans were caught unprepared. The provisional government, overjoyed at the success of its uprising and newfound authority, now moved to embed the principles of the new republican form of government into the fabric of the nation. The government that emerged might be characterized as politically radical but socially conservative. Most of the ministries were in the hands of men who had previously served in the National Assembly, albeit in opposition. Many of these men shared a fear of the armed mob in the streets as an instrument of



France change that could not be controlled by thoughtful, responsible leaders. The first measures enacted reflected concern for legality and moderation. Nonetheless, popular pressure forced the adoption of some measures that represented dramatic departures. As the government or the experiment of government moved forward, it had the support of liberal and reformist elements for its potential for a better life; it also had the acquiescence of conservative elements that feared the alternatives. The government immediately created a Ministry of Works and enacted by decree the reforms so long desired by French republicans and so necessary in the face of continuing economic crisis. These included the guarantee of the right to work for citizens, the ten-hour workday (eleven in the provinces), and the creation of national workshops to provide work-relief. The leaders of the new French republic also embarked on a series of fiscal reforms. The main concern was to equalize or at least make sense of the many taxes and duties that fell with special weight upon the poorer elements in the population. The government also wanted to conduct its business in a legal and orderly way. In order to raise financial resources to pay for the new proposals, the government immediately (March 1848) enacted a land tax of 45 centimes to finance the workshops. For people in the countryside, the tax was an outrageous burden. It was the more resented because it was levied by the leaders of the new republican government, which was supposed to safeguard the interests of working people in the cities and small landholders in the countryside. The tax was widely caricatured as an example of the ineptness of the new republican government and the failure of the National Assembly to respond to the fundamental needs of the citizens of the republic. The political reforms were no less dramatic: the death penalty abolished in political trials, freedom of the press and liberty of association guaranteed, and, most significant for republican reformers, the adoption of universal suffrage (in practice, universal male suffrage). Overnight, the number of electors expanded from 250,000 to more than 9,000,000. The new National Assembly completed its revolutionary changes by passing a law that mandated national celebrations each year on February 24, the anniversary of the proclamation of the republic. This day became, by law, a day of national celebration, reflection, or mourning, depending on individual attitudes toward the new form of government. Yet the obligatory ceremonies highlighted the deep and growing internal divisions within the country. As the new government attempted to carry out these remarkable changes, it found itself besieged on one side by divisions within the republican ranks and on the other by growing organized opposition to the idea of France as a republic and fear of the disorder associated with the upheavals of the past several months.

France in 1848 Almost immediately, the nation and its newly enlarged voting rolls confronted the first election. National elections in April 1848 reflected the growing divide between left and right. No organized political parties existed, and the candidates selected themselves. Most of the candidates were well-known names without any very clear sense of platform or principles. The radical reformers of the revolution petitioned to have the elections postponed, but the elections went forward on a wave of energy for the new, enlarged electorate. The results showed a marked absence of national unity. The more conservative candidates had won an overwhelming majority. The republicans had split into factions, and the most radical of these emerged from the elections with a representation reduced in numbers (something on the order of 100 deputies in an assembly of 880) but more radical in its views. Behind these numbers and these platforms hovered the specter of further street violence, outbreaks that were seen as a logical expression of public opinion by radical leaders and as a symbol of chaos and anarchy by the emerging conservative opposition (or the “party of order,” as it liked to be known). Amid this struggle over principles, the new government sponsored costly “national workshops” as part of the commitment to the right to work. The workshops provided a measure of employment to the crowds of unemployed who had surged into Paris. By the middle of May, more than one hundred thousand were at work in these national workshops. In a sense, the workshops represented the hope of the revolution for a mass of workers, especially those who had poured into Paris in search of employment. Whatever the object of the workshops, someone or something must pay to support them, and more than one hundred thousand men at work with a daily stipend added up to a large sum. Whatever the demand in the streets of Paris, it was not long before both taxpayers and local communities (who paid the bills) began to rebel against the ongoing expense. The drift toward resentment was early and strong, even within those communities that made a sincere effort to make the workshops answer individual and community needs. Many opposed them from the start; their opposition grew and attracted additional supporters as the costs spiraled upward and out of control.4 Nor was the opposition to the national workshops growing only in the city of Paris. Local towns across France had joined the national movement to provide workshops for the local unemployed. Whatever the results in diluting hard times, the costs had become a significant issue everywhere. The town of Dieppe opened workshops in March “in order to come to the aid of workers without employment.” In the following four months, according to a notice issued by the mayor, the town had spent 50,000 francs on this enterprise, and the future of the



France town had been mortgaged. These extraordinary expenses “had exhausted [the town’s] last resources.”5 In the face of rising deficits, the National Assembly moved to disband the workshops. A decree issued on June 21 required all those unmarried nonresidents who worked in the Paris workshops to return home or, if under the age of twenty-five, to face obligatory military service. The more radical leaders took their case to the streets. In a sense, this was a choreographed and inevitable tragedy. The leaders had to turn to the streets because it was their only source of power. In doing so, they only confirmed the view of the supporters of “order”—namely, that this faction would lead France to anarchy, chaos, and a bloody future. The abolition of the workshops was the cause of the popular insurrection that immediately followed. That this was an uprising of the poor people of Paris suggested that what they wanted out of the revolution and the republic was not social reform or even political reform but changes that would bring them greater material subsistence for themselves and their families. Barricades went up; working-class quarters were in turmoil. This time the outcome was very different. The government, determined to restore order, brought in loyal troops from the countryside and enlisted a Garde Mobile—a mixture of unemployed young men and the National Guard—to retake control of the city. The momentous events begun in January with a relatively peaceful transformation of the form of government ended in June in four bloody days on the barricades of Paris. In the so-called June Days, the uprising was violently suppressed. Some ten thousand French men and women died on the barricades or in assaults on the barricades; twenty-five thousand were arrested; some eleven thousand were brought before military courts martial; many were executed and imprisoned; and five thousand were deported to penal colonies in Algeria. The bloody “June Days” and the subsequent retributions intensified the deep divisions within French society. The failed insurrection greatly weakened the reform elements associated with the revolution of February and in like fashion weakened the republic itself. In the fall of 1848, there were bitter political feelings throughout France nurtured by the recent violence and large numbers of unemployed, especially in Paris, and many groups were unhappy about the past and uncertain about the future.6 The uneasy quiet that fell in the aftermath of these spasms of violence seemed to highlight the divisions that had emerged over six months of republican government. The rising opposition was to the direction of the nation, which was viewed as moving from republican to radical and for which the principal object lesson was the violent uprising in June. Then, too, there were the divisions between Paris and the major cities of Lyon and Lille, on the one

France in 1848 side, and the vast majority of rural France (la France profonde), on the other. For the peasants who worked the land, the changes of the republic seemed to be indifferent or futile. They had an extra tax to pay; they still tilled someone else’s land. The gulf between their lives and the lives of those in the cities seemed as great as ever. The only different was the sense of failed expectations. THE REACTION

Just as the sudden collapse of the monarchy caught republicans by surprise, so did it confound the conservative opposition. The heady rush of the creation of the republic and the promulgation of its principles seemed to carry all before it. Those in opposition slowly organized. But the force of the republican march confirmed them in their views. The principle of republicanism, reduced to its fundamental strength, was based on the threat of armed mobs in the streets. Whatever differences might appear among conservative groups, they were united in their fear of such popular demonstrations. After all, a parade of armed men and women on the streets without control was only a short step removed from a popular uprising. And a popular uprising provoked memories of 1789. So those in opposition to the republic—or at least the direction the republic had assumed—began to organize. They had ample resources, beginning with major newspapers. They had important public figures to give voice to their views. They also had a range of missteps on the part of the fledgling republican government as examples of mismanagement. Moreover, among many in the countryside and small villages, any expression of authority aroused views from skepticism to downright opposition. The new government inherited severe problems with the economy. Its failure to solve them immediately gave rise to disillusionment among its early supporters. The initial focal points for those in the opposition were the first elections under universal (male) suffrage. Here they had substantial successes. They had the support of major newspapers. They had candidates whose names were well known. This was a new, enlarged electorate without much sophistication in terms of mobilizing popular votes. The new composition of the National Assembly reflected the ascent of the opposition.7 A NEW FRENCH VISION OF A JUST WORLD

Running parallel to the founding of the republic and its economic and political experiments was a new vision of a just world. This was the model proposed by Étienne Cabet in his Voyage to Icaria. Cabet’s book described the model



France of a perfectionist and equal society, and his planned community aroused a response that far outweighed the numbers involved. For his followers, this was the answer to the misery of a France wracked by harvest failures, unemployment, the desertion of the countryside for the uncertain future of the city, and the air of hopelessness that had become a signature of French life for so many. On the other side, critics of Cabet’s equal society raised the cry of an economic upheaval against private property, with its twin specters of “socialism” and (soon) “communism.” Across the broad range of issues that engaged (and sometimes infuriated) politicians, commentators, and editors at the opening of 1849, none generated more heat than Étienne Cabet and his Icarian movement. From the appearance of his Icaria and the subsequent growth of salons and clubs that espoused his views of a cooperative society characterized by economic justice and political participation, Cabet and then his followers became a lightning rod for impassioned commentary on the French scene. For conservatives, those who soon displayed uneasiness, skepticism, and even hostility toward the new republic, Icaria represented a fantasy nightmare that posed an alternative to the drudgery of French peasant life. For liberal reformers and republicans, now in a position of strength for the first time in a generation, Icaria represented a future with a prospect of an unheard of economic justice and a high degree of democratic participation in shaping the direction of the new colony. In practical terms, the Icarian movement seemed directed toward a landless peasantry, trapped in an endless cycle of static labor. That it drew some of its most vocal supporters from the cities, especially Paris, gave it the air of unreality associated with communal enterprises focused on land and agriculture that attracted liberal reformers who were generally strangers to hard physical labor. As the Icarian movement gained converts and laid plans to establish a visionary colony in America, so too did the opposition to it. NEWS OF THE CALIFORNIA GOLD DISCOVERIES

It was in this fall interlude of 1848 that news of the discovery of gold in California reached France through the combination of a French diplomat and an elected American official. The French diplomat was Jacques Moerenhout, the consul at Monterey. In October 1848, he wrote an account of the gold discoveries to the French admiral commanding the Pacific Squadron, who forwarded the news to the headquarters of the navy at Bordeaux. At about the same time, several officers in the Pacific Squadron sent letters to their families in France with the same news. If these reports were to be believed,

France in 1848 astonishing discoveries of immense wealth had been made in the quiet, pastoral former Spanish colony of Alta California, now part of the new continental American nation.8 The American official who confirmed these improbable stories was President James K. Polk. When the president delivered his annual address to Congress on December 5, 1848, he used the occasion to authenticate the discovery of gold in America’s newest western possession. Paris newspapers published Polk’s address in mid-December. Their responses acknowledged that his speech had validated the unlikely rumors that had circulated for a month, but many French editors continued to discount the stories as the usual American exaggeration. The Siècle noted that the American political scene was dominated by the issue of slavery, but the new gold discoveries were heavily covered in American newspapers: “Another subject occupies the American press [as much as slavery]: c’est la Californie.” Every American newspaper, the Siècle continued, had five or six full columns “of descriptions or accounts.” By the second week in January 1849, even the most cautious French editors had acknowledged the presence of gold in quantities in California. “The discoveries made by the Americans . . . of gold mines of great richness, are of an importance that is impossible to contest,” confirmed the Journal des Débats. A month later, the Journal reprinted J. Tyrwhitt-Brooks’s account of the goldfields. At the same time, the Constitutionnel offered its readers “Les Chercheurs d’Or du Sacramento.”9 Gold fever, California, and Sacramento had entered the vocabulary of French life. The discovery of gold in California and the subsequent spread of the news intersected Étienne Cabet and his utopian experiment in direct ways. That Cabet intended to pursue his dream in America brought the United States under increasing scrutiny by some groups. News of Cabet’s disastrous first experiment in Texas appeared in the French newspapers almost coincidentally with the news of gold in California. To many French observers, the two were symbolically linked through the common landscape of the United States. In this view, Cabet’s experiment was a fantasy based on a complete misunderstanding of human nature or, more to the point, crafted in such a way as to deceive honest, hard-working French peasants. The discoveries of gold in California, in parallel, were also a fantasy, created by the press (or, for those of a more conspiratorial bent, by the American government itself) to lure large numbers of bright-eyed immigrants to a remote, sterile, and alien landscape. That this landscape had been so recently acquired by the Americans in an aggressive war of conquest made the news of gold in connection with its recent acquisition all the more suspicious. After all, James Marshall had



France discovered gold on January 24, 1848; the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding the northern third of Mexico to the United States, was signed ten days later, on February 2, 1848. Thus, the widespread and growing mania for gold was clearly a carefully orchestrated campaign to flood the newly acquired California with immigrants from all over the world, especially with newcomers from the eastern United States. As a result, the western anchor of the new continental American empire would be firmly in place. California was simply another successful chapter in American imperial designs. The discovery of gold and its universal appeal was simply another example of manipulation of the newspaper press, bounded on the one side by an abiding belief in national destiny (as represented by the idea of “Manifest Destiny”) and on the other by the excessive, exaggerated, irresponsible qualities of the American press, or “American puff,” as it was known to French observers. That gold had been discovered in California was entirely possible, or so ran the argument. That gold was available in large quantities was improbable; that gold was available to everyone was impossible. THE YEAR 1848 CLOSES: A NEW CONSTITUTION AND A NEW PRESIDENT

Beyond the discovery of gold in a distant place and a French plan for a just society, two issues of great importance faced the French citizens of the new republic. The first of these was the adoption of a new constitution. The debate began with the proclamation of the republic in February. It continued through the spring and summer, through the first elections with universal suffrage, and across the dark and bloody “June Days.” The strength of the insurrection and the resources necessary to repress it confirmed to many that the republic needed a strong government. The constitution of the new republic that emerged in November 1848 was an inevitable compromise. Still, it embodied many of the basic principles of the revolution, including the weaving of the republic into the fabric of French life, the expansion of the franchise, the principle of the right to work, and a declaration of the basic rights of man. As such, the new constitution proclaimed the spirit and principles of the revolution. Accordingly, the constitution and the republic were opposed in many quarters, and the opposition was immediate and unrelenting. The second issue was the presidential election of December 1848. This election was mandated by the recently enacted constitution. It reflected the compromises of this document. In fashioning a framework for a new government, the authors shared the growing uneasiness associated with the

France in 1848 factionalism in the National Assembly and the raucous and uninhibited elections associated with universal suffrage. The solution was a government headed by a strong executive, or president, who could control local factionalism. As it turned out, the framers of the constitution had the popular election they wanted but not the result they expected. The run-up to the election was intense, and it captured far more attention because of the provision of universal suffrage under the new constitution. Three of the many candidates commanded most of the popular attention. The first was Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, a longtime leading figure on the left. A man of great personal charm and a substantial personal fortune (acquired through marriage with his English wife), he had served on the original committee that established the republic, and he was minister of interior in the first provisional government. He was regularly returned to the National Assembly with a large popular vote. The second candidate was General Louis-Eugène Cavignac, who, as minister of war, used his authority to suppress the popular uprisings of June. He was considered a proven candidate of the party of “order.” The third was Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoléon I. The younger Bonaparte had been active against the government for a decade or more, even imprisoned upon one occasion. He was independent in outlook, with views on the issues of the day that were largely unknown. His resignation from the National Assembly endeared him to those who thought that body a useless exercise in debate. In the run-up to the election, he wrapped himself in a well-financed campaign that emphasized a single dominant theme: his name. On December 10, 1848, the Second Republic took a decided and, for most republicans, unanticipated turn. The final vote count was Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, 5,434,000 (74 percent); Louis-Eugène Cavignac, 1,448,000 (20 percent); and Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, 370,000 (5 percent). Louis Napoléon Bonaparte had won a decisive (even overwhelming) victory. There was a certain irony in his huge majority. The republicans had fought for a generation for the expansion of the electorate. With the success of the revolution and the founding of the republic, their wish had come true. French male citizens clearly enjoyed their newfound suffrage, and they voted in overwhelming numbers for a familiar name. For those on the side of “order,” December 10 became a day of celebration in which the nation had been redeemed from its downward spiral.10 As the nation exhaled, the political future was in the hands of an unknown with the best-known name in France and little else certain about him. And into this breathing space came news that the rumors of gold in California might very well be true. This rebirth of interest produced an outpouring of enthusiasm like that in other countries around the world. On January 13, 1849, the first notice



France appeared of a planned French emigration to California. The sailing ship La Meuse departed for San Francisco on February 15, 1849. After a long but uneventful voyage of seven months, it anchored in the harbor at San Francisco on September 14, 1849, and immediately disembarked the first fifty French Forty-Niners.11




In May 1848, Jacques Moerenhout, the French consul in Monterey, wrote to the minister of foreign affairs, “The most important new discovery, and [the one] which just now is causing the most excitement, is that of a gold placer, which is found on the plain of the Sacramento near New Helvetia. This deposit or placer, it is said, is more than twenty leagues in length and of a considerable width. The gold is found in flakes in a sort of loose alluvial soil. This deposit is as rich as the richest placers of Sonora, in Mexico.” Moerenhout, as a professional diplomat, was charged with conveying accurate information to his superiors in Paris, and, accordingly, he intended to visit the sites himself so that he might report firsthand “with exact details” on this startling new development that had come to dominate life in Alta California.1 Moerenhout’s tour through the “gold country” took twenty-four days. He began on July 11 at the eastern edge of the San Joaquin River Valley, crossed the river, and moved to French Camp (named for French Canadian trappers).2 In the low, swampy areas, he and his companions suffered from the “absolutely unbearable” heat at midday and from the clouds of mosquitoes, so thick as to make the horses almost unmanageable. Pushing on, they passed through the “Dry Diggings” (mining with little or no water for immediate use) and stopped at French Camp, where Moerenhout and his companions received “a hearty welcome, and considering where we were, a good supper.” At this point in the expedition, Moerenhout’s companions left him for three or four days and joined the miners to dig and wash. The mining district, between the American and Consumnes Rivers, had been the site of mining since early June, or for about 21


France six weeks. The original discoverers, according to Moerenhout, made from two to three hundred dollars a day with only a crowbar and a knife. When news of the astonishing returns circulated, in less than a week some 800–1,000 miners had appeared from the American River. Most of the miners lived and worked in groups, Moerenhout continued, already using what would become known as the “cradle.” This simple but effective machine—four men were necessary to work it efficiently—could wash a ton of gravel in three to four hours, with a ton yielding between sixteen and twenty-five ounces, and sometimes as much as thirty ounces. As the water levels declined, the hours of operating the machine declined in direct proportion, and the daily earnings fell to three to four ounces. The pace of work was frantic as “the workmen were swarming there like so many ants.” At some sites, miners “equipped only with their knives and little iron bars, do not wash the dirt at all but simply gather the visible grains and pieces that they find.” The crowds reflected the richness of the diggings, and “the miners . . . could scarcely move about”; with “the abundance of gold there was something marvelous.” Already Moerenhout remarked on the exhausting physical labor associated with digging and washing for gold, and his companionsturned-miners found the work so exhausting that they stopped at noon. His friends “were all bathed in sweat,” but they were more than satisfied with the gold harvest and determined that they would not leave until they each had two or three thousand dollars. Moerenhout concluded his observations that in these diggings, the average daily return for each miner was at least three to four ounces.3 Moerenhout remarked on the different mining patterns among the Americans, the Californians, and the French. “The Americans come in carts,” he wrote, “bringing all provisions and everything necessary for a trip or for the time that they intend to be away, have no expenses except for fresh meat, which, strictly speaking, they can do without. Some, bringing wives and children with them, take their meals at regular hours and live almost as they would at home. The Californians and the Frenchmen, on the other hand, come on horseback, bring provisions for only a few days and eat poorly, irregularly and at random, and are obliged to leave after a short time or to buy provisions at exorbitant prices.” These differences were reflected in the level of wealth. “The American,” he continued, “better equipped and more persevering, does not return until he has amassed quite a considerable sum, rarely less than three or four thousand dollars, whereas the Californian, obliged to return for lack of provisions and less avid or more careless of the future, comes back after a week or two with seldom more than eight to twelve hundred dollars.”4

News of Discoveries Spreads in France Moerenhout then went to Coloma, the site of James W. Marshall’s original discoveries some six months earlier. He observed that miners worked on the American River at a distance from one another, with not more than 250–300 people on the “whole extent of the river.” The modest numbers testified to the vast extent of the gold-bearing region and the few miners involved at this early date. Perhaps they also reflected the smaller returns, which Moerenhout estimated at one to one and one-half ounces rather than twice that number in the “Dry Diggings.” Moerenhout then turned north toward the Feather River, where he found many Indians at work, most of these “directed by Americans who, having farms in the vicinity, can easily obtain Indians.” At this point, fatigued by a hard journey of ten days, constantly in the saddle or walking across rocky and often wet landscapes, he decided to retrace his steps and return to Monterey. He had examined the principal mining sites over eighty miles from the Consumnes to the Feather Rivers, although he admitted that the goldbearing region surely extended farther to the north. He concluded that in the fewer than three months of active mining, more than $4 million in gold had been taken from the mining sites by an average of 1,700 miners, although the composition of the miners continually changed.5 Finally, Moerenhout described the impact of the gold discoveries on “the condition and character of the people of this country”: Upper California was a place of abundance and fertility. Thus, he wrote, “there had never been any poor in the true sense of the word.” Still, he continued, “it was a place where money was almost unknown. It functioned with a barter economy, including the trade in hides and tallow with eastern merchants in the United States. Rare were those individuals who possessed as much as five hundred or a thousand dollars.” All this had changed in the most dramatic kind of way, for “now the lowliest, the most unfortunate among them, finds himself in possession of that much or of a much greater sum, obtained overnight and with such ease that it seems of little importance to him and he parts with it with indifference and prodigality.” As for the Americans, they “seem all to come back with the same disposition, spend extravagantly, throw away gold by the handful and assume the air of prodigious importance and generosity.” Moerenhout returned to Monterey to find the town deserted. All the men, Californians and foreigners, had left for the mines; even soldiers and officers had deserted.6 In the course of his tour, Moerenhout had observed the various mining techniques; acquired samples of gold in various forms; and spoken at length with miners, merchants, and officials. His subsequent letters were simply an amplification of his earlier observations, with specific attention to the growing number of miners from around the world. “The quantity of gold in the hands of



France Californians and foreign inhabitants is incalculable,” he wrote. “Judging from this state of affairs it is probable that for a long time yet this country will be an excellent market for ships coming from Europe.” If the French were to profit from commerce, he continued, they must move rapidly to inject themselves into the commercial scene of Upper California. The French were an experienced commercial people, and they had products in demand in California (especially wines and brandies), but France was distant from California. Moerenhout urged the ministry that French commercial interests move aggressively.7 Moerenhout finished his long report on August 17, 1848, and he conveyed it to the ministry by way of a Chilean ship departing that day. When the letter arrived at the Quai d’Orsay about the middle of January 1849, the French government was in possession of the most complete information available about the gold region in Upper California. The consul’s observations, based on his journey of four weeks, accurately described the extent and location of the gold country as it was then known, the mining techniques and individual returns for mining in different mining districts, and the condition of the varied landscape, with special attention to the agricultural opportunities in the interior valleys. As noted, Moerenhout also analyzed the commercial opportunities available for French companies. In many respects, his report was superior to that of Colonel Richard Mason, whose detailed account of his tour of the goldfields chronicled the experiences of American miners by a high-ranking American official. Mason’s report to the adjutant general in Washington (with samples of gold) created a sensation when it reached the eastern United States. Moerenhout had done his job with great skill and promptness; it now remained to be seen whether the French would profit from his insightful report. UNOFFICIAL REPORTS

The village of San Francisco had two newspapers, and its press soon trumpeted the news of the gold discoveries. The first notice appeared in the California Star under the date March 15, 1848. Newspapers in other towns from Honolulu to Valparaiso, Lima, and Sydney gradually became aware of the same reports, for much of the early information consisted of copies of the San Francisco papers, carried or mailed to friends and other editors. The spread of the news also reflected what editors chose to print and their attitudes toward these improbable accounts of ordinary citizens harvesting gold nuggets from streambeds and even from the open ground. To these sources of information must be added the letters and reports from government officials. That these

News of Discoveries Spreads in France sometimes appeared in print and sometimes not depended on what editors saw as the interests of a particular town and region. For the English-speaking world outside California, the leading sources were the New York Herald and the Times of London. The New York Herald was the foremost large-circulation American paper, and it reflected what would become a common cycle in moving from indifference to skepticism to acceptance to frenzy. Indeed, the Herald would become the journalistic center of gold mania, and the range of its national reputation would put the gold discoveries at the head of columns of local newspapers across the eastern half of the continent, from Boston to St. Louis, from Detroit to New Orleans. The Herald was also an early and significant voice in identifying the possible commercial bonanzas that would accompany the mass movement to the goldfields.8 The Times of London initially took a more careful position. Yet it too would succumb to a significant degree to the reports of wealth in distant California. By December 1848, the Times had joined the chorus—albeit in muted tones—of those who accepted the presence of large quantities of gold in California and searched through a variety of columns for ways to turn these discoveries to individual and national advantage.9 There was a third important paper in the spread of news about the gold discoveries to France and Europe. It was a French-language newspaper published in New York City that served as a conduit of news across the Atlantic— in both directions. The Courrier des États-Unis strongly supported France, French national interests, and French culture. The Courrier applauded the revolution of February 1848 and the establishment of a republic, but at the same time, the struggles of the new republican government, with its uncertainties and the looming echoes of the terror of 1792, cast the paper as conservative on social and economic issues. The paper quoted with approval Alexandre Dumas’s (father) catalogue of the three sacred touchstones of French life: country, family, and property. The Courrier hinted that the new government, especially in the aftermath of the April 1848 elections, would attack “these three roots of French life.”10 The paper supported the position of “Citizen Louis Napoléon,” including his resignation from the National Assembly. It constantly praised the vitality of French life, especially Paris life. Parisians of all classes thronged to the streets to seek distractions, pleasures, wonders, an emotional outlet at all hours of the day and night. There, the boulevards served as a stage for public theater, what the Courrier called “the theater of asphalt.”11 News of the gold discoveries in California appeared in the Courrier on November 30, 1848, on the eve of the French presidential election. The source was a letter from Monterey, dated September 15, from a ship captain to a



France commercial house in New York City. He wrote of the discovery of gold mines on the Sacramento, in response to which the inhabitants of California had been seized by a kind of collective vertigo. There was, however, a practical issue: the captain’s crew had deserted, leaving him with nine hundred barrels of merchandise to unload and not a single laborer in all of Upper California available at any price. The Courrier’s subsequent reports were sober and measured. In the middle of December, the Courrier reproduced a letter from the director of the Philadelphia Mint affirming the purity of the gold samples from California. The same day, the paper noted that some sixty to seventy ships were set to depart from East Coast harbors—from Boston to Baltimore—for the country of gold. The Courrier summarized the situation in terms that echoed other New York papers: the mines of California dominated the dreams of everyone; the population of San Francisco had declined precipitously as its inhabitants deserted the town for the goldfields; all stores now had scales to weigh gold being used in payment for goods and services. Throughout its coverage, the Courrier tried to maintain a degree of objective analysis in a world that seemed to be rapidly losing any semblance of this quality.12 PARIS: MANY VOICES JOIN THE CHORUS

Any important issue in French life was first announced, analyzed, and judged by the newspapers in Paris. It was understood that Paris newspapers would give careful consideration to questions of national importance and pass judgment on them. From this center, the news of gold spread to distant cities, towns, and the countryside. In the closing months of 1848 and the opening months of 1849, Paris newspapers presented a broad mosaic not so much of French life as of Parisian life. There were well-established dailies published for a half century or more; there were new papers published for six months in response to the creation of the new republic, for with the success of the revolution in February 1848, press censorship disappeared. Indeed, new newspapers appeared every week, reflecting the principles of the revolution and the republic. Paris newspapers were, by turns, serious and playful, aloof and catty, and through the early months of 1849, more and more intensely political. Of the long-established Parisian dailies, the most significant were the Siècle, the Constitutionnel, and the Presse. Each had a circulation of more than twentyfive thousand, the numbers driven up by a new strategy of reducing the prices of subscriptions in the interests of raising circulation. Closely behind this group was the Journal des Débats, followed by Illustration (an illustrated weekly), and

News of Discoveries Spreads in France several publications devoted to humor and caricature. The most important of this last group were Charivari, Journal pour Rire, and Silhouette. Paris was also the publication origin for three journals of business and law, two significant areas of professional life in Paris and France at mid-century: the Gazette des Affaires, the Phare Commercial, and the Gazette des Tribunaux.13 The Paris newspapers were initially extremely skeptical of the news of gold in California. The gold strikes were too rich and too accessible to be believed. They were also too American. French newspapers long had reservations about the reliability of the American press, whose items they sometimes reported as much for amusement as for news. Accordingly, they considered the earliest reports of widespread availability of gold as the usual “puff” associated with American journalism. In the eyes of French editors, their American counterparts created fantasies to entertain their readers; where such fantasies might have a basis in fact, they exaggerated them. Thus stories of gold discoveries in California were initially distrusted by the Parisian press, and, accordingly, it fell to French editors to examine news from America and to protect the French reading public from such exaggerations and even downright deceptions. The first notice of the gold discoveries in a French newspaper appeared in the Journal des Débats in November 1848. “It seems that mineral deposits of great value have been discovered; everyone speaks of gold mines, of fabulous riches awaiting only the hands of the miners to be picked up. Whether true or false, exaggerated or not, these rumors seem to have powerfully aroused public imagination.”14 From this time, the news of California and gold began to appear on a regular basis. The leading Paris dailies all gave the gold discoveries extensive coverage. The single event that triggered widespread acceptance of the news, as noted in chapter 1, was President James K. Polk’s address to Congress on December 5, 1848. French officials and editors paid attention to public pronouncements by an American president, especially as they reflected foreign affairs. That Polk’s address coincided in its proximity to the French presidential election guaranteed that it would receive extensive press coverage. The Siècle carefully analyzed the address as the news arrived in France some three weeks later. Polk noted that the discovery of gold, in the aftermath of the conquest of California, had been confirmed “by the authentic reports of public officials who have visited the mineral district in order to make personal observations.” In its analysis of noteworthy events at the end of the year, the Siècle observed that news from California had begun to dominate American newspapers: “There was not a single American newspaper that did not devote five or six columns to it, along with numerous announcements of the expeditions planned for the country of gold.”15



France In late December, French newspapers began the transition from doubt to acceptance to unbridled enthusiasm. Some joined the chorus early and seemingly without reservation. The Siècle headlined its coverage on the last day of 1848: “It’s California! It’s California! California is Theater!”16 Thus, the editors of the Siècle captured the sense that California was a stage on which larger-thanlife dramas were unfolding. Like other dramas on the stage, those who would understand the impact of the gold discoveries must suspend rational analysis and open themselves to the possibility of something entirely new, something so dramatically different as to involve almost a new dimension of life’s experiences. The Constitutionnel offered another explanation. Its initial response to Polk’s message of the California gold discoveries was to view it in the larger context of American imperial designs. Through prosperity and growth now extended for sixty years, the American nation had acquired a degree of vanity in the administration of its affairs. So President Polk, observed the Constitutionnel, could not resist the temptation to give European governments a lesson in foreign affairs. But there was another lesson to be addressed to Europe, the Constitutionnel concluded—namely, that contrary to popular views, a republic, even a federal republic like the United States, was perfectly capable of undertaking a war of conquest in its national interest. The message of the president about California showed how the Americans had made themselves masters of their new conquests. At the close of its analysis, the paper quoted from Polk’s account of the “famous gold mines whose discovery has had such repercussions.”17 The responses of the Journal des Débats, a newspaper with an international reputation, reflected those of the Paris press. The first mention of California gold in France appeared in the Journal on November 15, 1848. After a period of doubt and uncertainty, the newspaper offered these conclusions in early January: “The discoveries which have come to the Americans, scarcely in possession of California, on the banks of the Sacramento, of gold mines of great richness, have an importance that is impossible to contest. It is henceforth beyond a doubt that in a great number of places in this valley the exploitation of gold is possible with extraordinary success. . . . The richness of the ore beds in California seems to surpass all that has been known up to this day.” On February 14, 1849, an editorial in the Journal summed up the wide-ranging influence of the gold discoveries on economic and social questions and the new significance of the Pacific Coast in affairs: “The most remarkable development of our age, in the field of material progress, is beyond any contradiction the discovery and exploitation of the goldfields of California.”18 The other large Paris daily newspapers covered the California gold discoveries with a rising crescendo of interest in January. The Presse noted that in the New

News of Discoveries Spreads in France Year, three subjects dominated the American press: California, Congress, and cholera. One newspaper pronounced that “there was no doubt that the age of gold had returned.” By the end of the month, some prominent Paris newspapers suggested that the stories were indeed “no exaggeration.” The Pays offered this summary: “The golden riches of this country are inexhaustible.” Over the course of the month, “discovery” had become “acceptance,” and “acceptance” was moving toward “fever.” By the middle of January, the word “fever” was often used. Illustration captured the impact of the news and its effect on a wide range of different groups of people with the comment, “The frenzy comes nearer and nearer.” Finally, “The worker renounces his machine; the laborer his plow, the merchant his counting house. ho! for california. Forward! Forward!”19 The Paris press found much to marvel at in gold rush California: the disappearance of a servant class; the rise in wages to extraordinary levels for the most menial kind of work; the transition of California from an economy based on credit and small notes of indebtedness to a cash economy almost literally overnight; the desertion from their duty posts of officials at every level, including soldiers, sailors, and even officers from the army and navy.20 Other papers also noted the spread of the gold fever to Paris—indeed, to the working-class districts of Paris. One account spoke of the appearance of a visible representation in Paris: “gold mines. This is the magic title on the posters on the walls of Paris.”21 Another raised the political implications: “California! California! This is the cry that is heard from all the parties of European democracies in 1848. . . . Ships leave every port bound for California. Here, in the Faubourg Montmartre, a great concourse of citizens crowds before a poster of a ship leaving L’Havre for this modern El Dorado.” But the price of passage—F 1,500—placed it beyond the reach of “the good republicans.”22 The California gold rush had intruded into French politics. Amid the rising voices marking the transition of Paris newspapers from the clinical analysis of discovery to that of willing participants in the growing epidemic of gold fever, one newspaper tried to preserve a sense of order, decorum, and distance. This exception was the Moniteur Universel, a quasi-official voice of the French government sent free every day to bureaucrats and officials of the government at many levels. The masthead of the paper called it the “Official Newspaper of the French Republic.”23 The reports of the gold discoveries in California that made their way into print in the Moniteur may be said to represent a kind of official voice of the French government’s view and its evolution over the first four months of 1849. It was in this crucial period that French officials, commercial houses, and private individuals received



France increasingly detailed accounts of affairs in California. Not surprisingly, these accounts and their presentation initially differed in detail and in tone, gradually assuming a degree of consensus by the end of the four months. The Moniteur’s initial approach was brisk and businesslike. The first notices, in early January, noted the arrival of a large shipment of gold powder in Valparaiso. These were followed, within a week, by accounts of English companies organized to exploit the prospects in the goldfields. These ventures were “speculation” but reflected a degree of acceptance of the rumors coming out of Alta California. Later accounts in the Moniteur described the impact of the gold discoveries on the American military presence, citing American commodore Thomas Jones’s letter to the effect that the presence of gold had raised the prospect of massive desertions from American naval vessels.24 In the last two weeks of February, the Moniteur published two extended columns that seemed to set the tone for official French reaction to the gold discoveries. The first of these appeared under the heading “Commercial Documents” and began with a detailed analysis of the enormous expansion of the boundaries of the American nation by the annexation of Texas and the results of the American war against Mexico. This account then went on to analyze the spreading stories of gold in California: “The metallic riches of California occupy at this moment all spirits and turn every head.” That the presence of such mineral riches was not longer open to doubt represented a degree of official acceptance. The Americans, in pursing the “kind of colonization which has been so fruitful on the North American continent, have opened lines of communication and emigration from eastern ports through Valparaiso to the West Coast.” The result was a new stimulation to commerce in the Pacific by way of the shores of the American continent, to the Sandwich and Society Islands, and eventually to China.25 A second letter in the Moniteur, dated January 10, described the organization of a French company to take advantage of these commercial opportunities. This account reflected the idea of a direct French national interest in the gold discoveries. The detailed organization of this venture was intended to assure its success. It would be made up of an “expert in refining,” two merchants, a civil engineer with a knowledge of California soils, a mechanic, a carpenter, a cook, and three trusted associates. Instead of going to the goldfields by way of San Francisco, the official leaders of this small colony would cross Mexico, while the materials necessary for the expedition—machines, tents, food— would be shipped around Cape Horn to San Francisco. The intention was to establish a permanent official commercial presence whose object was to refine

News of Discoveries Spreads in France gold, but once on the ground, it would have the capacity to found a commercial establishment directed toward common interests.26 These plans were amplified a week later in the Moniteur’s second column with a long and detailed listing of the cargoes headed to the California ports, as well as information about agriculture and the future commercial prospects of California. The article warned of the American tariffs that would be vigorously imposed and urged captains and shippers to have the proper documents in order. For the moment, those items that would sell the best and with the greatest certainty of profit would be “the wines from Champagne and Bordeaux and others, brandy and liqueurs . . . and a wide range of clothing for men (summer and winter) and women.” These are the needs of “a population . . . incapable of delivering any labor other than that associated with the extraction of gold.”27 The document then added a cautionary note about the nature of immigration then under way to California—namely, “that the riches of California will be principally exploited by the people of the United States.” And these people exhibit the well-developed “activity and entrepreneurial spirit of the AngloAmerican race.” With these guidelines, the ministry of commerce had analyzed the outlines of California’s future economic development and the most promising role for French commercial interests. At the same time, the document noted the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans, forces now directed toward California and the potential of large-scale trade with China.28 Within the next two weeks, the Moniteur had shifted its emphasis from largescale commercial opportunity to the details of daily life for individual miners in digging and washing for gold. The contrast was striking. These meticulous and detailed descriptions of life in the goldfields were the best in any French newspaper at the time, and their authenticity was far stronger than the widely read accounts published in the larger French dailies. The source of the Moniteur’s accounts was the diary of a visitor to the gold sites, presented in the form of a series of letters, still listed under the heading “Commercial Documents.”29 After a brief account of the “Dry Diggings,” the author described his travel down the American River, where gold was found in every site with running water. In a visit to a small valley, his party found “tents, wagons, horses, cattle and soon a multitude of men at work. Some dug in the ravines separated by several hills, others carried or washed the dirt; it was a continuous movement, comparable to that in a large city.” His tour now brought him into contact with French miners. It was, “one could say, a French camp,” where “at daybreak, everything was in motion. Men moved on foot or on horseback, burdened by pickaxes, spades, and shovels to dig the ground, the others to carry. Almost no one remains in camp.” In the mining operations, four men would work a



France machine, digging, carrying, washing, up to two tons a day. Yet the gold harvest came at a price. The work was extremely hard, especially from nine or ten in the morning to three in the afternoon, for the heat was excessive. “In spite of these conditions, throughout where I went, from hill to hill, I found a crowd of people at work. In some places the most renown for their richness, the miners were so numerous that they could scarcely dig. . . . And when one finds one of these ‘bonanzas,’ as they are called here, everyone rushes there; there, one day, an hour suffices sometimes to make a small fortune.”30 The second half of this diarist’s account was a description of the towns that he visited: San Francisco, Yerba Buena, and Benicia. He observed that for all its growth and ambitions, San Francisco was almost deserted: “It had lost threefourths of its population, the largest part of its houses are empty, all work has ceased, and, everywhere, one could find neither carpenters, nor joiners, nor blacksmiths, nor any workers to perform the slightest labor. They had all left for ‘the Placer,’ where they will become too rich and too independent to resume the work of their professions.”31 The first break in this universal search for gold was the local festival of Santa Clara, when a flood of miners returned from the mines to the pueblo of San Jose for eight days of celebration. Some five hundred miners carried an average of one thousand dollars each. They instantly emptied the shelves in all the boutiques and stores. The author concluded with an insightful description of the ways in which the gold harvest had changed the character of the population. “The extraordinary changes occasioned by this state and the character of the people of this country by the discovery of gold in the soil are hard to understand. The poor, that is to say, the people really in need, no longer exist in Upper California. With the abundance of livestock and the extreme fertility of the soil, food is not lacking for anyone, but money was almost unknown.” This economy was based on the exchange of hides and tallow, and it was rare for anyone to have in his possession from five hundred to one thousand dollars. “Today, to the contrary, the poorest among them possesses a similar sum or something much larger, obtained in an instant, and with such an ease that it seems of little importance, and which he then separates and dispenses with indifference and prodigality.” This astonishing rearranging of the traditional class structure of Upper California was one of the most remarkable by-products of the early months of the gold discoveries.32 A final step in the preliminary accounts of the gold rush in the Moniteur was one of the most unusual. In response to the “many inexact versions” in circulation about California and its golden rivers and valleys, the minister of commerce authorized several travelers engaged in commercial speculations or scientific

News of Discoveries Spreads in France explorations to correspond with the ministry with a view to transmitting to the minister documents and information that would be judged of an interesting nature. It was understood, of course, that such an authorization did not confer any official status.33 Still, it was a revealing request and a reflection of the official interest of the French government and its search for reliable information. THE CHORUS OF GOLD ECHOES ACROSS FRANCE

Paris newspapers, significant as they were, represented only one dimension (albeit a very important one) of a thriving newspaper presence across France. French journalism came in a variety of forms and variations at mid-century. These included more than forty papers published in Paris. In addition, there were multiple dailies in the major cities, a strong journalistic presence in the ports, with a commercial dimension, and other newspapers of varying size and interest across France that promoted local and regional interests. The spread of the news of gold in California across France reflected the scope of French journalism, with its subdivision of newspapers according to size, place, and regional interests. The large cities of Lyon (234,000), Marseille (198,000), Bordeaux (131,000), and Rouen (100,000) each had daily newspapers organized around political ideology. This focus on politics extended across the nation. It was diluted (if that was possible) in the port cities, where the emphasis was often on economic opportunity associated with trade. So Nantes, Dunkerque, Le Havre, and Cherbourg had common interests and a degree of competition among themselves. Small cities and towns saw the news of the gold discoveries as reflected in local interests. In one respect, there was a degree of unanimity among this diverse group of French newspapers: they almost universally took their cue on the legitimacy of the gold discoveries from the Paris papers. When the papers in the capital city (and the word “capital” had a strength and resonance in France unlike that in the United States) decreed, the editors in other French towns, ranging from cities to villages, accepted their judgments. The major Paris dailies were generally regarded as true and sufficient gatekeepers. So from the middle of January 1849, the California gold discoveries were accepted as a fact on the international scene, and the question was what this new economic bonanza would mean for local people at various levels. French newspapers buttressed the astonishing details from the great Paris papers with a selective publication of other sources. For example, in the first months of 1849, many papers published excerpts from the report of Governor Colonel Richard Mason.34 Among the other sources cited was the



France correspondence of Thomas Larkin, the American consul in California, and an early published account by Bayard Taylor, a journalist from the New York Herald, both of which also appeared in some French newspapers in 1849.35 At least two French papers published the journal of J. Tyrwhitt-Brooks, an English medical doctor, who described in detail his visit to the goldfields in mid–1848.36 French newspapers supplemented the state papers, reports, and published accounts with some of the many letters that were written over the six months after the first reports of California gold. The first letters were written in the fall of 1848, and they originated in the places where reports of gold first surfaced and spread. One of the most widely cited early letters, dated October 26, 1848, was from Mazatlan and was written by a French ship’s captain to the shipowner in Bordeaux. His opening words: “This port has an excited response to the news of the gold in California.” Published in late December, this letter would make its way from Bordeaux across France.37 A second widely reprinted letter from the early months of the gold discoveries was the work of M. Henri Carey, a junior officer on board the Poursuite, a French naval vessel in the Pacific waters. Carey wrote, “All the world is leaving for California; it is a real fever. One only encounters these words: ‘When do you leave?’ ” Carey went on to describe the goldfields as 175 miles from San Francisco and some 300 miles in length. He recounted the cycle of desertion from an English ship: five men deserted; an officer sent ten men to find them; then he dispatched twenty men and two officers; finally five officers and the chaplain, who was still on board, were included in the search. All remained in the goldfields.38 With the first wave of French Argonauts en route to California, letters appeared from ports of call. The first common origin was Panama. The continuing surge of prospective gold miners across the narrow causeway connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific engaged a wide range of prospective French correspondents. The numbers were the greater because of delays in finding passage up the West Coast, a situation that generated both leisure and unhappiness. An outpouring of letters met both needs. The first French Argonauts crossed Panama in the spring of 1849, and the early reports date from these travelers. The most widely quoted of the Panama letters was the work of Emmanuel D’Oliveira, who crossed the isthmus in May 1849. His letter, which first appeared in mid-July 1849, described in detail the hardships and expense of crossing the isthmus.39 For those who went to California by way of Cape Horn, the first point of contact was the stop in Valparaiso, Chile. After the physical stresses of the cape, the harbor at Valparaiso was a welcome sight, fondly remembered by the

News of Discoveries Spreads in France arriving Argonauts. While the ships repaired damage and took on supplies, the passengers wrote letters, in hopes of placing them on ships bound in the other direction. A number of these made their way into print. As befits an isolated but welcome way station, the letters described the harbor and city in detail, often including an account of fellow passengers and the long voyage to that point. One account from Valparaiso noted “there are here many Frenchmen, above all Gascons, who exploit strangers and recent arrivals without pity.”40 Another, dated March 28, 1849, confirmed that “California continued to absorb the attention of the speculators in Chile.”41 Finally, of course, there were growing numbers of letters from San Francisco. This was the place in California most directly connected in the minds of most people with the gold discoveries. It was also the site of the landing of most of the French Argonauts. Accordingly, much correspondence originated there, from merchants engaged in the San Francisco trade, from newly arrived gold seekers (les chercheurs d’or), and from miners returned from a season in the mines.42 These letters were documents in the public sphere. That is, they spoke of trade, commercial connections, and prices, mixed with a travelogue of the experiences of exotic (and even, in the case of Panama, dangerous) places on the way to the goldfields of California. There was another kind of letter that made its way into print. These were personal accounts, with the individual and his struggles at the center of the story. These accounts tended to range across time from sunny to cloudy to dark. The first letters often told of great successes by individuals. They involved ordinary Frenchmen who had found astonishing bonanzas in the goldfields. Their stories affirmed the democratic nature of the exercise, and they simultaneously offered the hope and inspiration that the same rich diggings would be found and exploited by later arrivals. It was a circular exercise, but one fraught with great human interest. In April 1849, two “California stories” recounted the adventures of three ordinary workers. In one case, Glein, a blacksmith from Hesse-Cassel, harvested thirty-two pounds of gold, and Michel, fifteen pounds. Another Frenchman, Boc, a cooper from Le Havre, deserted from a whaler, and in a few days amassed F 15,000. A letter dated from San Francisco in July 1849 told of the experiences of “a citizen named Charpentier,” who, working alone for twelve days “in the placers,” harvested three pounds of “gold dust.” He also found pieces as large as twothirds of an ounce, with larger ones the size of eggs. According to this account, miners averaged $150–200 of gold a day. In two hours, one man harvested $400 of gold. A man and his son took nineteen pounds and two ounces. In response to these bonanzas, there were already twenty thousand miners in the country of gold.43



France Among the many stories and accounts (official and unofficial) that flooded the newspapers in early 1849, a few themes stood out. The first was the sense of excitement, movement, and energy wrought by the gold discoveries. Peoples from diverse places across the western hemisphere and into the Pacific were in motion toward California. They encountered one another in the transit points and the ports of call, where they competed for services and accommodations. Another was the rising consensus among the authors of the accounts that the gold discoveries were real. And as an addendum, not only were they real, but they were also open to exploitation by all these diverse peoples headed for the goldfields. Finally, the gold discoveries had completely recast California society. The traditional ways of doing things had vanished, replaced by a new world whose outlines were still taking shape. As part of this domestic upheaval, California’s working class at all levels had deserted the farms and villages and streamed to the placers. Officials had soon followed. An economy based on gold had replaced a system based on barter and notes. In short, a series of societies had been turned upside down. These dramatic and rapid changes added further and, for some, conclusive evidence of the emergence of gold mania.




For some individuals, the news of the California gold discoveries opened opportunities for a new chapter in their lives. One group sought relief from boredom, a sense that life moved forward in comfortable rhythms (appropriate to their comfortable station in life) but without any sense of urgency or adventure. Whatever their frustrations with this condition, California was the perfect remedy. No one, participant or observer, could fault someone for striking out to a new country—even one halfway around the world—in search of gold. And from all reports, the gold was readily available to anyone. This was not just a voyage in search of adventure; it was a voyage in search of wealth—or at least it could be so cast. Consider the case of Arsène Grosjean. By his own account, written later for his aunt and uncle, he was “without occupation” and with twenty-four hours a day at his disposal. To pass the time, he read several different Paris newspapers. In these papers, he everywhere found accounts of the “many brilliant discoveries in foreign lands.” But a single theme dominated all the papers: “Each sheet shouted out the news of the gold mines in California.” At this time, he continued in his memoir, many large companies were in process of formation in all parts of France. “Everyone wanted to have a piece of gold.” People were leaving from all the ports of the world for this marvelous country. Grosjean asked himself: “Why not go and seek gold myself? Finding no serious impediment I made a plan to leave.” That he immediately booked passage on the Vesta, the next available ship departing from Le Havre for San Francisco, suggests



France that he was not overly concerned with expense. Nor does he ever refer to the need to consult other family members for their approval or financial support.1 Many of the same impulses to adventure and wealth emerged in the account of Edmond Jomard. He began: “I was then in Paris, seated quietly by the fire. As I read an American article, I sensed my young ardor awakening, I felt ignited in me this old passion for distant excursions, and my memories grew more embellished again; the marvelous scenes spread out through my thoughts. I could not resist the temptation to go visit this strange country, this California, this new El Dorado of which I dreamed.” Jomard also alluded to the influence of climate: “And then, it is necessary to say, we were then in the middle of winter; the snow and the mud claim the streets of Paris, and, beyond the gloomy horizon that surrounded me, I saw the splendor of the tropical sun and its eternal spring.”2 Others, presumably more numerous, had a range of pressing financial reasons. These might be subsumed under the heading of retrieving personal and or family finances that had suffered from mismanagement or extravagance. In the world of the bourgeoisie, family fortunes and family prospects could be blighted by several forms of extravagance, including the maintenance of large estates, mistresses, or the expenses associated with the search for entry to a higher station in society. Or the family patrimony might be dissipated through a series of bad investments. Sometimes some or all of the antecedents of these failures might be laid to the Revolution of 1848; sometimes they lay in investments in risky (but potentially profitable) schemes in agriculture, commerce, transportation, or any of the myriad opportunities for stock schemes. Such downturns might be remedied by traditional means, such as a favorable marriage with substantial dowry, borrowing from friends and relatives (a temporary stopgap), or manipulation of the courts and the law to ward off collection. Now there appeared a new and, if one was to credit the accounts in the press, a sure way to retrieve family fortune and honor. Perhaps most important, it was certain to succeed. And the whole enterprise also took on an element of adventure in a foreign land, sharpened by an assured financial success at the end of an exotic encounter with strange people in a distant landscape. Ernest de Massey, who sailed to San Francisco as a first-class passenger on the Cérès, found most of these motivations and objectives in his fellow passengers.3 A mixture of bad decisions combined with the economic upheavals associated with the revolution in 1848 had straitened the financial situations of many heretofore secure occupants of the upper classes and even the lesser nobility. California now emerged as the answer to their problems: rapid wealth in the form of gold, available to all with resources and energy.4


“The most remarkable event of our age, in the order of material things . . . is without contradiction the discovery and exploitation of the golden beds of California.” So wrote the editor of the Gazette de France in February 1849.5 Among the newspapers of France, large and small, almost no one came forward to dispute his claim. News of the gold discoveries generated a wide range of astonishing images of large gold nuggets lying about, available to anyone who would go to the trouble of bending over to pick them up. Yet from the perspective of many in France, the most important dimension of the California gold discoveries was commercial. France, at mid-century, was a nation with a tradition of exploration and trade. Together with and often in competition with the British, the French had sent voyages of exploration to the most distant parts of the known world with a view to an expansion of influence and trade. Pursuant to its overseas ambitions, France had a number of important ports, for communication and trade, on three different bodies of water. These included Dunkerque, Abbeville, Dieppe, Le Havre, and Cherbourg on the English Channel; Nantes, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux on the Atlantic; and Marseille and Toulon on the Mediterranean. Some of these ports faced the open sea; others lay on rivers a short distance inland. No other European nation had such a wide range of sea-going connections to the outside world. The emergence of California as a commercial opportunity coincided with the continuing commercial crisis in parts of the French economy. One commentator observed, “This stagnation of all business, which has plunged all families into distress, had arrived at such a serious point” that the government needed to become involved. These hard times had become the responsibility of the government of the new republic, and the issue of the Revolution of 1848 and its part in the downturn of the economy was another in the endless debates over the impact of the revolution on French life. In this, as in all such issues, the divisions immediately assumed ideological lines.6 What immediately caught the eye of many French observers were the extraordinary prices paid for ordinary goods in California. An officer of the American Navy wrote from Monterey on November 1, 1848, “It is impossible to give an idea of the state of things in this country. A man returned from the mines told me that he had sold a blanket for the price of 280 dollars in gold, and a hat that he had thrown away for 64 dollars. Another told me that flour sold for 4 dollars a pound, sugar 2 dollars.”7 As each miner worked with intense focus on his claim, “and with all these marvelous riches at his disposal, one [did] not stop



France at paying incredible prices.”8 The paymaster of the American Army in California, who arrived in Monterey on October 18, 1848, paid off four companies from the New York Regiment, and all the men immediately left for the mines. “There they joined the sailors who had deserted their ships as soon as they anchored. . . . Provisions, clothing, all the necessities of life are at an exorbitant price. Life has always been expensive in Monterey, but this passes all reason.”9 The commercial opportunities associated with California and the gold discoveries were summarized in an editorial in the Boulogne Gazette: “Of the startling discoveries of this wonderful age, we cannot but think that the discovery of the existence of gold in such incalculable quantity on the earth’s surface is the most startling.” The Boulogne editor continued his analysis with the observation that France was distant from California, “but if, as there is reason to believe, California promises handsome profits to the skilled speculators, French trade, which has no reason to await the melting of the ice, whose sailors and ships already know the parts of the Pacific Ocean, and to which the protection of the naval forces of the state is assured, has, in that occasion, an incontestable advantage over other competitors.”10 This account was accurate in describing the experienced French traders, but it was overly optimistic in suggesting that the French state would intervene directly in support of this trade. What might French merchants, traders, and seamen do to profit from gold discoveries halfway around the world? The Pilote de la Somme offered a concise response: “For some time, the gold fever has seized all spirits; this fever has only increased again by the discovery of gold deposits . . . toward which will stream entire populations from all points of the globe.” It was a short step to commercial preparations. “England has furnished her contingent; France is preparing to send her own, and from Belgium [came] the announcement on February 25 of the departure of a ship which ought to send toward the new El Dorado hardy voyageurs who will undertake their part in the rich proceeds of California.”11 The range of commercial opportunities in California reflected the nature of the gold-digging exercise. The early reports confirmed the single-minded nature of the gold-mining cycle, in which the inhabitants of Alta California had rushed pell-mell for the gold diggings. Thus, “all the industries are nearly on strike, . . . even the domestics have left their service, and . . . one has trouble retaining soldiers under the flag.” The result of this new condition was the gathering in California of “an immense population that consumes and that produces nothing.” So “the greatest chances of success for them and for France . . . [would be] if, in place of carrying to California the gold hunters, [France] could carry on its lines a mass of manufactured products, objects of clothing, for example, that one sells at a dear price to those who have gone to the banks of

The French Respond the Sacramento to enrich themselves, and with whom one can make these exchanges so precious.” In short, “it is not men who ought to be conveyed to California, it is things; it is not explorers, but traders and the products of our industries; it is not the mines that we ought to seek to exploit; it is these exploiters themselves with whom it is necessary to establish an immediate rapport, for these exploiters, who possess gold in abundance, are, they say, the great part of them without shoes, without stockings, and without clothes.”12 The Mémorial Bordelais published with approval extracts from documents of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce. This excellent analysis of commercial opportunities began with a description of the seasonal movement of population. All of California went to the mines over the spring and summer. At the opening of the rainy season in late fall, this large group retired from the placers, carrying large quantities of gold. “For the moment, what sells best and with certitude at a great profit, above all for those expeditions coming directly from France, would be liquids, wines from Champagne, from Bordeaux and others, brandy and liquors.” For individuals, “footwear and ready-made clothing, outfits for men for winter and summer, footwear for women, cotton shirts for men already made, stockings of linen and cotton, etc. without counting a flood of other articles which are too long to enumerate.” The market for these goods was “a population always growing, for which everything is lacking at once, and which is incapable of delivering any work other than that which is the extraction of gold.” In short, there seemed to be a continuous demand for goods and services: in the mining camps during the mining season and in the towns and cities as the miners returned at the end of the season.13 In early March 1849, a letter from a Frenchman in Valparaiso offered a hypothetical example for the exploitation of trade in French products. One would begin with a ship of 400–500 tons. The cargo would be half wines of Bordeaux, Champagne, Madère, and Tenerife. The other half would be “luxury confections” and, for the working class, shirts, trousers, smocks, and footwear, as well as tools for working the ground, cooking pots and pans, and strongboxes. However, the prospective merchant-entrepreneurs needed to be aware of the hazards of doing commerce in California: the crews immediately deserted their ships upon arrival.14 This demand for goods and services, growing in diversity and always profitable, would attract merchant houses from around the globe. The principal competitors would be the Americans. Accounts in the French papers paid tribute to the commercial character of the Americans, to their high degree of entrepreneurial energy and ambition. Any account of trading prospects in California must take them into consideration. Indeed, the arriving Americans



France became instant merchants. According to one account, “The American emigrants, when they arrive, open their trunks; they sell everything at the lowest price in order to procure money that they need to move on.”15 This was only the beginning of a larger plan, which would create “on the west coast of America a trading apparatus for their operations with China.” Both activities showed the range of “the activity and entrepreneurial spirit of the Anglo-American race.”16 One port embraced the gold discoveries as a potential commercial bonanza. Le Havre was a trading town of twenty-eight thousand whose economy, like so much associated with trade in post-revolutionary France, had stagnated. The city had been losing population for a decade. California loomed on the horizon as a commercial savior. The port’s newspapers and commercial leaders joined together to embrace what they regarded as an opportunity for the port to capitalize on its new railroad connection with Paris. Indeed, it was this transportation facility that would help to make it the center of emigration to California. At the opening of 1849, the newspapers in Le Havre described in detail the tour of Colonel Richard Mason through the new gold discoveries. His report, continued one editor, “will lift all the doubts still existing in the place of the fabulous riches of this modern El Dorado.” This acceptance had already begun in Paris, and the spread of the news of the gold discoveries in Paris reverberated in Le Havre. A Le Havre paper proclaimed, “For two days, one sees on the walls of Paris a great rose-colored poster indicating that the ship ‘la Marie,’ destination California, leaves from Havre, the 15th of February next.” Items that involved commerce, emigration, or investment would invariably point to Le Havre, the port of choice for connections to California. Soon a list of ships bound for California was regularly published.17 The port soon had its own company to provide an opportunity for local investors. In early February a notice appeared: the subscription list of the Caravane Havraise, a company for trade in California; opportunities for “merchandise and consignments” would close the fifteenth of the month. The advantages associated with investment in the company received continuing reassurance from the French officials. “The reports transmitted by the government, by the consuls of France in Upper California, on the gold mines . . . have awakened the interest of the sort of men and capital that the industry of the country will enjoy.”18 Through the spring, summer, and into the autumn of 1849, Le Havre newspapers printed extended news from California at least twice weekly and sometimes more often. Among the themes enumerated were continuing gold fever, the issues of the rights of foreigners in the goldfields, the political condition of

The French Respond the country, and the struggle of California to attract the attention of Congress with a view to statehood. Throughout the news from the mines was mixed. There was a large gold harvest, high wages for working men, and the magical rise of towns on California’s golden landscape, juxtaposed against anarchy and martial law. As a result, the commercial news from California seemed uncertain, “far from presenting a reassuring view.”19 By the fall of 1849, San Francisco was becoming a great commercial center, remarkable not only for its wealth, but also for the pace of its growth. The flags of all nations could be seen in San Francisco Bay. Perhaps as many as two hundred ships were anchored in its great harbor, most of them without crews. It had active trade connections with Lima, with Mazatlan, and along the coast of California. The harvest from the mines in 1850 was reliably estimated at $100 million. This was a number cheerfully accepted by the most knowledgeable observers. “Gold,” wrote a citizen of Nantes living in San Francisco, “was as easy to amass in the placers as sand in the Loire.” It was a striking image, and the more so from a Frenchman participating in the “rush to gold.”20 At the end of 1849, when the rainy season suspended mining for the season, accounts in a Le Havre paper summed up a year of gold fever in California. San Francisco had a population of more than thirty thousand. Steamboat service had been established between San Francisco and Sacramento. “El Dorado is on the road of progress, and without a doubt this new country is destined to become the largest and richest trading center of the Pacific Ocean.” Thus, from the French trading perspective, in the previous year, the gold rush with its feverish intensity had moved beyond discovery and surprise. Its strong presence was now acknowledged as a fact in the economic and trading life of the West Coast of America (stretching south to Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Chile) and extending westward across the Pacific.21 With all this enthusiasm, there were cautionary voices. The most respected belonged to the French explorer and world traveler Eugène Duflot de Mofras, who had explored Upper California on behalf of the French government in 1842–1843 and 1845–1846. In the first months of “gold fever,” when California investment schemes proliferated and merchants rushed to outfit ships for the new El Dorado, Duflot de Mofras described the many difficulties that would await miners and merchants alike. It is true, he wrote, that rich deposits of gold are in this attractive country. It is a place “where France some years ago could have founded a magnificent establishment at so little expense,” but the government had not taken this initiative. Instead, across French ports, merchants and colonists are now outfitting for a voyage to California and its goldfields. The perils of the voyage, five months around Cape Horn, were very real.22



France Furthermore, Duflot de Mofras continued, on arriving in San Francisco, the French miners or merchants “do not know the discomfiture that they will experience in the midst of two populations: the Spanish and the Anglo-Americans, whose language they do not know and whom they will find already experienced masters of the region containing the metal.” The captains of the ships would see their crews immediately desert; the merchants should be aware that the American and European populations are still slight (perhaps twelve thousand Americans and six thousand Spanish), and on arrival, merchandise from France will pay a tariff of about 30 percent. Over the years, the country has already “been exploited by the trading houses, agents, and vessels of the powerful Hudson’s Bay Company,” as well as trading firms from Boston, New York, London, Valparaiso, and the other major trading cities of the western world. In the harbors of California, “the flag and merchandise of the [American] Union enter free of duty, the soil is occupied by its hardy pioneers, and upon my word, if French colonists, speculators, [and] searchers for gold cannot compete successfully, they will find only disappointments and suffering.” Duflot de Mofras’s analysis was accurate, but his voice was a faint echo against the loud chorus of enthusiasm and haste that characterized the California companies and commercial enterprises.23 VIOLENCE, DANGER, AND CHAOS

Almost at the same time as the celebration of gold and its open access began in France, the accounts from the California goldfields began to describe a darker side of the gold discoveries. Several of these issues had their origins in California’s flood of immigrants. Many observers described these arrivals as a mixed population, unsavory at best and dangerous at worst, disreputable (even criminal) characters from all over the world. With this influx came rising crime rates (especially robbery and murder), with successful miners often as victims. Adding to these physical dangers and the chaotic condition of society was the absence of any kind of formal institutions of government to provide security for its population and to restrain and punish its criminal elements. Thus, in response to this crisis in security, spontaneous and quasi-official institutions appeared to provide a degree of order. In the French discussions, issues of physical security and civil order in California seemed to run parallel to a similar question in France. In the context of the revolutionary fervor unleashed by the events of February and June 1848, the new constitution, the new rights to suffrage and work, and the recent presidential election, the French had embarked on a prolonged struggle between

The French Respond the forces of liberty and order. Both were central to the vision of French life, filtered through the lenses of increasingly divided views of the revolution and its legacy. Already in the first months of 1849, important elements in French society and political life had begun a campaign to emphasize the necessity of “order” as the most basic ingredient in French society. And “order” was juxtaposed against the chaos of the “June Days,” still fresh in the minds of French men and women of every political persuasion. Now, amid this ongoing conflict in France came disturbing rumors about a new place that had intruded into French life. California was originally seen as virtually empty, a vacuum awaiting organization and exploitation. But almost immediately in the aftermath of the news of gold on the banks of the Sacramento came the disturbing news that civil society in California was falling into anarchy and chaos. Among the most widely cited documents was a letter written in October 1848 by Commodore Thomas Jones, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Squadron. That the author was a naval officer of high rank with an important command gave its contents added weight. From his flagship, the Ohio, Commodore Jones wrote to the Navy Department: “Nothing can give you an idea of the deplorable state of everything from one end of Upper California to the other, not the madness which begat the mania for gold.” The impending “whirlpool of anarchy, of the confusion and disorder [could be] stopped by the establishment of a legal government sufficiently strong to force observation of the law, and to protect life and property, who are, at the moment everywhere in great danger outside the walls of our ships.”24 The Journal des Débats cited another letter from an officer in the American Navy, dated San Francisco, December 26, 1848, that spoke to the absence of any civil authority in the midst of a massive influx of humanity. “There is not here any kind of government, neither civil, nor military,” he wrote. As a result, people have turned to “lynch-law,” and over the past three or four days, informal courts had tried, convicted, and hanged three men for murder. The Congress must immediately give some organized form to the territory.25 As early as December 1848, news from San Francisco spoke of immense riches and in the same breath noted that pillage and assassination were the order of the day. There was revolt and piracy at sea. At the same time that one harvested incredible amounts of gold, one’s personal safety was at risk. In three weeks, there had been fifteen murders. Among the victims was a family of ten. Neither life nor property was safe. The world of gold had turned into a world “dominated by the strongest.”26 A summary of the growing civil disorganization and unease enumerated the various dangers that threatened to unhinge order on the banks of the Sacramento: “Gambling, drunkenness, and the most brutal



France passions reign as sovereign mistresses in the midst of this crowd of adventurers, who come to kill suddenly on the banks of the Sacramento.” Within this group, there are those who simply take the gold already washed from the pockets of others. Thus, “thefts are numerous, murders are not rare, and what contributes to worsen the situation is that at the very least almost all the soldiers sent by the government of the United States have not been able to resist the temptation, and having deserted in order to go themselves to search for gold, there exists in the entire country no public force, no defenders of the law and of morals.”27 Accompanying the descriptions of California and the gold-mining sites sliding into anarchy were the continual observations about the absence of any form of organized government with a legal code and court system. As the theater of recent military operations, California’s Mexican civil government had largely vanished, replaced by an American military occupation. One of the early shocks associated with the gold discoveries was the failure of the military to enforce civil order. As early as November 1848, the impact of five thousand gold seekers pouring into a landscape without government and law struck observers at the time as an invitation to anarchy and violence. A letter from Monterey, dated November 2, 1848, observed, “Law is no more than a word here: the country is without administration, without government of any sort. The New York regiment of volunteers, after being disbanded, has all run off to the mines. Soldiers have stolen the horses and the saddles which they needed to make the trip. The government and almost all the officers of the garrison have left for the placer.”28 This disorganization of society affected all classes. “The diverse branches of a population recruited continually from speculators and adventurers, where the differences in race and in origins fester under the empire of this ardent thirst . . . for this brutal force” had placed all law-abiding people at risk.29 The array of dangers included firearms such as pistols, everywhere available (if only at the highest price), many of them brought to the goldfields by military deserters.30 The French newspapers now carried stories of how the Americans proposed to deal with the absence of a centralized government authority. One of the first detailed comments appeared in the Journal des Débats: “The citizens of the United States know the need to punish . . . as they need to do at this moment in California . . . in the midst of a population composed, one could say again, of the scum from all parts of the world.” This early account introduced French readers to the idea of local self-government interwoven into the American frontier experience over two hundred years. The idea of self-government and selfregulation carried easily into the California gold camps, where it met the need for order and system. The early mining associations established rules for laying out and holding claims; they also provided a mechanism to resolve disputes and

The French Respond preserve order. From the beginning, two factors drove this organization: the knowledge that official government would be slow in arriving and the need to establish rules and preserve order in a transitory society in which all participants were directed toward a single end that often brought them into conflict in a limited landscape.31 The French press responded with a mixture of praise and astonishment over tribunals of summary justice that sought to give a degree of order and security to the burgeoning gold rush population. The Journal des Débats described the trial of three men found guilty of murder by a “jury of citizens” and hanged the next day. The Journal praised the “moral sense of the Anglo Saxon race” and its attempt “to conquer the abyss of anarchy.” It was a “noble example” that should not be forgotten on the other side of the Atlantic.32 Later, the French and other groups of foreign nationals would come to have less positive feelings about such spontaneous local tribunals. For the French, as for the Californians themselves, the search for order associated with government and law was bound up with statehood. Throughout, a universal sense prevailed that statehood would give California a degree of civil order or at least the means to enforce civil order. Within France, French observers did not understand the delay. In their eyes, Congress should have conferred immediate statehood on California in response to the incoming rush of population. With a central government three thousand miles away, statehood seemed a minimal gift to Californians. The French understood little or nothing about the territorial system or the continuing struggle over the extension of slavery into the territories that formed a contentious backdrop for opposition to the war against Mexico. The news that Congress had adjourned without voting statehood was regarded as a severe blow in California’s ongoing struggle for order and led to demonstrations of unhappiness in San Francisco. In French eyes, such neglect was both incomprehensible and dangerous.33 California and the gold regions also had serious physical dangers beyond criminal activity. Disease was a widespread issue because “epidemics . . . have already created great devastation among the immigrants.” Various American newspapers, notably the New York Herald, warned against the dangers of the goldfields themselves: “Sickness decimates the miners, exposed to fevers. The price of food is exorbitant. The climate of California, in the regions where one finds gold . . . is intolerably hot in the summer.” Matters of health and sanitation came, in part, from the poor diet of the miners, mixed with privations of all sorts; excesses; the lack of shelter, which left them exposed to bad weather in the open air, all of which gave rise to intermittent bilious fevers that made for great ravages among the gold hunters. From Angers, the Précurseur de l’Ouest



France summarized the privations and miseries of those who sought to become the Midases of Sacramento: many were dead, a sad end, without succor, in the middle of riches.34 Then there were other less tangible but equally dangerous aspects to the rush to gold. In the most ordinary men lay the danger that the unending search for gold unleashed violent passions, further enflamed by the widespread consumption of brandy, commonly priced at five dollars a bottle. Reports from the goldfields described the deaths of hundreds of miners from disease and drunkenness.35 A second letter from Commodore Jones noted, “The bad food, the yellow fever, the intermittent fever have made great ravages among the gold miners, because they absolutely lack food, proper clothing, and the greatest of them do not have any shelter against the bad season which is commencing.”36 Then, there were the conditions associated with mining itself. Here, physical demands and indeed suffering “were also abundant. Fevers are epidemic and fatal; diseases multiply among men who work with their feet in water hunting for the precious dust and a fiery sun on their heads.”37 There was a final moral dimension: did the rush for gold “encourage vice and perhaps crime?” Some thought so. The summary phrase was simple and direct: “We want gold!” Nothing could be clearer. And nothing should stand in the way of realizing this ambition. In the face of such single-minded behavior, some saw society unraveling.38 Even the American papers spoke with “a serious sadness of the disorganization that the gold fever has thrown into all classes of society.” “The law of the strongest is the only one that rules,” was a common response. “All social ties have been broken in the middle of this gathering of adventurers and deserters welcomed from all parts of the globe.” It was an “epidemic that rules on the new continent and that is not felt less in Europe, if the marvels that one reports are confirmed.”39 An article in Illustration described the “complete upheaval . . . social structure rent and torn to pieces.” Later, the same publication wrote that “life in California is a frenzy [that] turns any gold miner into an assassin.”40 The implications seemed clear—namely, that in a rush of immigrants to seize the golden opportunity, all moral sense had been lost in a population transfixed by the rush to gold. With the coming of summer 1849, the coverage of the French press changed from reports on gold fever mixed with grave reservations about the nature of California society to the ongoing search for a government in California. Of course, mining camps had a form of government (or at least organization) and had almost from their founding. California as a political entity, however, had only various temporary forms of government. The military government that had

The French Respond its origins in American occupation remained in place, but the military governor was burdened from the beginning of the gold rush by the large-scale desertion of soldiers. Various civil elements continued to exercise a degree of authority, especially the alcaldes (Mexican officials of local government with varied powers and authority to maintain order and punish crimes) in the major towns. Some Californians moved to organize a government independent of Congress, at least with a view to calling a convention that would write and adopt a constitution. All these forms lurched forward through spring and into the summer. In later summer, the issue assumed a heightened degree of necessity, for the large sea expeditions of the previous spring and the overland immigrations of May and June began to arrive. California’s already large population grew dramatically. “The ships that departed the ports on the Atlantic in January and February last are beginning to arrive,” noted the editor of the Indépendance Belge. He continued, “The greatest evil which can befall a society is to be without government and without laws.” The editor praised the recent proclamation of the new governor, General Riley, as “a piece that has the spirit of government and moderation, the instinct of order and liberty.” In response to these enlarged needs, Californians organized a government “on the initiative of the inhabitants.” The establishment of a new government coincided with vicious attacks on Chilean merchants. Presumably the new California government did not see the protection of foreign nationals as a priority.41 Within a few short months, the California gold discoveries had created a series of self-perpetuating images of this New El Dorado halfway around the world. To begin with, gold mining was accompanied by many dangers. Miners needed to fear two-legged animals in the form of bandits, four-legged creatures like the grizzly bear, a wide range of illnesses and fevers, harsh working conditions characterized by cold rushing water and intense heat, and, finally, the absence of the basic necessities of life. Among the most important of these was food. French images of the miners showed shadowy skeletons with sacks of gold in search of something to eat. For the Americans, these stories told of immense wealth; for the French, they suggested an absence of the basic necessities.42 Benjamin Delessert, writing from California in October 1849, captured the twin messages of opportunity and anxiety: “On the one part, . . . there has been harvested a prodigious quantity of gold in very little time and by the most primitive means; on the other part, . . . the population has found itself reduced to extreme misery by the lack of foodstuffs; lastly, given the complete absence of government, there prevails no security for those who have already enriched themselves.”43




A final thread needs to be added to our tapestry—namely, the appearance and growth of French imperial ambitions. In the two decades before the middle of the century, France had greatly expanded its voyages of exploration with a view to colonization and expansion of French imperial influence. The model here, of course, was the British Empire. In the restoration of Europe in 1815 after a quarter-century of warfare, nations began to think in terms of influence elsewhere around the world. The British had a long jump on the competition. Already in 1815, the British flag flew from outposts across the globe, and some of these outposts were, indeed, massive kingdoms. India, Australia, and Canada suggested the range and size of these colonies. British influence depended on the control of key locations and large populations, the presence of imperial officials, the development of a local indigenous civil service, and a powerful navy to facilitate communication and trade with these far-flung constituencies. The French saw the first republic end in Napoleonic pomp and splendor and in a series of far-flung military campaigns. With his and the nation’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was again exiled and France was a monarchy under the restored house of Bourbon. Over the next generation, amid the changes in government and the simmering popular unrest that lay just beneath the surface (and not always beneath), one thing that monarch, ministers, assembly, and citizens (or subjects) might have agreed on was the need to expand France’s presence and influence to distant corners of the globe. So the crown and the government dispatched a variety of official voyages of discovery and exploration (with a possible eye to colonization) around the world. French ships and officials criss-crossed the Pacific and delivered detailed reports to the Foreign Ministry. The most important physical manifestation of French ambitions was the seizure of Algeria in 1831. This would be a symbol of the determination of this government and subsequent governments to promote French colonial expansion.44 When the French first encountered California in the 1830s and 1840s, they considered it a promising place for French influence. California lay in the northern extremity of the new, independent Republic of Mexico, a place where the authority of the central government in Mexico City reached only with reduced force. French relations with Mexico were cordial. Unlike the colossus to the north, whose perfidy would be shown in the revolution in Texas and the establishment of an independent Texas Republic, France remained a friendly presence. Furthermore, in addition to benign attitudes and interests, France was a nation whose trade might be encouraged as a way of lessening California’s

The French Respond dependence on trading houses centered in Boston and New York. Finally, France and Mexico shared a common Catholic heritage. While the church was still suspect in Mexico as a last supporter of Spanish rule at the time of the revolution against Spanish imperial authority, Mexico was still a Catholic nation, if only a Catholic republic. The difference was the more striking in a comparison of France’s laissez-faire Catholicism with the aggressive declarations embodied in America’s “Manifest Destiny,” which was a kind of Protestant manifesto. All these qualities suggested the possibility of a welcome and close cooperation between France and Mexico.45 The only difficulty was that in their voyages around the Pacific, French vessels repeatedly crossed paths with the Americans, and when they examined California and its possibilities for commercial and political influence, they found the Americans in strength. “Yankee ships,” so-called because of their ports of origin, dotted the coast at the entrances to harbors. Americans had already established a powerful commercial influence within the California towns and ports that directed trade and other kinds of commercial activity toward American ships and commercial agents. The establishing of a French consul at Monterey in 1845 gave the French government a window on affairs in California and a source of current information on the political and diplomatic scene in Alta California. As late as the spring of 1846, the consul could declare that the presence of a couple of French warships would firm up French influence in California and might lead to the establishment of a French colony, small in size but French nonetheless. With the American declaration of war against Mexico and, two years later, the military occupation of California and its permanent cession by treaty, the future of California was fixed as American. The French officials could only look back and wonder how things might have turned out differently.46 America’s new permanent presence on the Pacific Coast had implications for the French nation. The competition for strategic sites, trading bases, and military outposts in the Pacific now had a new player. Heretofore, the French had always thought in terms of the competition from the British. Now the Americans had injected themselves into the imperial game in the most direct way. As the United States now controlled the Pacific Coast of North America, one French voice argued that in case of a war, France should immediately ally itself with the Americans.47 This powerful presence on the Pacific Coast (as a gateway to the Pacific) also offered important economic opportunities to the Americans. Foremost among these was a trading and commercial base for trade with China. In this connection, the French noted that one of the first things the Americans would do was



France to establish a trading post (comptoir) in China. The genius of Americans had carried them to the shores of the Pacific. It was an immense field for colonization for the future. Given their history, there was no reason to think that the Americans would not exploit it to the fullest. Of course, it seemed inevitable that the California gold discoveries would be manipulated by the American government to serve national ends. That is, the occupation and organization of California needed American settlers in large numbers. These large immigrations would serve American national interests, even as they added to the wealth of the nation.48 Into this ongoing story of American expansion with its latest chapter in California, the French should pursue their own interests. There was ample incentive to do so. California was a potential bonanza open to all. France must participate in sharing the booty. As the news of the gold discoveries spread, California appeared as an open country, awaiting colonization and economic development by advanced (by which read European) nations. Certainly France must play a leading role in such an exercise. The French had important issues at stake here: a powerful presence on the Pacific Coast, with its gateway to China; opportunities for the French export economy and for French artisans to rise above the stagnation of the last two years; the need for the new republic to establish its credibility in defending French national interests.49 In voicing the opportunities associated with this imperial and economic windfall, the French (individually or collectively or in representations in the press) seemed to take only passing account of the American presence. Perhaps this failure reflected the recent seizure of these lands by the United States in the war against Mexico, given final form by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in February 1848. Yet part was also a traditional attitude toward America and the Americans. The French viewed America as an expansive nation, possessed of a staggering land mass that was distributed as farms to all citizens and foreigners alike, but it was hardly to be compared in its imperial authority to England or France. French observers, for all their insights, seemed to have little sense of American sovereignty and the vigorous and expansive nationalism as reflected in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Indeed, the war against Mexico that began in 1846 intensified this sense of American national authority and even national superiority. Although various elements in American national life had opposed this war as a war of conquest or a war of the southern slave states, the idea of the creation of a continental nation, from sea to sea, and the acquisition of the great ports in California (especially San Francisco) had great national support.50 The commercial possibilities opened by the California gold discoveries engaged a wide range of individuals and groups across France: merchants,

The French Respond shipowners, and editors in port cities; factory owners (and indirectly workers) in industrial cities; bankers and commercial traders in Paris. All these varied groups profited from the timely response of the ministries of the national government. The Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Commerce issued a series of documents over twelve months that characterized the business conditions in California with special reference to the trading prospects of French merchants. Excerpts from these “Commercial Documents” appeared in the Paris newspapers, especially the Moniteur Universel, and from there spread to publications in the port cities and other large cities in France.51 As more information became available, the bulletins from the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce became increasingly detailed. On March 1, the ministry published “a piece with the names of items of merchandise which would be most useful to assemble as a shipment for the ports of California.”52 One of the main themes that emerged in the search for commercial advantage was a discussion of the active role of government. Information came in the form of documents issued by government agencies on a regular basis. But what about exploration? What about a scientific expedition to ascertain the real facts about California? What about the presence of naval support in the form of an armed escort? The need for a strong official French presence was shown by the case of the Chateaubriand. The ship sailed with 250 passengers and 700 tons of merchandise. As soon as it landed in San Francisco on April 22, 1849, the crew deserted. Without a French consul in San Francisco, there was no official French authority for the ship’s captain to turn to. The absence of French authority contributed to desertions. This had become a crucial issue for commercial ships bound for San Francisco.53 The demands of California on French civil and military authorities came at an awkward time. The revolution in Italy had reached a flashpoint. Italian revolutionaries had proclaimed a republic in Rome. The Pope had fled. This Italian republic and the flight of the papacy aroused conservative forces to action. In France, the newly inaugurated president of the republic, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, confronted the upheaval in Italy and its threat to Catholicism almost immediately on taking office. Accordingly, he began to make plans to embark on a military expedition to Rome that would simultaneously put down the new republic and restore the Pope to his palace in the Vatican. That the Pope had personally appealed for assistance seemed to make the relief expedition even more pressing. The planning moved forward; the expedition departed on April 24. With the focus on the Mediterranean, few resources remained to send to the shores of California or to explore its fabled mines.



France It was now that the visit of Jacques Moerenhout to the mines and his official report became significant. Suddenly his fortuitous presence and vigorous response became an indication of the government’s interest.54 As an important European power with imperial ambitions, it was necessary for France to protect its citizens. If Frenchmen were to open commercial houses and relations in California and if Frenchmen were to go to California as members of companies to mine in the placers (such companies were already being organized), France must provide support and, if necessary, protection for its citizens. However distant they might be, they were still citizens of the new republic and entitled to its support. Indeed, the new republic was already overcommitted in foreign affairs. As the plans for its expedition to Italy moved forward, the issue of California as a responsibility of the government diminished in like proportion.55 Benjamin Delessert touched on another dimension of French national interest. In the competition for California among the Russians, the English, and the Americans, he wrote, “The youngest as the most adventurous of these three nations is today the mistress.” That was good news for France. He went on, “Without a single doubt, the Americans know how to exploit with their ordinary activity the buried riches in this land which conceals so much of the treasures.” And the proceeds of this exploitation would benefit many nations, including (perhaps especially) France. “The adventurous citizens of the United States will rapidly disperse the gold that they have gathered so easily in California, and one can say that it is a veritable kindness of Providence that the riches of California have fallen into the hands of the Americans.”56 Thus, instead of regretting France’s lost opportunities in not moving more aggressively with a naval display or even a colony to show its early interest in California, the French should rejoice in the opportunities now available to them. These opportunities were those of an outsider—that is, a foreign nation engaged in trade. But within this context, the French should move forward and compete. In the final analysis, however, the French should be pleased that California had fallen into the hands of the Americans and not the British (another landmark in the already worldwide empire) or the Russians (who would have kept the gold within the Russian Empire).



By the middle of January 1849, gold fever had spread across France. The Précurseur de l’Ouest, published at Angers, made reference to the outfitting of expeditions for the gold country: “The gold fever has crossed the Atlantic; the epidemic has won us over; two ships have left for California; a third is outfitted at Bordeaux for the same destination. Companies are organizing, on all sides, to effect the exploitation of the country, where the precious metal is in such abundance.”1 The Journal des Débats described “the company,” a unit that would become so universal in the American approach to California, first in travel and later for living and working in the mines. “All of these emigrants have not left singly,” began the account. “A good number among them, warned by less favorable news arriving on the state of morals in California, have formed companies composed of men who have chosen one another, bringing each to the community a share, in money, in special skills, [and] have joined with one another to obey the rules, the laws particularly voted by a majority of the associates.” The New York Mining Company was an excellent example. Each member paid the company a membership fee of $350. The company benefits included provisions for two years, arms, munitions, a library of three thousand volumes, musical instruments, and, finally, everything necessary for the mining operations. The Journal concluded that among the members of the company were “many educated professionals, whose arrival in California would represent a veritable benefit for the country and renewed hope for reestablished security for people and for property.”2 The challenges of California and the gold discoveries shaped the organization of the California companies in France. There was an immediate consensus



France that California was a great commercial opportunity. It was a place where people dug and washed; it was a place where they harvested large quantities of gold, so much gold, so dramatic an opportunity for individuals, that even modest reports seemed exaggerated. At the same time, the gold seekers (and finders!) produced nothing they required. They could not feed themselves; they could not clothe themselves. They needed everything on a continuing basis. Miners were making, by the standards of the day, fortunes in a few short months. Traders should position themselves to meet the continuing needs of miners. Many prospective French Argonauts intended to bring goods with them to California, sell the goods at high prices, and then go to the goldfields to dig and wash a second fortune. The establishment of companies met both needs. Furthermore, the organization of French companies open to the public offered an opportunity for investors to profit from the endless riches associated with California and gold. In this fashion, French investors could multiply their hoarded savings many times (according to the advertisements) while never leaving the safety and comfort of their rural villages or Paris neighborhoods. Economic conditions in France increased the appeal of the California companies. The economy recovered slowly after the domestic upheavals of the “June Days.” There was a diminished attraction of government bonds in light of the recent overthrow of the monarchy. The national workshops were a costly failure; many unemployed in Paris were destitute. The issue of emigration had emerged as a possible solution. French investors, individually and collectively, were attracted to the idea of pooling capital, large-scale investment for largescale returns, opportunities for investment that reached across the social and economic spectrum to include small investors. The success of railroads in their investment opportunities, financing, and success in construction seemed to prove the validity of this investment model for the organization and financing of a company. All these influences came together in the opening months of 1849 to provide the energy and credibility for companies directed to the exploitation of the California gold discoveries.3 THE STRUCTURE OF THE CALIFORNIA COMPANIES

In the first five months of 1849, French entrepreneurs organized fourteen California companies. The collective share offerings totaled some F 28 million. Of course, the companies sold only a fraction of these shares to the public, but the size of the offerings indicates the ambitions of the companies and the opportunities to capitalize on the magic words “gold” and “California.” The seemingly endless flood of articles in French newspapers provided a

Rise of the California Companies continuing stream of free publicity. To these articles, the companies now added an aggressive advertising campaign.4 The structure of the French California companies was largely the same. A company would be capitalized at a figure between F 1 million and 5 million, the numbers rising in the later companies. Stock would be sold to the public in sums ranging from F 100 a share down to as little as F 5 a share. The higher number would appeal to the large investors; the lower number could attract even the unskilled worker or farm laborer. The capital raised would be used to meet the immediate expenses of an expedition to the goldfields; most companies referred to this as the “first” of several expeditions. The board of directors would charter a ship, advertise its passage, purchase goods to be traded in California, and make provision to carry workers to California and the goldfields. Those who bought shares of stock in the company to the value of F 1,000 were named “associate workers.” Under the terms of their contracts, these “associate workers” would be transported to California free on the company’s ship and fully supported while there, in exchange for a specified portion of the gold they harvested (often one-half) remitted to the company. Almost all California companies also intended to set up commercial enterprises, whether agricultural or trading, to make large profits, and these profits, from commerce and the gold harvested by their “associate workers,” would be used to pay dividends to the shareholders. Such enterprises would also give France a substantial commercial influence within California, whose future was yet in flux.5 Consider the numbers of one such venture proposed by the French California companies. First came the expenses of the chartered ship for a two-year cruise, with the necessary supplies and crew, estimated at F 400,000. This capital outlay would be divided into eighty thousand shares of F 5 each. As noted, to be admitted to the status of “associate worker,” a prospective traveler must subscribe to two hundred shares of F 5 each, or F 1,000. Every subscriber to one or more shares could pay in either money or merchandise of all kinds.6 Beyond the grandiose promises lay the issue of the strength and credibility of the company. In a world of ever-grander advertisements, a company proclaimed this core strength by its council of overseers. This roster should be filled by men of substance with recognizable pedigrees and public honors. The Californienne company used the phrase “men of serious weight.” The council of surveillance of the Californienne included a marquis, a count, a baron, a priest, and a former mayor of Paris’s ninth arrondissement. Who would not feel confidence in such a group? Other companies “boasted of their deputies or paraded their generals.”7 In exchange for the use of their names, the members of a company council received shares of stock in the company they were overseeing and promoting.



France The task of every California company was to sell stock in a risky commercial venture to the public. Promoting the emigration of French people was an effective way of legitimizing the venture. In other words, by taking French citizens to California, supporting them there, and bringing them home, the company established its credibility as a serious and solid investment opportunity. From the beginning, most companies focused on the investors rather than the emigrants. Still, the periodic departure of chartered ships, with a hundred eager French Forty-Niners, attracted great attention and generated much free publicity. The advertising campaigns were intense and continuous. Several California companies had their own newspapers, or broadside sheets for advertising their achievements, generally measured in numbers of ships sent to California, numbers of men, and amount of trade.8 THE PROMISES OF THE CALIFORNIA COMPANIES

The growing number of French California companies—it would reach eighty-three in 1850—that offered stock appealed to the public in two ways. The first was the organization of companies for emigration to the goldfields in California. For those who wished to participate in this greatest of economic opportunities but were intimidated by the distance and the challenges of making their way in an American possession in which Americans were becoming increasingly dominant, both in numbers and in setting the rules for the gold camps, the California companies offered to provide all the necessary assistance. The company would charter a ship and provide accommodation and meals, instruction in mining and tools for harvesting gold, technical advice, and a priest to minister to the spiritual needs of the French Forty-Niner. In making this commitment, the prospective French Argonaut would be more than a client; he would become a member of a community.9 The company notice would first list the important goals of the expedition. These would offer assurances of care and support, mixed with allusions to the boundless opportunities for profit. The profit-making enterprise extended to both “associate workers,” who would join the expedition, and the absentee stockholders, who would see their investments multiplied many times. The broadsides often went on to describe the dangers of the voyage and the mining exercise and the importance of a communal approach, in which the company would provide support across the board against the unpleasant surprises— whether human or natural—of the goldfields of California. Here, the analysis and tone had to balance carefully between the dangers of California (physical hardships, fatigue, unpleasant surprises of various kinds) and the plentiful

Rise of the California Companies supplies of gold (with easy extraction) and the solid company support for its members. The first notice often enumerated the support staff that would assist the prospective French Argonauts on the voyage and after their arrival in the goldfields. This staff might include one or more doctors, a pharmacist, and a trained mining engineer. It would be the main object of the company to protect the French Argonaut against any and all hazards encountered in distant California. It was important to remember that all these dangers and difficulties were multiplied for those who traveled and worked alone, for they would be abandoned on a California beach and left to fend for themselves. There, they would struggle against a wide variety of challenges: the search for food; the absence of care in case of illness or injury; a continuing language barrier; the ongoing lack of security to save what they had worked hard to amass; and, finally, the difficulty (perhaps impossibility) of arranging a return to France. The services provided by the company would meet all these inconveniences and dangers. The ship would rest anchored in San Francisco Bay during the entire duration of the expedition, serving, first, as a place of convalescence for the “associate workers” in case of sickness; second, a store for food supplies; third, a storehouse for merchandise; and finally, a place of security for the riches acquired and the means of return.10 The second appealing dimension of the California companies was commercial. Every company intended to establish a trading office in California. This business dimension would capitalize on the widely perceived condition of miners—namely, that they had large quantities of gold but none of the necessities of life, much less the luxuries to which their new wealth would entitle them. Accordingly, with its “associate workers” the company would transport on its ship quantities of goods for sale in California. Such items often corresponded to the lists compiled and published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce. These would include wines, brandy, spirits of various kinds, clothing appropriate for the mines, especially boots, and even tools. In addition, enterprising traders identified other scarce items, such as prefabricated houses to take advantage of the high prices of real estate in San Francisco.11 The California companies initially seemed to flourish. Wave after wave of publicity through the spring and summer of 1849 conveyed the impression of solid investment enterprises whose stock should be eagerly sought by the public. A Belgian Forty-Niner offered a summary to this period of frenzied speculation: “Indeed, men, women, even children, servants, people from every profession and merchants, bought stock. It was irresistible.”12




The California companies, as they came to be known, were national in scope. They sought investors everywhere, equally in the suburbs of Paris and in the villages of the French countryside. The widespread appeal of the gold discoveries in California also had its representations in smaller, local companies. These were designed to attract local French Argonauts and local investors, more comfortable with familiar names on a prospectus. There was also a measure of local pride that this community or that commercial company would become part of this greatest economic opportunity in recorded (or unrecorded) memory. The variations among these local companies were as numerous as the companies themselves. The Comptoir Dieppois was a proposal for a commercial and financial company based in the port city of Dieppe that would do business in California. It was a small-scale enterprise, appropriate to its local roots. Nonetheless, it advertised itself as fully capable of sophisticated planning to take advantage of the commercial opportunities offered by the California gold discoveries and the attention lavished on this remote part of the world. It reflected the many opportunities and the several practical pitfalls that dogged any such local operation. This company was the creation of a certain M. Collette-Quenouille, a Dieppe merchant. His original proposal, presented in great detail, appeared in the Vigie de Dieppe on January 9, 1849. Under the heading “opération dieppoise,” M. Collette-Quenouille offered an overview of the project. This business enterprise would have a ship of two hundred tons, outfitted in Dieppe, bound for California. “The cargo would be composed of first, a load of merchandise, with the hope of an investment at a one hundred percent profit; second, workers to mine the gold in a claim then to be discovered . . . and then to carry back a shipment of leather, tallow, and other products of the country with the gold that our miners have harvested there or bought from other miners, for one [miner] has said that he gives $12 (60 francs) an ounce and sells [it] in France for 100 francs (profit 65 percent).”13 The number of participants involved in the enterprise would be modest. A total on the order of twenty-four or twenty-five would embark on the ship, with ten or twelve of these sailors. The vessel would be under the command of one of M. Collette-Quenouille’s sons, age twenty-seven, recently discharged from a regiment of artillery, where he had learned to build earthworks, indispensible work for the extraction of gold.

Rise of the California Companies The financial details of the expedition were straightforward—indeed, by the standards of such enterprises that would emerge in the next six months, they were almost transparent in their simplicity. The main expenses would include leasing the two-hundred-ton ship, estimated at F 15,000. The cost of securing the services of a captain for the vessel would be F 200 a month, or F 2,400 a year. For the prospective Argonauts and their wives, the cost of a round trip voyage would be F 20 a month each for twelve months, or F 3,360 for fourteen individuals. For provisions for twelve months the cost would be F 12,174. The added expenses of trade goods, the crew, and insurance make the total cost F 112,434. The estimated profits: F 300,000. In the face of objections to his proposal, M. Collette-Quenouille responded vigorously. When an unassuming citizen of the town attempts to organize a trading arrangement in the interests of his city and his country, he wrote, he is subjected to envy and jealousy. At an earlier time, the issue had been railroads, and the cost had been measured in millions of francs. Today it was a question of an expedition to California. To this venture, he had contributed F 15,000 of his own funds, without reimbursement. From the arrival of newspapers and news from America about California, he had conceived of an expedition to California as a way to awaken in the spirits of his fellow citizens the sacred fire of distant voyages, as well as a source of riches for Dieppe. He continued, “I propose to the outfitters and other commercial men to do this operation as one, and I will do all the work without charge, and I will take only half the profits that accrue to the resident director at Dieppe.”14 Three weeks later, in response to a demand to distinguish between his company and others bound for the same destination, M. Collette-Quenouille had a direct and succinct answer. The purpose of his company was to establish in California a Comptoir Dieppois. This company, in partnership with its stockholders, would supervise the exchange of goods from Europe, against the products of the country, and have the opportunity to extract gold or mercury.15 M. Collette-Quenouille’s plan soon assumed definite form, and the ship departed for California on March 25, 1849, under the command of his son. In early December, M. Collette-Quenouille received a letter from his son. The ship had anchored in San Francisco harbor. What an astonishing sight it was! Two hundred and fifty ships at anchor, abandoned by their crews.16 Here was an example of a local enterprise beset by local jealousies. This was a very distant and remote opportunity riding the crest of a great wave of national publicity. The experiences of this company reflected the difficulty of mounting a substantial local operation, given the extensive resources required. That M. Collette-Quenouille persisted in his plan for a local California company



France was a tribute to his determination to move forward against all obstacles, including local opposition. Other towns and cities had their local investors. These were scattered across France, evidence of the widespread appeal of the gold discoveries and the shared sense of investment opportunities. In one region of southern France, “Ten honorable men from Vaucluse and Gard have formed an association— ‘the Société pour l’Exploitation d’Or en Californie’—to exploit the gold regions in California.” The company would be composed of appropriate elements for an enterprise of this kind. Those who wished to join in the enterprise should be prepared to invest a minimum of F 10,000, “an indispensable condition” to participation.17 The city of Reims had its own company, the Mines d’Or de la Californie: La Société Californienne de la Champagne, with shares from F 10 and a minimum capital of F 15,000. The initial prospectus spoke of an investment that would return a hundred times over in a few years—that is, the F 10 share would be worth “at least 1,000.” The company would be registered and administered from California by M. Alexandre Cretenier, “veteran lawyer,” with two other directors and a consul to be named by the shareholders. Shares might be purchased at an office in Reims.18 Marseille’s own company, the Marseillaise, had leased the ship PrincessBelgiolusa, staffed, among others, with two doctors, a chef, a sous chef, two bakers, two engineers, a chemist, two mechanics, and a priest. The company intended to protect both hygiene and morals. The prices for passage: F 600, 1,000, and 1,500 for third, second, and first class, respectively.19 Of all the small, select companies, the most recognizable name and the most public voyage was that associated with Jacques Arago, the head of a company of young Parisian gold seekers. Arago was a prominent man of letters, an eminent traveler who had lost his sight in an accident. Now, blind and sixty-four years of age, he proposed to found a company “to exploit the golden placers of the modern El Dorado.” Riding the burst of enthusiasm for California and its gold, Arago mounted his own expedition to San Francisco in the ship Édouard. His company departed Le Havre on March 30 on a voyage that would be characterized by discord among the passengers and conflict with the captain.20 The most complete account of the voyage was left by Alphonse Antoine Délepine, an original member of the Jacques Arago Company. Délepine began his recitation by noting the clothing and equipment specified in the company’s contract: “Each member will provide himself with an outfit: six shirts, three pairs of shoes, two jerseys, two pairs of pants, two smocks, a felt hat, a leather

Rise of the California Companies belt, a military sack, bedding, a set of metal dishes, the whole in good condition. Each member will own the following weapons: a brace of pistols and a twobarrel gun, ammunition, and a long dagger. Each member will have to buy his own ticket and pay for the freight of his goods taken by him on the ship, the ‘Édouard,’ at present in Havre and ready to leave sometime the coming March.”21 Arago’s company, the Société Parisienne, later better known as “Arago’s Company,” was composed of a broad range of participants. Délepine’s list included, among others, four “artists” (one was a pianist), an engraver, four laborers, three clerks, six manufacturers (of watches, jewelry, and hats, among other items), a house painter, a peasant, a distiller, a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, six men of independent wealth, three landowners, and “a man of letters” (Arago himself). Taken as a whole, his company had a large proportion of men from good families, with respectable professions, and a majority of young men. Délepine identified forty-three members, “young men for the most part filled with fire and ardor.” The whole group was well armed and supplied with six months of provisions to support the stay in California. The members of the company swore allegiance to one another in a banquet before departing Paris. They journeyed to Le Havre, where they awaited departure with “impatience mixed with emotion.” Of the scores of companies that eventually emerged into the light of day, perhaps no other was so intensely associated with a single individual. Arago was a charismatic leader who generated feelings of devotion and almost veneration. Members of the group spoke of him as “our chief,” “this new Jason,” and “this other Belizaire” and referred to themselves collectively as the “Argonauts of Arago.” This intense personal identification would be important in retaining the identity and morale of the group over a long voyage and in the face of many frustrations. The difficulties aboard ship reflected a growing division between Arago and the captain of the Édouard. When the ship reached Valparaiso, Captain Curet disembarked the Arago Company, declaring that his ship would remain in port for three months instead of the customary fifteen days. His intention was to embarrass Arago, who had promised a prompt voyage to his company. Eventually, most of the Arago Company would part from their leader in Valparaiso and proceed to San Francisco without him. Arago wrote with some bitterness that his “companions on the voyage abandoned him in Chile.” It was an unhappy ending to a very personal undertaking, yet the dissolution of the Arago Company would be duplicated by almost every other “California company” on landing in California.22




The city of Lyon lay at the junction of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers. It was the most important urban center in the heartland of the nation. Its population in 1851 was 234,000, making it the second city of France. A center of industry and trade, it had been the site of domestic rebellions in the 1830s, and large parts of it had welcomed the Revolution of 1848 and the proclamation of the republic. One Lyon paper called the city “the cradle of the most fiery socialism.”23 In Lyon, on March 18, 1849, a new newspaper appeared. The name on the masthead was Le Moniteur de la Californie: Journal de Lyon et des Colonies. The subtitle proclaimed its purpose. This and subsequent issues spelled out the intent of the founders to establish in California what they called the colony of Lyonville. The founders intended to bring the economic opportunities associated with the rumors of the gold rush to benefit Lyon and its entrepreneurs and adventurous merchants. The editors began with a declaration of the significance of the moment. Among the salient events of 1848—and there were many in the life of the French nation—was the discovery of rich gold deposits in California. In response, from everywhere, expeditions and emigrants were moving toward the new El Dorado. They continued, “Lyon, an industrial city par excellence, ought not to remain distant from this great movement; also already two companies have organized themselves in its center. . . . One of these enterprises is composed of some two hundred members, all active, vigorous, and swept away by a powerful conviction.” The members had a personal wealth of F 2,000–2,500 each, in order to embark with food, arms, tools, and clothing. They would exploit the gold sites in common and return to France the product of this exploitation.24 A second part of the operation, equally ambitious, took the title “General Company of Lyon for the Foundation of the Colony of Lyonville in California, an Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Mineralogical Association.” The company would be capitalized at F 1 million, with shares at F 1,000, intended to run from five to ten years. One hundred colonists (of which fifteen to twenty would be married without children) would be admitted to the rank of “associates,” and they would have no financial obligations. In other words, those so chosen would be transported free. All the colonists would depart for California at company expense, supplied with the necessary arms, clothing, food, tools, and shelter. The colony, thus composed of about 150 members, would be governed by a director chosen by the headquarters. After acquiring a grant of land generously

Rise of the California Companies offered by the American government, the director would then make plans for the arrival of the colonists. The first duties of the colonists would be construction and agriculture. Next, they would be occupied with establishing useful and necessary branches of trade or industry, then the trade of products coming from Lyon, seat of the company. The exploitation of the mines would be a last priority, and “we are insistent on this point.” Even if the stories of gold were exaggerated, the colony of Lyonville would prosper from its agricultural harvests and the sale of products from Lyon. In short, the colony “would become like a factory in the colonies, a trading house of rare importance.” As for the colonists, they would be “carefully chosen from among a number of applicants . . . honest, intelligent, brave and active workers.” The selection process would also pay attention to the morality, welfare, and health of the prospective colonists. Thus, the Moniteur described the creation and marketing of a different kind of California enterprise. And here in the pages of the journal would be a “faithful narrative of the joys and sorrows, of the progress and the reverses which are attached to colonial emigrations, those which are called by the name of California, of Icaria, or of Algeria.”25 The editors also connected the founding of Lyonville to a long history of the founding of colonies. Colonies were the foundations of the spread of “universal civilization and the enormous revenues of all the parts of the globe.” The moment was auspicious. The editors continued, “Our Europe is sick; our France is laboring under passions, needs, parties, sects, systems. . . . And here there opens a new way, a marvelous outlet which it matters at the moment to exploit, to follow with the guarantees of experience, with a conscientious solicitude.” They went on to connect California to Algeria, the most important French colony. In short, they argued, enlightened French citizens should throw off the old world and its reluctance to try new things; they should embrace the new and the opportunities for profit and to uplift distant peoples. Seen in this framework, the founding of such a colony stretched beyond mere riches; it was a calling to a grander duty.26 The theoretical foundations for the colony were broad based and clear. The immediate challenge was to find willing investors. Without sufficient support, the virtues of the enterprise were irrelevant. From the beginning, the editors and directors struggled to translate opportunity and a carefully crafted plan into a ship departing with colonists and goods. As the news from California became an unending recitation of several kinds of economic opportunity, so the Moniteur pressed the need to translate opportunity into reality. It was a hard task.27 While it continued to praise the main object of the voyage to California— “Gold!!” and “the golden promises”—the Moniteur conjured up the vision of a



France new kind of enterprise. The voyage of twelve thousand miles would be made “en famille,” and the colonists would not leave their country, for however distant, they were always part of a French enterprise. “On arriving in the New El Dorado, the voyagers would be installed with the greatest ease; as we have already said, it will not seem to them that they are in a strange land; they are trained to live together; they are united the more by the identity of a common past; and this kinship forms a community of interests and of hopes.”28 By late April, the Moniteur’s columns conveyed a sense of missed opportunity. As for the great rush to California, the editor wrote, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Le Havre have sent embarkations. “Lyon should not be left outside the great California speculation. It possesses all the elements necessary for this enterprise. It would serve a natural role to mark out the road to California to the other cities of France.” In short, “Lyon must take its place on the rich and fertile soil of California; we might have in the south seas a trading house of a rare importance and an immense market for our cumbersome products.”29 Energetic and ambitious men had made the commitment as colonists. The editors continued: “The number of colonist applicants impatient to depart gathers every day in our office. Never has the moment been better chosen. . . . Our small army of volunteers has accepted the conditions with joy. . . . With a little courage and an honest willpower, in a few days, the colony of Lyonville soon takes its place among the numerous colonies that leave each day from the principal ports of France.”30 Unhappily, the dream of Lyonville did not to come to pass. The vision of a new kind of colonial outpost, with a market for Lyon’s products, with a financial center for commercial men, and with an imperial outpost devoted to the spread of civilization as well as commerce, could not attract the financial support necessary to send forth the willing colonists. When the project died, so did the newspaper that promoted it. THE DOUBTING PROFESSIONALS: THE GAZETTE DES AFFAIRES

The sudden proliferation of California companies in early 1849 caught the attention of the Parisian and French business world. Many other companies already existed anxious to sell their shares to the public. The emergence of this new attraction had become more than an exotic curiosity; it was a strong potential influence in investment patterns. The most important journal to take note was the Gazette des Affaires, with the subtitle “A General Paper of the Companies for Stock Shares, Assurances, and So Forth.” Beginning on January 13, 1849, this business paper published a weekly article on California

Rise of the California Companies gold and the California companies. These weekly columns would follow the proliferation of companies and, at the same time, attempt to inject a note of skepticism into the rush to invest. In attempting to stay or at least slow this rush to embrace the goldfields and California, the Gazette tried various appeals to caution and common sense. None of these seemed to have much impact in the heady first half of 1849. In its first detailed report on the California gold discoveries, the Gazette was already counseling caution. “The riches of California turn every head, forecasting all greed,” was the opening statement. “All the world wishes to enter upon this new bonanza. Gold! Gold! Is the cry from all parts, and each one wishes to rush toward the country that promises the fortune. We have many things to say on this . . . but we limit ourselves only to announce that several companies have formed in London to exploit the mines in California.” At least one of these companies had supposedly entered into negotiations with the American government for the necessary arrangements. “We ask ourselves in this connection,” the Gazette queried, “why the American government would cede to the gentlemen speculators of Great Britain their mines in California? If these mines are as rich as supposed, it is presumed that the American government would value them so much as to protect them rather than deliver them to the English.” Furthermore, there was about the whole enterprise the echo of the “Mississippi bubble . . . and the banking schemes of John Law.” Over the past century, a wide variety of schemes had appeared for investment in foreign mines; most of them had ended with high expectations that “[went] up in smoke, so much money lost, so many stockholders disappointed.” It was difficult to imagine that the gold mines in California would be different. The Gazette concluded: “We know well that the English are of a serious character, more positive and cold than in this corner, but this consideration does not quite reassure us about the reality of this El Dorado.”31 By the middle of February, the Gazette conceded that the French had joined the rush to organize several limited partnership companies in pursuit of the golden dreams evoked by the image of El Dorado in California. On the walls in Paris, a “great rose poster” advertised the forthcoming departure of the ship La Marie for California, scheduled to sail from Le Havre on February 15. Also in Le Havre, a company had organized “under the patronage of lawyers and shipowners, for the same object, a mutual company, having for its name the Caravane Havraise, a bizarre title which is a monstrous barbarism in maritime language. Finally, a Sieur Collette-Quenouille of Dieppe has ordered a limited partnership shareholders company for the modest sum of F 100,000, to charter a sailing ship and send it to California to search for gold.”32



France In the face of this haste to organize companies to join the rush to California, the Gazette argued that potential investors should heed a voice of experience: “M. Duflot de Mofras, who has recently explored California by order of the government, tells us some things from a totally different point of view, in a sensible letter.” According to Duflot de Mofras, after surmounting the difficulties of a long and hazardous voyage and encounters with American officials, a French company would confront competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company, with the Imperial Russian-American Company, and with other trading houses from Boston, New York, and other cities around the world. He had concluded that to join such a competition would be “madness.”33 Next, the Gazette raised the issue of the role of the French government—or in the words of the editor, “the question of authority”—in the growing number of companies and ships departing for California. Before Frenchmen left to seek the precious metal that infused the ground so liberally, “the government should at least do everything to enlighten its citizens on the truth of the public reports by the American newspapers on the subject of the fabulous treasures of this country.” Apparently, the French government had decided to send an official expedition to California, with a view to examining “the nature of the beds and veins of gold and of mercury that exist in this region. On the rending of accounts and after the exact and authentic reports of these agents, administrators will know the truth about everything that is recited and printed about these marvelous mines and thus give to industry the information which will prevent men and capital from leaving in search of perhaps imaginary riches.” Persons tempted to make the voyage to California or to invest in California companies would be prudent to “await the results of the investigations of the French administrators before undertaking this adventure there.”34 The Gazette also noted American national self-interest in promoting the gold discoveries. California “is an immense emptiness that waits colonizers.” Gold was the vehicle to induce immigrants “to people and to fertilize this country. . . . [It] is thus for the American government a subject of great importance.” The advertised presence of gold “is never exactly a deception for the emigrants; only their activity and their energy become offered to another end.” American occupation will be accelerated; the national interest will be served “in a manner to give much satisfaction to their interests, realizing for the Union immense advantages.”35 Soon thereafter, the campaign of the Gazette to slow the rush to California companies received gratifying news. One of the first companies (founded in January 1849), the Société Franco-Californienne, had voluntarily dissolved. The cause was the failure to generate the funds necessary for initial expenses

Rise of the California Companies and to transport the first cohort of associate workers. The Gazette thought this failure showed the “good sense of the public,” but the editor discerned other, highly principled motives. Perhaps the directors of the company had been “seized by doubt” over the success of the enterprise. They had retired before the “possible misfortunes of emigration which they provoked and they had not sought to stop.” He hoped that the other California companies would step forth to show the “same honesty.” Perhaps the rush to California and its companies was already in decline. In spite of the golden promises, the shareholders of the Société Franco-Californienne (“excited by greed”) had come to realize that promises of the company were uncertain, whereas the demands on them were real. In short, they had become wise enough “to guard their funds and not abandon prayer for shadows.”36 In spite of the Gazette’s hopes, this voluntary dissolution turned out to be the exception and not the rule. Among the companies that did not abandon its ambitions was the Société Nationale pour l’Exploitation des Mines d’Or de la Californie. The Gazette called this one of the most suspicious of the California companies, an example of an organization “led by men without conscience, without fortune, and without morals.”37 It was “a case study, a poster, for such deception.” Its three principal officers had questionable reputations. M. Abounze, for example, had served as consul in the Republic of Guatemala, and when he became a stockbroker on the Rue Bondy, he sold stock in several questionable mining ventures that came “to a deplorable end.” The second officer, M. Touaillon, was the son of a moving force in the Moulins de Saint-Maur scandal, a limited partnership company organized in 1837 that left a long trail in the police records. The third was M. Boutmy, the author and editor of the prospectus for the Société Nationale. The editor of the Gazette described him ironically as “venerable, the doyen, the oracle of this industrial enterprise of our age.” In short, these were the directors to whom the willing stockholders delivered their money for investment. Under the circumstances, the Gazette concluded, the investors should not be surprised at its almost certain loss.38 With its exposure of the Société Nationale, the Gazette temporarily rested from its labors. It had warned, cajoled, threatened, and pleaded. It had presented a range of compelling arguments: the sparse Anglo-American population as a market for goods; the reservations as expressed in the letters of M. Duflot de Mofras; the conscience and scruples of at least one of the California companies; the hardships of the voyage and the dangers of coexisting in the goldfields with a Spanish-speaking population (the Californians) on one side and an Englishspeaking population (the Americans) on the other; the obvious difficulties of land ownership and rights in a landscape claimed by the Americans under



France recent treaty. The public had been warned. Unfortunately, for many the lure of gold and the investments associated with it overrode any such warnings. Images of California and gold danced before their eyes in an endless stream of wealth. THE INFORMED PROFESSIONALS: THE PHARE COMMERCIAL

The Phare Commercial was a different kind of professional voice. It was not instinctively skeptical of the structure and promises of the California companies; rather, it thought of itself as highly selective in its judgments. The Phare Commercial early established standards for the organization of a California company. Although it had strong doubts about most of the companies that appeared on the scene in the first six months of 1849, it judged a handful as acceptable, and it warmly supported a few that met its stringent conditions. The Phare Commercial first introduced the subject of the California companies in its issue of April 1849. An important context was the difficult economic circumstances that followed the Revolution of 1848. That series of events, the editor wrote, seriously damaged “both public and private fortunes.” Into this world of anxiety and confusion came the California companies. In outline, they followed a long tradition of speculative enterprises. The Phare Commercial noted that “certain speculators who, in turn, have exploited the coal mines, the railroads,” have moved to “the gold mines of California.” The paper had “examined their statutes, their administrative personnel, as well as the guarantees that they offer[ed] to their shareholders.” It would use this information to help guard prospective investors against fallacious promises. They deserved nothing less! The paper would be “ruthless” in exposing this new stampede to riches and the principal actors in this new drama. At the same time, it had come to admire a few of the companies, “founded by honorable men, surrounded by public consideration, and which have the desire and the force to fulfill their promises.”39 The first object of its approval was the Société Lallier Columbel. This company stood in contrast to most of those established by men who did not know California. The Société Lallier Columbel was “a company of experience” that offered “serious guarantees” to its subscribers. “First, the founders of this company are all honorable men by their social position, their moral standing, their specialized knowledge, [and they] have an incontestable title to the public confidence. . . . They all seem to be of a rank distinguished in society.” At the head was “the brave commander Lallier, whose eminent services are known to all.” He and his company are experienced in exploration. Hence “the colony of workers will have a hospitable reception. These leaders know the perils and risks, as opposed to other sedentary speculators.” The article listed the six

Rise of the California Companies members of the council and their public offices and honors. The company had already chartered a ship, to be commanded by “M. Lallier, the younger. After landing, the vessel will not lie idle at anchor in San Francisco but instead enter into the coastal trade.”40 Furthermore, the editor continued, this company has “authentic and certain information about the cargoes that it intends to buy and transport.” To its prospective shareholders, the company offers “modest guarantees: that their capital, at least over the two years of the company, will quadruple or quintuple.” And, “with a degree of interest rare in our time, [the directors] have reserved only a modest portion of the dividends that will inevitably be produced by this enterprise, to which they have consecrated their heavy labor, their researches, their inheritance, and their very existence!” By every high standard imposed by the Phare Commercial, this company had won its approval and deserved the support of the public.41 Within two weeks, the number of recorded California companies had risen to twenty, of which “ten to a dozen have found it necessary to dissolve.” The proliferation of the California companies and the stream of “premature dissolutions” associated with them, the Phare Commercial continued, were the result of deficiencies already identified. Among other shortcomings, “they had at their head obscure and reckless speculators who had not gathered any of the necessary conditions to attain the confidence of the public and to conduct effectively such a complicated and difficult operation.” They were aided in this enterprise by gullible investors, shareholders who sought outlandish profits for little or no investment. In short, “they appeared to their shareholders an Eden, an El Dorado. Once embarked on the privileged land, they had only to bend over to amass gold. All of these exaggerations bore fruit. And there was a certain defiance in the correspondences.”42 As for California, there was much gold, but the difficulties of its extraction could be met only by “strong companies, possessing considerable capital, well thought of by public opinion, and led by men not only of irreproachable probity, but also who possess special knowledge and who by their social position are in a condition to be accredited and protected by the authorities of the country.” Such were the companies that had met the stringent standards of the Phare Commercial.43 The Phare Commercial now identified a second company for its strong support. The Société Brugnier Jeune et Cie had been formed as a family enterprise and not a joint stock company. The company had chartered a ship, the Suffren, to depart on July 15, 1849. The perceived success of this company in organizing a departure for its workers offered the opening for another analysis



France of the reasons “why others have languished or failed.” The principal reason was that most of the California companies were, by the standards of the Phare Commercial, “not serious, founded by men who are past masters in the art of the joint stock company and who do not have as their aim the exploitation of mines in California as much as a means of personal speculation, seeking to exploit this rich and fecund placer. We continue to be on guard and urge our readers to be skeptical of these companies.”44 Like the Gazette des Affaires, the Phare Commercial struggled to slow the rush to establish the California companies or invest in them. The power of stories from the press mixed with the continuous advertising of the companies pulled the public toward them in defiance of any cautionary admonitions, however intelligent and carefully reasoned. Beginning with the opening of 1849, the California gold rush generated an astonishing outpouring of commercial activity in France. Aside from the expected voyages with French commodities and products (often recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce), the most remarkable was the emergence of the so-called California companies. They came in varieties of size and location, but they were generally alike in their structure and financial arrangements. The most different of these many enterprises was the Colony of Lyonville, but, like others, it was in an unending competition for investors. In pursuit of the idea that to every action there is an equal reaction, the surge of the founding of California companies attracted critics. Among the most outspoken were the two commercial newspapers discussed above. In spite of many columns of serious analysis, these two papers could do little to slow the rush to embrace the promises of the California companies.


THE RUSH TO GOLD Obstacles, Preparations, and Departures


For the French people caught up in the frenzy for California, travel to this golden land was hedged in by many obstacles. The first and most obvious was distance. San Francisco harbor was some twelve thousand miles distant, depending on the port of embarkation in France. Most of the French FortyNiners would make the voyage on chartered ships, whether as members of one of the California companies, in a group of friends, or as lone passengers. The largest number of French Argonauts went by way of Cape Horn. The duration of the voyage ranged from four to six months, with most California-bound vessels calling for food and water at Rio de Janeiro on the Atlantic Coast and Valparaiso or Callao on the Pacific Coast. Accounts of French explorations around the world had been public news for almost a generation, and these stories had heightened an interest in distant places, driven by people’s thirst for adventure mixed with pride in French imperial designs. Still, almost no one among the early French Argonauts had made the voyage to California. It was a formidable undertaking, even under the most favorable of circumstances. There was also a choice of routes. Although most of the advertised ships departing French ports went around Cape Horn to San Francisco, another route ran though Panama. The Panama option meant substantially greater cost, physical dangers involved with the trek across the isthmus through a tropical jungle, crowds of Argonauts all headed to the same destination in competition for the same scarce services, and, finally, negotiations in a foreign language for highly competitive passage up the Pacific Coast. The great advantage was time. 73


France If the individual French Forty-Niner or French group could manage these obstacles and handle the cost, the trip would be much shorter—perhaps half the time of the Cape Horn voyage. In the fever provoked by the gold discoveries, many prospective Argonauts thought of the voyage to California as a race, and a shorter route always attracted attention. THE OBSTACLE OF COST

The second major issue was cost. For most future French Argonauts, three ways emerged to make the voyage to California. The first involved participation in one of the proliferating California companies. The advantages included the several services offered, all of them designed to simplify the details of the voyage and reduce anxiety on arrival in San Francisco. The company selected—the California companies were largely interchangeable in their offerings and in their costs—would provide transportation; accommodation; meals; and a support system in the form of a priest, a doctor, and a mining engineer—all provisions designed to accommodate every contingency. Some companies intended to take women employees to do laundry and cook. Once arrived, the “associate worker” (the small shareholder who had opted to travel with the company) would be transported to the mining site, outfitted with tools and subsistence, and sheltered in case of illness. In exchange, the worker would labor in the goldfields, with a fixed percentage of his returns (generally one-half or more) paid to the company for his support and to meet expenses and dividends to the shareholders. The remainder would be divided among the workers. Such contractual arrangements ordinarily ran for a period of two or three years. The company might void the agreement if the worker absented himself without leave or deserted. The second route to the goldfields involved creating a company of likeminded individuals who would contract independently with a ship for passage. The expense was only for the voyage to San Francisco. Most ships offered variations in accommodations, generally described as first, second, and third class, with the cost proportionate to the better accommodations and food. The responsibility of the shipping company and its captain ended when the French Argonauts set foot in San Francisco. Those who chose this option needed to have faith in one another and to take careful measure of the ship’s owner and captain. Once under way, no discussion of details or complaints was permitted, and the captain’s word was law. The third option for the voyage was that an individual simply made his own arrangements. Some of those who fell into this category had a degree of

The Rush to Gold wealth and resources that allowed them to proceed independently. Many of these traveled first class, often with goods to sell. In first-class accommodation, they found themselves among other passengers like themselves. Those with fewer resources made individual arrangements that might include a lower price for assisting the crew or accepting inferior rations. NECESSARY TRAVEL AND FINANCIAL ARRANGEMENTS

Prospective emigrants needed a passport for departure. They made application to the mayor (or another official) of their place of residence. Such a civil servant had to confirm the character of the applicant. Another necessary part of getting a passport dealt with the applicant’s obligation for military service. The prospect of going to California in search of gold did not exempt the applicant from his obligations. When issued, the “Passe-port à l’Étranger” listed the holder’s name, birthplace, and destination (e.g., San Francisco, Californie). It also had a physical description: age, height, and single-word descriptions of hair color, eyebrows, forehead, beard, chin, nose, and mouth. The passport would be valid for one year after the holder’s departure from France. It was signed by the prefect of the department or his associate.1 Whatever the route and choice of transportation to California, the prospective French Argonaut had to raise a sum of F 1,000 to finance the trip. Whether as an associate worker of a California company or part of an independent group, the cost for the traveler was about the same. As the attractions of an expedition to California in search of quick and certain wealth spread out to villages and the countryside, the future French Forty-Niners had to canvass prospects and conditions for raising such a sum. For most future French Argonauts—aside from the few wealthy individuals for whom cost was no issue—the non-negotiable need to raise funds to make the journey called on the long and deep connections to family and community. Among the variables that came into play were the family’s economic condition, the web of relations across generations, and decisions by family leaders. With financial demands of F 1,000, this was a costly adventure, albeit one that would benefit the family as well as the individual member. Such numbers were beyond the immediate reach of working French families. Furthermore, the final leg from San Francisco to the goldfields, including shelter, food, and transportation, was a substantial additional financial drain. To raise such a sum involved financial decisions that would affect the whole family at several levels.2 Deliberations over such crucial decisions involved the interplay of family dynamics. Who were the family leaders who would make the decisions? What



France were the implications of the decisions for the family as a whole? The voyage to California must be viewed as an investment to benefit the entire family. As the family would provide the resources for the voyage, so all members expected eventually to benefit. The key issues were, first, the decision makers. Next came the question of the resources to finance the trip. Finally, who would be designated to make the voyage on behalf of the family? What was at stake was the future of the family. In making arrangements for the necessary financing, families had various choices. These options depended on family resources. One of the first options was to borrow the necessary funds. This choice reflected the financial arrangements available in France at mid-century, especially in rural areas and small villages. These were places where individuals and families would make their own arrangements. In borrowing, a family had two options. It could pay the money that was borrowed directly to one of the California companies, or the money could be paid to a third party or intermediary who would make the transportation arrangements. The latter option made the prospective French Argonaut independent of the structure imposed by a California company, but at the same time, he did not have the support system a company offered. In the case of a family’s borrowing locally, the lender was often a local person of wealth and influence. The standard terms provided for a loan of three to five years, with interest payable at 5 percent a year. The loan would be secured by a mortgage on landed properties. Thus, this option was open to those who had property in various forms that would serve as security. As property ownership was fairly widespread in nineteenth-century France, many families would have collateral that could be mortgaged. Still, the issues were complicated. The three parties each had interests to protect. For the prospective California emigrant, the issue was how to raise the necessary funds. For the lender, it was the terms, especially the security of the landed property. With a view to this protection, prospective lenders commissioned appraisals of the lands in question. Finally, the family needed to make sure that the arrangements did not place the family inheritance at risk in any fundamental way. These family assets had many claimants across generations. Each needed to be assured that his or her interests would remain unthreatened.3 Another financial instrument in raising funds for emigration was the lease. In this option, the traveler would sign a contract with a company before his departure. The company itself would become the source of funds. In exchange, the gold seeker would agree to work for the company for two or three years. This contractual arrangement was guaranteed by a bond on the landed

The Rush to Gold estate of the family. Once again, an appraisal was a part of the negotiations, for properties often had existing liens on them. When the terms were satisfactory and the necessary safeguards in place, both parties would sign the contract. These gold rush emigrants were not “associate workers” as described in the company’s advertisements. Instead, they were indebted to the company for their passage and obligated to serve the company for a designated period as part of the agreement.4 In another variation, the monies for passage might be borrowed within the family. In these cases, it was often the father who had access to the family resources and served as lender. The advantage was that the obligation remained within the family rather than in the hands of a stranger. But the family nature of the transaction would provoke disagreements about the use of the family resources. The extended French family was a complicated mechanism. It had several parts and generations, almost always in stages of transition. The old died; the next generation ascended to positions of authority; the younger members had to be provided for; the elderly had to be supported and consulted as befitted their senior status in the family. These issues invariably provoked another important variable—namely, the role of women in the family in response to the rush to gold. In some cases, they had to become a necessary part of the financial arrangements. In others, young women had to be provided for in the arrangements of the estate.5 Some characteristics were common to all the financial arrangements. The first and most obvious was the intention of the traveler to return and return soon. The passage to California and the sojourn there was invariably viewed as a brief interlude within which the individual and the family would be enriched to the benefit of all parties. The second characteristic, related to the first, was the high expectations that were placed on the travelers, given the import of the decision to go and the arrangements—personal and financial—that decision entailed. This was a substantial investment on the part of the family. The member charged with its execution was all too aware that he carried the family’s prayers, best wishes, and highest expectations on his departure.6 Rural France (most of the country) was not a stagnant economy. Financial transactions and mortgages in particular were widespread. Money was borrowed for several reasons: to provide a dowry for a daughter, to exempt a son from military service, to buy adjacent lands, to construct a mill, or to purchase livestock. Such loans were designed for the interests of the family, long and short range; likewise, it was anticipated that the sums raised to support a family gold seeker would produce the necessary and expected dividends.7




As noted in chapter 3, for many individuals, the news of the California gold discoveries opened economic opportunities for a new chapter in their lives and the lives of their families. Another group sought relief from boredom. Some French Argonauts had a range of pressing financial reasons. Albert Bénard de Russailh emphasized the qualities of adventure. “For about two years now the world has been preoccupied only with the discovery of gold mines in Northern California made by intrepid travelers in North America,” he wrote. “Everywhere some fabulous stories are told of the colossal fortunes to be acquired in a few days in this new El Dorado. The fever of emigration commenced at that time.” He continued: “In the month of August 1849, my brother decided to undertake this voyage. Younger than I by a few months, of an adventurous character, with no doubts when one is twenty years old, he embarked on the Cachalot.” Albert followed a year later. He took the same route, ran the same hazards, and “went through the same waters in order to seek a fortune that destiny has not allowed me on my native soil.”8 Charles de Lambertie’s account of his decision and preparation for the voyage to and experiences in California, written in 1849 and later published as a guide for prospective French Argonauts, represented a particular class of French Forty-Niner. De Lambertie wrote nothing of his initial decision to go, nor did he dwell on the issue of the cost. He seemed to regard the first as already made; the latter was unimportant. After a brief retrospective on the emotional tug of leaving his wife and family, de Lambertie soon put this sense of loss behind him. He faced forward to the challenges, the adventures, and the prospect of economic advantage that drove his voyage and that of so many others. He concluded, in short, “I go to search for gold in California, Messieurs, and that is all that you see in my plan. . . . But what will you do in California? They reply to me. I have told you: I go there to search for gold. And then? The future awaits me.”9 At the last moment, various friends tried to make him renounce his California venture, but he rebuffed them. He saw it as a matter of character. He left with regret but left nonetheless: “But alas! One cannot escape one’s destiny.”10 Others saw the departure for California as forced upon them by outside circumstances. Jean Frédéric Chauvin, born in 1831, was the youngest son of a successful medical doctor. The father, Jean (the elder), had followed his father into “the art of healing.” He was determined that three of his sons would follow him into the medical profession.11 The eldest, Jean Homère Chauvin, did his studies at Bordeaux and then in Paris. There, he fell in love with the married

The Rush to Gold daughter of one of his professors. He was killed in a duel by the outraged husband. Amid the scandal in the closed medical community, the reaction of the father was to break off the studies of his two other sons. The middle son, Jean Lambert, accepted the father’s decision. He went on to achieve a substantial degree of success as a large landowner and in the illegal exercise of medicine, in which he achieved a high reputation in his local part of the countryside.12 Jean Frédéric did not accept the decision of his father. He decided “to leave for the Americas.” He departed in 1849 or 1850, thanks to the savings of his mother and with the curses of his father, who, however, gave him his permission. As a minor child—he was eighteen in 1849—he would have needed parental permission. Jean Frédéric departed from Le Havre like so many emigrants from Charante-Maritime, probably as an associate worker of the Californienne.13 PREPARATIONS AND DEPARTURES: FRIENDS TRAVEL TOGETHER

The village of Bruley in Lorraine was one of innumerable small French communities. It had been in place for hundreds of years; its families had been part of an established cycle of economic and social life stretching back beyond memory. For generations past, the young men and young women had grown up in the village, inherited land or worked at trades, married, begun their own families, and prepared to write the next chapter in this multi-volume story. The Lorraine people were by nature cautious. They did not like to go off on adventures but preferred to live a modest life of hard work in the fields. Suddenly, years of natural disasters and economic hardship ruffled the smooth exterior of this town of five hundred. The sources of unhappiness and misery were bad harvests and economic depression. For many it had become a time of desperation.14 Bruley and its families, together with much of France, were profoundly influenced by the news of the discovery of gold mines of extraordinary richness in California. Coming after two years of famine, 1846 and 1847, this remarkable series of distant events laid the foundation for a heretofore unimagined exodus. Thus, the years from 1850 to 1856 were marked by, among other events, the departure of the sons of the village for California.15 Given the character of the people in a village of five hundred, one needed a powerful motive to leave the place of one’s birth and connections, to become an expatriate, and to live many years on the other side of the ocean. For perhaps the first time, numbers of young people began to consider leaving the village.



France This sense of desperation at mid-century led some of the young people on a voyage from this small village toward the unknown. For a group of friends, departure did not represent a rupture in the permanence of village life; rather, it would take the form of an expedition together to California, where the golden returns from the rich landscape would provide the means to return to the village at the end of a limited sojourn. And so it was that 1850 was the year of departure of the first wave of young emigrants.16 The Bruley Argonauts prepared to go to California by way of Cape Horn. The leader of the group was Jean Migot, twenty-eight years old. With him were his cousin Joseph Bouvée, N. Verlet, Nicolas Goujot, Joseph Raison (called the elder Raison), Justin Demange, and Nicolas Trottot. The last was married and left a wife and two young children. The following year, 1851, three other inhabitants of Bruley joined them in America: Firmin Gillet, Louis Bouvée (brother of Joseph), and Clément. A little later, departing in their turn, Grégoire and Stéphane Demange brought the total number to twelve.17 Known subsequently in the annals of the village as “the Great Departure,” it was an occasion for the gathering of the entire community. The date was a morning in September 1850. The inhabitants of Bruley were in a high state of emotion over the impending departures of their young people. At the decisive moment, the men “hoisted seven trunks, containing repaired clothes and a few of linen, then a box of arms and a box of tools on a cart with a ladder.” The driver, Louis Migot, brother of Jean, cracked his whip over the draft animals with the cry, “Hue Loulou! Hue Coquette!” Thus, the first seven young men began a journey of 120 kilometers to the railroad station. On this first leg of a long voyage, the travelers walked. Along the way, they sang. After three days, they arrived at the train station at Vitry-le-François. There, they boarded the train to Paris, where they spent a day and a half. Then they went to Le Havre, where, like so many other prospective French Argonauts, they waited.18 Several weeks later, their ship, the Moise, loaded a full complement of French Argonauts. There were 240 passengers and 30 members of the crew, with enough provisions for two years. The ship carried, among other groups, the associate workers from two California companies, France and Toison d’Or. Finally, in late October, they departed for a voyage of five months. On the eve of the departure, Jean Migot wrote a letter home that began, “We leave tomorrow with a curious joy.” He continued, “Do not grieve for my fate. I hope, by the grace of God, to succeed.” Referring to his companions, “We love one another as brothers.”19 There were other emigrations from Lorraine. Gabriel Richard described the same hardships in Lorraine in 1849 as in the previous years. Of all the districts,

The Rush to Gold the town of Luneville was among the most affected. There were ravages from cholera; even an epidemic of suicides spread throughout Lorraine. The MunierPugin family was a leader in the plans for emigration. Those who prepared for their departure for California included Charles Gadel and Édouard and Victor Munier-Pugin. A distant cousin and young veterinarian, Émile Maubon, joined them. A letter from Le Havre, dated February 10, indicated that the four French Argonauts would depart on March 18.20 In preparation for the long trip, Édouard and Victor, with Émile Chanal, their young protégé, arrived in Nancy on March 12. In addition to trunks, “large chests, solid, circled by hoops of iron, decorated on the front by bands of pigskin,” they also brought a barrel of eggs submerged in lime for nourishment on the voyage. The account described the farewells: “The last adieux exchanged, the heavy wagon starts in a great sound of metal and bells on the route to Toul.”21 The first letters from the voyageurs reached the village on March 20, 1849. “We left with full hearts; it has been only three days and it feels to me like a century.” At Le Havre, they booked passage on the Édouard, with 150 other emigrants. The third-class price from Le Havre to San Francisco was F 750, but two made the voyage for F 1,200 on condition that they assisted the crew and were content with the food of the sailors.22 In 1849, ninety-two emigrants left Lorraine for California. Among the great diversity of professions among the Argonauts, alongside farmers, day laborers, and casual laborers, were traveling salesmen, dealers in old iron and novelties, joiners, glass cutters, sawyers, stone cutters, leather workers, shoemakers, bakers, a stockholder, and several property owners. Most of the emigrants had contracted for their passage with a California company. Like so many others, concluded Richard’s account, they had been seduced by the outburst of publicity.23 The accounts by Louis Migot and Gabriel Richard emphasize the contrast between the decisions and plans of the affluent adventurers juxtaposed against the heavy hearts of the less affluent travelers from the villages. The former brushed off the ties to families and communities with thoughts of adventure and triumphal return. The latter felt burdened by separation from family and village; their departures were marked by large gatherings and emotional farewells and the expectation of a shared return in triumph. PREPARATIONS AND DEPARTURES: ERNEST DE MASSEY

At the opposite end of the young workers and farm laborers from Lorraine were the members of the aristocracy. Ernest de Massey was one of the younger



France sons of the nobility who joined the rush to California. He was a member of a well-known family that had lived for generations at the Château de Passavant on the Upper Saône River near the Swiss border. De Massey had trained for a military life, but he abandoned this career to become a glass manufacturer. When this venture failed, he tried agriculture with no more success. With these two failures behind him, he decided to join the migration to California. He was accompanied “by Alexandre Veron, my cousin and associate, and by François Pidaucet, engaged as carpenter and as day laborer.” Throughout, de Massey referred to his continuing personal responsibilities; these were devotion to his family, as exemplified by his loyalty to his cousin Alexandre Veron. The two young men suffered through trials of disagreements over two years, but de Massey never flinched from his responsibility. While he confided his frustrations and anger to his journal, he never turned his back on his cousin. Although de Massey was separated by a yawning gap from the travelers from the villages, he shared with them a common commitment to family. De Massey was a man of strong views about politics and the nature of society. He was deeply suspicious, indeed openly hostile, to the recent revolution and the founding of the republic. There was a sense of the voyage and sojourn in California as his exile from a nation that he saw falling apart. Wherever he was and under whatever conditions he lived, de Massey attempted to conduct himself as a gentleman. He expected no less of others, at least of those with pretensions to meet him as equals. His departing words to his family referred to his failures and his determination to atone for them and “to assure to all a tranquil future.” He went on: “I fix my destiny far from the county where I have been tested by all the misfortunes and boredom you have always found in me, your best relative, your most useful friend.”24 With these words, he turned his back on his family and the country of his birth. As the sailing vessel moved away from the dock in Le Havre, some of the prospective French Forty-Niners burst into song. De Massey observed of this exercise: “The songs, called ‘Patriotiques,’ surrounded by cries of ‘Vive la République,’ follow the ship across the water, the last expression of the political and social views of the majority party of the emigrants.” He continued in the same vein: “Of all the songs, that of the Girondins, ‘To Die for the Country,’ produced the greatest effect; only I offer this remark: it is that it was badly placed in the mouths of our Patriots, who left the country, instead of staying there to die for it.”25 The numbers of passengers on the Cérès reflected the new demands associated with the California gold discoveries. On a ship with accommodations for thirty-odd, the owner and captain had crammed some eighty-eight passengers,

The Rush to Gold plus a dozen members of the crew. They were apportioned: sixteen passengers in first class (including de Massey); forty in second class; thirty-two in third class. The second- and third-class passengers were allotted space in steerage, one group in the rear, the other in front of the ship. Their quarters were so tight that the two lower-class passengers often slept in the open air, whatever the dangers. Taking the passengers as a whole, de Massey called them a representative group.26 De Massey confided to his journal that in a moment of indecision that must have confronted many French Argonauts, cousin Alexandre “was close to deciding to return to France with the pilot . . . and if above all his pride was not involved, he would return into his family, where he feared the sarcasms and the pleasantries.”27 Once publicly committed to the voyage to California, prospective gold seekers in France (and the eastern United States) found it difficult to back out or, later, to return empty-handed. De Massey continued: “It is in these sentiments, that the 21st May 1849, I departed France, at nine o’clock in the morning, on the ship ‘la Cérès’ from L’Havre, shipowner Joseph LeMaître, chartered by Barbey of Paris (from whom God preserve the inexperienced travelers), captain Messmaker, false bonhomie, of which I will often make mention in the course of this account.” He summed up his objectives in a brief sentence that might have stood for all the French Argonauts: “I hope for a good voyage, a rapid fortune, and a prompt return.”28 “At 10 kilometers from L’Havre, the steam tug left us,” de Massey wrote. “The shipowner LeMaître, . . . before descending into his boat, drank a toast with the passengers, to success of their futures in California.” He continued: “À propos of this shipowner, it is good to record here the opinion that all the passengers have of him: he is a businessman who treats the whites in the same manner as others treat the blacks; it is for him a matter which is worth so much and nothing more. Few of his contracts are conscientiously lived up to; also there is only a single voice in his profit, and that is not favorable to his honesty and to his good faith. People say that the shipowners of L’Havre are almost all the same; that is not flattering for the place, and [they say] that the shipowners of Bordeaux are more conscientious.”29 PREPARATIONS AND DEPARTURES: LÉOPOLD ANSART DU FIESNET

Léopold Ansart du Fiesnet was the second son of a well-to-do Parisian family. His father, Félix-Charles, was professor of history and geography at the Royal College of Saint Louis. Léopold grew up as the adventurous counterpoint to his



France hard-working, high-achieving older brother, Edmond. The family correspondence described Léopold’s dissolute habits and rowdy friends. By the time he was nineteen, Léopold kept late hours or no hours, sometimes appearing drunk and bloodied. He was also “insolent” toward his family. The death of his father in April 1849 caused no reformation in his habits; indeed, it seemed to intensify his alienation. After negotiations, his family found him a position as a clerk in a bookshop. After a few weeks of faithful attention to his duties, he began to absent himself. Finally, he disappeared, to resurface at a masked ball. The family was in an uproar. In March 1850, he visited the family to announce that he wished to embark for America. A “council of the family” authorized his trip, charging his uncle Selim Ansart with making the necessary arrangements at Le Havre. On March 11, 1850, Selim signed on behalf of Léopold (a minor), for an engagement of three years as a pilot’s apprentice on board the sailing ship Pescatore. Selim also bought the necessary clothes and outfit and gave the captain F 500, to be distributed in small amounts to his nephew as “pocket money.” A month later, the vessel sailed for San Francisco with 250 passengers headed to the goldfields. The departure was not smooth. The night before the scheduled sailing, Léopold asked to go to the bathroom. He disappeared and spent the night and early morning on the quays, where he ran up a debt that the uncle was obliged to pay.30 Léopold Ansart belonged to a small but select group of French Argonauts who were both pulled and pushed toward California. The “pull” reflected that this was the great adventure of the age, almost certain to end in a fortune. Léopold had asked his family to support his ambition, and it agreed to do so. This commitment had an air of “push” about it. His arrangements and departure had unusual qualities. Pooling all the costs—Léopold’s apprenticeship, clothing, and pocket money—Selim Ansart might have purchased passage with one of the California companies. But it was clearly the will of the “family council” that he not do so. Instead, the prodigal son Léopold would work his way to California. PREPARATIONS AND DEPARTURE: JEAN-NICOLAS PERLOT

At the age of twenty-six, Jean-Nicolas Perlot decided to join the rush to California. He was impatient with his career as a linen draper. News of the California gold discoveries had spread across the nation. California represented a new and dramatic opportunity to break out of the cycle of low wages and slow advancement. “All the walls, in Paris, were covered with [California company] announcements, and these were filled with alluring promises. They aimed at

The Rush to Gold finding both shareholders and workers; each of them presented to the former as to the latter the prospect of a swift fortune: the latter, after two years—three at the most—should all return rich.” Perlot continued: “The chance to tempt fortune thus presented itself. I seized it and decided to leave for California.” The obstacle to his intention was F 1,000, “which had to be paid first.” At this point, an accidental business connection came forward to assist him.31 Perlot’s employer put him in touch with the manager of a California company, Fortune. After extended negotiations with the manager, M. Thibeau, they reached an agreement. Perlot would join the company as a “worker,” and on his part, he signed a contract for a five-year engagement with the company, with a note to Thibeau for F 10,000, which would be repaid by Perlot’s earnings in California. As part of the agreement, Thibeau appointed Perlot “steward” of the company, which meant he would be fed, lodged, armed, clothed, and cared for in case of illness at the company’s expense. Perlot also had a 40 percent interest in the profits that the company would realize during his engagement. At the end of the contract, the company would pay for his return to Paris. In Perlot’s words: “I accepted with pleasure; I was saved. I was leaving!”32 Perlot also had a second negotiation, this one with his family. Under this agreement, his uncles would have the use of his property in his absence; in case he did not return, they would inherit. In exchange, the uncles and his brothers agreed to advance F 200 for him on the voyage and after his arrival in California. The family finances were complicated, involving railroad shares, bank shares, and cash. The arrangements for his absence had to be worked out in detail.33 Perlot’s arrangements to make the voyage to California suggested that in the case of small companies—Fortune’s first expedition numbered forty-three—the manager of the company might work out individual contracts. The workers of the company were from departments across France and included two Swiss and two Belgians, of whom Perlot was one. Perlot’s sailing ship, the Courrier de Cherbourg, also carried fifteen independent passengers, twelve of these bound for California.34 THE DEPARTURES OF COMPANIES

The mixture of joy and nostalgia during departures was reflected in the departure of the Jacques Lafitte from Le Havre. One of the local papers, Journal du Havre, called it a sort of “family celebration [that] has taken place within our walls.” The account continued: “Two days before the scheduled departure of the ‘Jacques Lafitte,’ the associate workers of the company ‘Californienne’ of Paris have come together sixty strong for a banquet to celebrate M. Ch.



France Hochgesangt, the chief of the expedition.” For the occasion, “the banquet hall was in perfect taste for the needs of the workers and was filled by numerous guests.” The celebration went on for more than three hours. Those present were joined by loyalty to one another and “by the mission that they proposed to accomplish.” At the end of the meal, several toasts were offered to the whole assembly: “To the Directors, to the Union, to the Harmony of the Company!”35 M. Gaillard, the head of the expedition, responded with a heartfelt speech, greeted by unanimous applause. Each of the guests expressed his fidelity to the man who would lead the expedition to California. Then, M. Ch. Hochgesangt said a few words, confirming the loyalty of the company’s director-general to their enterprise. This celebration bought together men who for the most part had not known one another until a few days before and who from that moment had become friends and brothers. The following day, Sunday, all members of the association joined together at the Church of Notre Dame in order to celebrate a mass of intercession to the Virgin. In the choir, musicians of the National Guard played orchestral music. The service concluded, M. Herval, vicar of Notre Dame, addressed some words of thanks to the travelers for their good works regarding the poor. As the travelers left the church, the music of the National Guard accompanied them into the streets as they made their way to the Theater Square in the midst of a large and sympathetic crowd. The associate workers of the Californienne, on the departure of the Jacques Lafitte, addressed a letter to their director: “The ‘associate workers’ of the Californienne leave France with sadness if they leave without expressing their recognition of the care that you have taken in the organization of the company, [whose workers] you have surrounded with attention on the occasion of their departure. They have confidence in the success of an enterprise to which you have so largely contributed. Count on their concurrence and their union to assure, in the proportion to their forces, a common success. Receive, M. le directeur, the assurance of our esteem and our confidence.”36 Another kind of departure was reflected by Arsène Grosjean, a passenger on the three masted Vesta. He was one of 250 on board, including 25 women. When the ship departed the quay, some 3,000–4,000 people had come on the jetty to watch it sail. Of the occasion, he wrote: “We saluted one another with cries of ‘vive la république!’ All the passengers laughed and sang. A few cried.” Grosjean noted that he did not shed tears. Still, he did say that he felt a pang “in my heart which lasted 3 or 4 days” when he could no longer see the French coast. He often thought of his family and his determination to return to France after making his fortune.37

The Rush to Gold Jean-Nicolas Perlot, sailing on the Courrier de Cherbourg, observed the same demonstrations. His was a different perspective. As a Belgian, he had neither family members nor friends among the throngs bidding adieu and waving handkerchiefs. This sense of loneliness affected him just as much as the physical separation as the ship pulled away from the dock and spread its sails. He walked the deck with Latuy, another Belgian. “After some seconds of silence, I told him what I was feeling; without saying a word, he looked at me fixedly; then, covering his face with his handkerchief, he fled; I remained alone, mournful, my eyes turned toward Le Havre, which was slowly receding.”38 Where did the French Argonauts come from? They came from across France, but mainly the east and south. And of course, they came from Paris. For many, Paris was not an origin but an intermediate stop. They originally came from the countryside and small villages roiled by economic depression and hard times. It is important to note the broad array of participants. This extended far beyond the written accounts, which tended to reflect an affluent class of gold seekers. The urge to join the rush to gold in distant California engaged scores, hundreds, and eventually thousands of French people over four years. Beyond the youthful search for adventure and the repair of lost or damaged fortunes and family prospects were questions of long-lasting economic and structural changes in France. France was still a nation in which the largest numbers of families were tied to the land. Yet rural life was now in process of an enforced transformation that upset patterns that had been in place for centuries. The failures of harvests after years of declining prices had shaken the traditional stability of the countryside. Added to these changes was the emergence of industry and industrial transformation, of which the most obvious signs were railroads snaking across the French landscape. All these influences came together to produce an accommodation and even an urgency to the possibility of emigration, even to a land as distant as California. It is true that the rush to gold affected only a small portion of France’s population, yet it is significant that this group participated and that it did so from unlikely places.39 Yet even before the voyage came the issue of resources to pay for it. The French Argonauts who left accounts identified a broad range of origins, occupations, and character. Many had left behind families, including some with wives and children, and their departure must have entailed extended negotiations with other family members over resources and care. Some of the more affluent, like Charles de Lambertie and Ernest de Massey, carried a cargo of goods to California, presumably to realize a substantial gain. The exceptions that we have in hand were groups of friends from villages. Here, several families



France (and perhaps even outside lenders) pooled resources to send local young men to California. Across varied landscapes and class lines, what they shared was a profound hope. Some had the leisure to pursue wealth; others had to leave the village or countryside. The question for each group was to go where? The news from California created and nurtured a dream. It was an alternative limited to those who could find or negotiate resources, but an alternative nonetheless.40 Taken as a whole, this varied group of prospective Argonauts shared two common qualities. First, collectively and individually, they knew nothing about customs in or the language of the United States, to which they proposed to come with such high hopes. Second was a focus on national identification. These French people left France as inhabitants of a particular region or village. In California they were all French. In short, a form of national identity replaced regional orientation.41

Part Two


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The excitement of departures passed quickly astern, to be replaced by the routine of ship life. For some French Argonauts, the introduction to a long ocean voyage was seasickness. This condition passed, even with the most afflicted. What remained was the monotony of a long voyage, interspersed with occasional stormy weather. Five or six months was a long time to share cramped quarters with others, often strangers at the start of the voyage. Over the duration of the trip, most passengers (a mix of individuals, small groups, and members of California companies) invented various kinds of recreational activities, ranging from music and dancing to lectures on California and techniques for mining gold. Gambling was almost universal. Voyages from the French ports to San Francisco reflected the ships and maritime technology of the day. Ocean travel was making the transition from sail to steam. The gold discoveries in California and the massive emigrations they inspired over the next dozen years cut across this maritime fault line. Most of the prospective French Forty-Niners, whether traveling as individuals or parts of companies, made the voyage by sail. California companies often chartered the vessels. Sometimes shipowners simply scheduled a voyage to San Francisco, advertised in local and regional newspapers, and sold passage to individuals or groups. The sailing ships that made the voyage from French ports to San Francisco were generally modest in size. Quarters were tight for passengers. The cargo holds were full of baggage and merchandise being transported to California for sale at great profit. In response to the rising demand, many shipowners and captains sold extra tickets for passage, in some cases far exceeding the usual numbers for a passage. Crowding, inconvenience, and friction increased in like proportion. Voyages were also profitable exercises for those providing a wide range of goods and services. Shipowners especially profited, but so too did all those 91


California connected with outfitting ships for a voyage of several months. In addition, many of the French Argonauts, within and outside of the California companies, intended to take goods to California for immediate and profitable resale. These goods had to be bought and shipped to the piers where they would be loaded on the vessels. With all these variables, it was not surprising that the sailings of such vessels were repeatedly delayed, to the growing frustration of passengers ready to debark.1 VOYAGES VIA CAPE HORN

For the French Argonauts, there were two routes to the California goldfields: by way of Cape Horn or by way of Panama. In general, individuals and companies that brought extensive baggage or goods for sale in California traveled by way of Cape Horn. The voyage by way of Cape Horn involved arrangements that could be made in France. It did not expose travelers to tropical landscapes or transportation arrangements that must be made in Panama. There were ports of call on the Atlantic Coast and the Pacific side. Still, the ports of call were few. Rounding the Horn itself was an exercise fraught with both danger and inconvenience in equal parts. Like so much else on a long voyage, it depended on the random qualities of the weather and the captain’s skill in managing his ship. Alexandre André departed on the Georges from Le Havre in May 1849. He sailed with 125 passengers and a crew of 20. The voyage was long and the routine unending. According to his account, the most noteworthy breaks in the monotony were the elaborate ceremonies associated with crossing the equator. These sometimes got out of hand, according to André, and led to riots. It took thirty-seven days to round Cape Horn: “a nightmare to the most intrepid sailors, and where one runs into the worst possible weather in the world.” The ship arrived in Valparaiso on September 26, where it remained until October 20, pursuing arrangements to transport goods to California. André reported that the harbor was filled with activity, mostly with ships destined for California.2 The accounts of the young men from Bruley offer another dimension of the voyage and the activities of the passengers. At sea, on February 24, 1850, the crew and passengers celebrated the “anniversary of the Republic.” This group reflected that the political sentiments of the passengers remained strong long after the shores of France disappeared. To friends and family in the village, Jean Migot sent this message: “All have a contented heart and the desire that this fête celebrates in France with the republican sentiments that move all in the middle of the ocean.” It was a poignant example of the depth of devotion to the idea of the republic, thousands of miles distant from the republic itself.3

Voyages and Arrivals The young men from Bruley had a rapid and smooth passage around the Horn. Jean Migot wrote that they “doubled Cape Horn in eight days.” He noted that in summer (it was late January in the southern hemisphere) at the far southern latitudes there was scarcely any night. The sun set at eleven in the evening and rose at two in the morning. When the sky was clear, he wrote, one could read a book the entire night. He and his companions from Bruley rejoiced at the sight of the coast of Chile a week later. He described the small port of Talcahuano as very like Nancy but with fewer people.4 For Arsène Grosjean, the dominant feeling of the voyage was extreme boredom. The Argonauts passed the time by exchanging views on their future fortunes. Grosjean wrote: “One kills time as best one can. Many times we speak of our future fortunes. One said when I have 300,000 francs, I will return. Me, said a second, I will not return before I have 400,000; it is necessary to have 600,000 added a third; it is not worth it to come so far for less.” Then, there was entertainment. “Every Saturday and Sunday nights, when the weather was good, we danced on the bridge, to the tune of a flute and a cornet à pistons. . . . Every evening we sang.”5 Of the diversions that appeared throughout the long voyages from French ports to San Francisco, the most universal was gambling. Faced with hours and days of idleness, the passengers played cards. In Grosjean’s account, he played on a whim and soon lost F 300, his capital for the first month in California. “I was not discouraged,” he recorded. He sold a cravat to a fellow passenger for 10 francs, borrowed 10 francs from a friend, and won back the F 300, plus an additional 35. Exultant and relieved, he never played again. But his account makes it clear that many others did through the five-month voyage. A final part of the routine was complaining about conditions of the voyage, especially the food. “For a landsman,” noted Grosjean, “the food on a ship is terrible.” The standard daily fare: coffee with brandy for breakfast; salt beef or lard beans and hard biscuits for lunch; beans and beef for dinner. Wine was served with lunch and dinner. Grosjean noted that first-class passengers ate well, the same diet as the captain.6 Henri Alric made the voyage to California as the chaplain of the Paris-based company the Ruche d’Or. He wrote, “After a mass at the main church, we left L’Havre at 9 in the morning.” He embarked September 9, 1850, on the Anne Louise. The ship carried two hundred emigrants from three companies: the Bretonne, the Californienne, and the Ruche d’Or. Alric continued his account: the Bretonne was a regionally financed and locally recruited company that sponsored only one expedition. Each company was supposed to send a doctor, a pharmacist, a chaplain, and three women, “preferably ‘sisters of charity,’ ” to



California mend the clothes of the workers. This joint expedition had seven women and only one chaplain.7 They stopped at Santa Cruz in the Canaries for water. Unfortunately, the officers and crew left the water on the dock. The passengers managed on short rations until they reached Rio de Janeiro, where they laid over for a month. There, they were courteously received by the French colony. The ship departed Rio on December 4. It rounded Cape Horn with favorable weather and landed at Valparaiso on February 7. The voyage resumed on February 11. In a display of naval authority, the captain left nine passengers who had complained against him in Rio. The Anne Louise arrived in San Francisco on April 26. The voyage took seven and a half months, a long, hard crossing. On arrival, the ship reported a roster of 151 passengers, including 7 women.8 Charles de Lambertie’s voyage had the usual boredom and discomforts. He was seasick for the first week. De Lambertie’s account contained the fullest description of the natural wonders associated with the long voyage. He described in detail the ports of call, including the Canary Islands, Tenerife, Gomera, and Palma. He wrote of the spectacular high seas and the phosphorescence of the waves. He described varieties of fish, including tuna, flying fish, porpoises, sharks, and dolphins. He also offered an account of several varieties of exotic birds. His account of a sunset on the equator remains a tribute to his descriptive powers.9 These long voyages to California have many common features. The initial response was seasickness, to be followed by the boredom of long days and nights on the rising and falling seas. The first-class passengers found refuge in gossip. First-class accommodations brought more space and better food, but it could not cut short the length of the voyage and the endless repetition of the days. For those crammed into third-class quarters with marginal food, the voyage was an exercise in survival. Their refuge was sitting on the open deck in good weather and exchanging hardships of the past, mixed with hopes and expectations for the future. They sometimes sang, their voices rising to the first-class passengers accommodated so high above them. THE VOYAGE OF ERNEST DE MASSEY AROUND CAPE HORN

Ernest de Massey took first-class passage on the Cérès, which departed from Le Havre. The voyage would last five months. The excitement of departure, new faces, and the routine of ship life gradually gave way to boredom mixed with physical discomfort. In his tiny cabin, most of the space was taken up by two beds. His cousin Alexandre slept on the lower one because of his chronic

Voyages and Arrivals seasickness. The ship was crammed with passengers, merchandise, and supplies. De Massey wrote, “The bridge, on our departure from L’Havre, is literally filled with containers of water, of wine, of merchandise of all sorts.” The deck was lined with the cages of chickens, hens, ducks, and turkeys, and their cries were “blending constantly with the noise of maneuvers, with the groans and hiccups of the sick, with the refrains of the more or less patriotic Californians in the between decks.”10 Gradually, the voyage assumed a routine. In the morning, de Massey wrote, “One dines at 9 o’clock, ordinarily some 18 to 20 at the captain’s table. The menu consists of bad bread, detestable wine from the Midi, undrinkable water, worthless coffee, and good tea.” There were also quantities of cognac. He continued, “You may judge the quality of the air breathed when twenty people sleep, eat, drink, breathe, smoke, etc. in this small space.”11 Day-to-day activities for the passengers included the interplay of class and personalities. De Massey pursued cultivated companions with whom to pass the time. His options were limited to his fellow passengers in first class. The description of his companions always began with family connections, titles, places of birth, education, politics, marriage, and economic circumstances. From his conversations with fellow passengers, de Massey compiled a list of reasons for going to California. They included the need to recoup a personal or family fortune, with the passenger often sent by the family with financial support and sometimes goods. Or the voyage might be a form of exile, in which the family sent the gold seeker with the expectation of his not returning. For some, it was a voyage of political exile (de Massey thought of himself as an example). The strangest case was that of a son whose father fell in love with the son’s mistress and sent the son into exile in California. De Massey also noted the financial conditions of the French Forty-Niners in first class. This was a group—for the most part—of impeccable social standing mixed with financial stress. As recognition of their standing, the captain had taken the personal notes of several individuals in partial payment for their passage. De Massey described the political divisions in detail. The first-class passengers were generally on the political right, except for one Dr. Briot, an attractive figure who had early succumbed to the blandishments of socialism. De Massey found Briot the most interesting of his fellow passengers, and he forgave his political defection, at least sufficiently to engage in endless discussions with him. The loud celebrations and radical songs rising from below reflected the politics of the second- and third-class passengers. De Massey concluded, “There are some fifty on board of the most red type, professing for their part Robespierre, a cult fanatic.” A wide range of other political opinions was also represented on the Cérès.12



California De Massey also recounted the origins of the passengers. “Among them, I do not wish to guarantee that there are not some old offenders from justice: sailor deserters, traders and sons of ruined families . . . employees out of work, from agriculture, servants, workers of every state, poets, industrialists, and the crowned heads of the great concourse of Paris; the largest part are the victims of our political dissensions.” As for national origins, there were Belgians, Dutch, Swiss, some English, some Spanish, and the French who formed the majority.13 Among the passengers encountered by de Massey were fallen officials or aristocrats driven by the need to replenish or recoup economic fortunes and social standing. Having experienced economic disasters of various kinds, they sought relief in the sunny skies and golden land of California, where all such misfortunes might be put right. De Massey recounted the story of the “treasurer” of one of the companies headed to California: “I have made the acquaintance of M. des Finances, veteran officer in the cavalry corps of King Charles X, having resigned his commission in order to marry a Demoiselle de Rochemur. Ruined by agriculture and by imprudent security, he leaves in France his wife and two daughters, and goes to California, his purse almost empty, but the heart filled with hope and courage to repair these disasters; it is possible, but it is perhaps difficult; he deserves to succeed.” There were many others like him.14 Within the first-class space, there was also a large room (by the standards of the ship) known as the Chamber. This was the headquarters of a company composed of four people: Jules de France, de Lamoller, Langlet, and Gosselin. De Massey continued, “It is hard to imagine four individuals more opposite in taste and manners, offering more contrast in terms of personalities. Jules de France, having wasted his fortune, goes to California without a single end in view” to recoup his past financial mistakes. De Massey wrote about de France, “His father, the Count de France, lives in Soissons, occupying a place in administration. I cannot say to what point his father knows about the projects of the son. . . . If de France is the most rowdy person . . . of the four associates, M. de Lamoller is the principal, the most serious person of this society.” De Lamoller was from an honorable family; he had an uncle lieutenant-general. He had launched himself on a shaky venture “without money, without consideration, without credit, going to search for gold in California, with a stock of goods of 2/3,000 metallic and quill pens.”15 As a man, he “is insolent and violent, void of judgment and discretion. He has fallen low with bacchanalian habits. He has with him a female companion, who tells the entire world that she is going to rejoin her husband in California. He has promised to pay the half of her passage.”16 On the question of the woman traveling with de Lamoller, Estelle, joining the first-class table, de Massey reflected his distaste for upward mobility. The

Voyages and Arrivals woman had the right only to second-class accommodation, but he declared himself open to changing his opinion. When she at last arrived and seated herself, he made reference to a pullet introduced among fourteen roosters. The sanctity of the first-class dining room reflected his status. He was reluctant to see this exclusivity breached.17 De Massey continued his recitation of his companions. De Lamoller had tried agriculture without success. He had been a retired officer since 1830. He was married, father to four children, and not happy in his family life. He goes “to repair his losses in California. He is about fifty years old. He is decisive and courageous, but not a strong head. He has paid a part of the passage of de France, who himself has signed some billets for the captain. For the other party and for the half-fare of his sweetheart.”18 During the prolonged period at sea, de Massey posed for an artist, studied English, and examined pamphlets and other reading materials with information about California. Above all, he took refuge in his journal. Here he wrote at length and under a variety of conditions. As the end of the voyage approached, he concluded that it had been long but had passed agreeably. It was a tribute to his journal and his first-class accommodations. VOYAGES VIA PANAMA

The Panama route was the choice of a minority of French Argonauts. In part, this choice reflected the enormous publicity associated with the rise of the California companies. The advertisements of these companies, which flooded newspapers throughout 1849 and into 1850, emphasized the attractions of their elaborate plans to reach the California goldfields. Their arrangements exclusively involved the companies’ chartered ships that would sail around Cape Horn. That only a few of these companies actually sent ships with associate workers and goods for commercial transactions did not change the impressions created by the extensive publicity associated with their founding. Panama appealed to independent spirits with resources. The route across the isthmus was shorter; it was also hedged in by a variety of hazards, expenses, and uncertainties. The hazards included the overland trek through a jungle, water transportation by canoe, and ever-present diseases. The expenses were proportionately greater. The uncertainties that surrounded a two-week isthmus crossing emphasized continuing interaction with the Americans for the same goods and services in a strange language. These issues came to a head on the Pacific side of the isthmus, where in the spring of 1849, a thousand prospective Forty-Niners were camped out, all seeking transportation up the coast to San



California Francisco. Here, the sense of competition with the Americans reached a climax. Prices for accommodation on the Pacific side rose, tempers flared, rumors abounded. It was, at best, a hazardous undertaking. Yet some French headed to California chose it, in part unaware of the hazards and others convinced that they could compete and make their way north as well as any other group.19 The Panama challenges lay in the future, however, and the initial voyages of the two groups—via Cape Horn or Panama—were remarkably similar. On January 17, 1850, Edmond Jomard “set foot on the magnificent steamer belonging to the West Indies Company, and I once again left one more time the shores of the old Europe. During the first six days of the voyage . . . there was frightful seasickness; but the seventh day, the sickness diminished.” This interlude was followed by an outbreak of cholera on board. The first stop on the voyage was the Barbados Islands, which he described in these brief terms: “Bright sky . . . beautiful clouds. . . . Barbados is English.” Jomard characterized the islands as a center of racial tension, with ongoing disorder associated with the presence of blacks, a condition that the English seemed unwilling or unable to control. He strongly disliked the islands and their dark-skinned peoples.20 The terminal point of the first part of Jomard’s trip to California was Chagres, on the Isthmus of Panama. From this point, Jomard proceeded to the town of Gorgona. “This Indian town, by its position between the two oceans, is the rendez-vous of the whole world; at each moment of the day and night hundreds of canoes and mules carrying their travelers come, some from the Atlantic, others from the Pacific, and one can gather, in the midst of these primitive huts, the rumors of the whole earth. In one hour, I have exchanged my news of Europe against the news of California, of the Indies, of China, and of Peru.”21 The hazards of the trek across the isthmus surmounted, Jomard then joined the intensely competitive search for accommodation from Panama to San Francisco. He described the difficulties of not knowing the language: “I arrived in this town [Gorgona] persuaded that, the day after tomorrow, one could find the means to leave for San Francisco; unhappily, the most indispensable thing [escapes me], a ticket on a steam boat . . . and more than two thousand Americans have waited with impatience the arrival of the steamers on which they took all the places before their departure from the United States. I saw forcefully if I did not wish to risk passing the rest of my life in Panama, [I should] take passage on board a sailing vessel which would be found leaving for San Francisco.”22 At last, Jomard was under way on a voyage to San Francisco with a ship filled with Americans. Because of his lack of English, “I have from the beginning

Voyages and Arrivals been condemned during the entire voyage to the most absolute silence. . . . The food, composed of salt rotten meat and biscuits, would have given an attack of gastritis to an ostrich; the water was not drinkable.” The passage up to the Pacific side “was supposed to last a month; unhappily this did not include calms.” Instead, the ship was “becalmed opposite Realejo, twenty days unmoving, exposed to the heat of a sun of copper.”23 While the ship was becalmed, “a terrible epidemic struck; of 150 passengers, forty were afflicted. Within a week, we buried a dozen men at sea.” He described the captain checking each morning. Members of the ship’s crew placed the bodies in sacks for burial at sea. In the burial procedure, “The guard of the night counts out the deaths: ‘One! Two! Three! Four!’ ” This is how Jomard learned to count in English. With the vessel becalmed and stressed by disease, its command seemed to wither. Suddenly the winds reappeared, and the crew and passengers seemed restored to health. Underway, the vessel quickly sailed up the coast to San Francisco.24 The journalist Alexandre Achard has left a detailed account of a voyage the following year. Achard was among the first to write of the French in California for the Revue des Deux Mondes. He left Southampton on January 18, 1850, on board the steamer Le Tay. The passengers were a cross-section of Europeans headed to the California goldfields: English, French, and Spanish. Achard described Panama at great length, apparently pleased to find something to write about after the monotony of the voyage. He left Panama on March 5, on the California, a steamer that would become the most important carrier on the San Francisco–Panama route. The vessel carried “500 Americans, lying about in various postures.” They arrived in San Francisco on March 26. As soon as they anchored in San Francisco, the passengers dispersed as quickly as a flight of birds.25 Panama was the site of conflicts among the various groups crossing the isthmus on the way to the California goldfields. The tropical nature of the landscape, the native peoples attempting to profit from the transient gold seekers, the high cost of limited but necessary goods and services—all produced a sense of competition, exploitation, a shared worry that in the race to the goldfields, some individuals or groups were falling behind. Arguments broke out between national groups over access to services and especially passage north to the goldfields. Almost invariably the Americans were involved. There were more Americans, and they banded together to pursue their interests, accommodation, and passage north to San Francisco. Sometimes their outbursts of violence were directed against the native peoples, whom they accused of exploiting their control of accommodations and transportation.26




For the French, as for the Americans and other national groups, the gold rush was a predominantly male exercise. The accounts of French participants reflect this dramatic misproportion between men and women. There was, however, an important exception, an account of voyages to the California goldfields by a French woman. It was even more unusual in that she traveled unaccompanied to California by way of Panama, the more expensive and also the more dangerous of the routes to the goldfields. The author of the account, Madame Françoise de Saint-Amant, was the wife of a prominent political and military figure. Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant was a captain in the National Guard when, on February 24, 1848, the provisional government of the republic named him the commandant of the Tuilleries Palace. He discharged his responsibilities well. He was also an ardent early supporter of Louis Napoléon. As a reward for his continuing loyalty to the man elected president of the republic in December 1848, Saint-Amant was promised a diplomatic consular post in California. Unfortunately, his post was not written into the budget, so Saint-Amant stayed in Paris to lobby for funding his diplomatic position, and he did not depart for California until May 2, 1851. He sent his wife to establish a family presence and to report back privately and publicly. Her accounts kept her name, and by indirection his name, before the public.27 In early 1851, the first of Madame de Saint-Amant’s letters appeared in the French press. The editors introduced her account by describing her as “an intrepid and spirited Parisienne who has gone to seek a fortune in California.” They continued, “The fatigues, the embarrassments, the difficulties that she has encountered, the advice that she gives through experience to her husband are precious information for all who attempt today to take the same route, and for others it will be a curious and amusing reading, serious in spirit, good humored, with piquant details which swarm through the letter.”28 Madame de Saint-Amant first addressed her husband in a letter dated Panama, October 5, 1850: “You will be very surprised when you learn that your poor wife has been here for a month and six days.” In this difficult crossing, she was notably assisted by the Curé of Cruces, who helped make the arrangements and who carried across the isthmus a valuable case of cognac. Two French nationals in Panama also aided in making possible “this second miracle.” She continued that they were “an exception to all our compatriots.” In Panama, “the Spanish, the Americans, and above all the English are full of deference and respect for women. Our dear fellow-citizens, to the contrary, are for the most part fellows of little respectability.” In short, they lacked gentility and

Voyages and Arrivals gallantry toward ladies. As for the expenses, the cost from Paris to San Francisco, including unpacking, repacking, and delays would be F 6,000.29 Her first letter was also a detailed description of the journey across Panama. The first stage of the crossing left Chagres by water. She was one of eleven passengers with baggage in a longboat, “exposed to all the inclement weather of this changing climate.” The passengers had bought provisions of mediocre quality at a high price. “My small cases of claret were the best of our resources.” After spending the first night in a plank hut little better protected than on the river itself, the next morning, the party transferred to five Indian dugouts. Twenty four hours later they landed in Gorgona and from there went to Cruces.30 The landscape and climate were forces of nature, she wrote. The rainstorms were downpours with thunder and lightning beyond the protection of any umbrella or raincoat. And immediately after “the end of the cataclysm,” the brilliant sun again. The rivers were bordered by green foliage impenetrable to the eye. In places, the vegetation was so dense as to prevent the sun from reaching the ground. Mixed with such foliage were the shrieks of monkeys, the howling of the ferocious jungle animals, and the cries of the different species of birds. Everywhere, there was an unimaginable array of vegetation, flowers, fruits, colors, and perfumes. For Madame de Saint-Amant, it brought to mind the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. This landscape was home to poisonous reptiles, and the Chagres River was filled with crocodiles. In the midst of these extravagant demonstrations of nature, she wrote, one is constantly preoccupied with the vulnerability of the individual. She summarized the trip: “Assailed by fear, overwhelmed by fatigue, one is still certain to not find at the end of the day a good meal and above all, a good bed, for one or the other is a state of myth.”31 In the next stage of the journey, one was perched on mules, went up mountains, across precipices, and down ravines, reminding Madame de Saint-Amant of a trip through the Hautes-Alpes the previous year. The caravan was composed of sixteen mules and guides “of various colors.” Surrounded by dangers, her mule fell down twice, leaving her with a scratched knee and her clothes lacerated and dirty. Finally, she preferred to mount in the style of Joan of Arc rather than accept an old English saddle. “There is only myself the woman, and I could not arrive safe and sound on a part of a saddle; it is better that I do not play the fool.”32 At last Madame de Saint-Amant arrived in Panama City, where “a sad and ancient village” tried to cope with the flood of hundreds of transients, all anxious to leave for California. She thought the village represented “the vices and virtues” of civilization. She found “a passable bed” and rested after six days of



California “uneasiness, suffering, and great fatigues.” After a rest, she went on to say that “in all my tribulations, I am still very happy; I have not had even an hour of sickness, and this is extraordinary in such an unhealthy country, where one dies too quickly of cholera, of dysentery, and of fever.” She concluded this section with the observation that the passage of life and presence of sudden death were like what “we saw in Paris during our deplorable days on the barricades.”33 Although she had not yet arrived in California, Madame de Saint-Amant thought of Panama “as a suburb of California.” It was not a compliment. Of Panama, she wrote, “There is neither police nor justice. One steals everywhere, and one also kills without embarrassment. Not a week passes when one does not find people dead or cast into the streets and public places.”34 She noted that natives as well as foreigners were the victims. As for herself, she was happy, healthy, and seemingly under the protection of Providence. No one, she wrote, would wish to harm her, and she had lost nothing. She concluded, “Our sex is here under a particular kind of protection.”35 At last, Madame de Saint-Amant was at the end of her enforced idleness, for she would leave soon for San Francisco on the American steamship the Republic. She had been delayed by the necessity of making arrangements for her merchandise. The difficulties of transporting people across the isthmus were increased for bulk merchandise; hence the reluctance of those who had quantities of goods to choose the Panama route. In the midst of the challenges of Panama, Madame de Saint-Amant remained conscious of French national interests (and, indirectly, presumably her husband’s career). As she departed, she noted the growing importance of this part of the world for France and other European nations. She was convinced that with Louis Napoléon Bonaparte at the head of the French nation, “French interests would not entirely abandon to the English and the Americans the glory and the profit of this part of the Pacific world.”36 “GOLD! GOLD!”: ARRIVING IN SAN FRANCISCO

Edmond Jomard was delighted to be freed from a shipboard imprisonment of several months. He wrote: “One morning when I was looking out a porthole, the sailor of the watch announced the land of California to us with cries of: gold! gold! We found ourselves face to face with the Farallones, and shortly thereafter we distinguished through the fog an immense coast, the middle of which widened to a large opening; it was the neck of the bay of San Francisco. We crossed this neck; but what a surprise! We saw, in a country that we supposed to be almost deserted, 500 to 600 ships, 3,000 to 4,000 houses . . . ; we heard

Voyages and Arrivals from the coast of the town a deafening sound like that escaping from London or from Paris.”37 The end of the long voyage was a time of high drama. The defining moment was entering into San Francisco harbor. The reactions of the French Argonauts (for they could now be so addressed) were remarkably similar in their awe at the size of the bay, the hundreds of ships at anchor, with the knowledge that most of them had been deserted by their crews on arrival. Hypolite Ferry described the arrival of a Peruvian bark in San Francisco Bay: “In an instant, sailors, masters of the crew, cabin boys, officers themselves, as if they were lifted up by a powerful magic, dashed forward and sprang overboard, rushing into the boats, reaching the banks, and immediately disappeared behind the waves of the plain.” The answer to what had happened was the same everywhere: “They have all left for the country of gold.”38 The first wave of French Argonauts—and other later arrivals—found San Francisco a truly astonishing place. A small village of some eight hundred at the time of the gold discoveries had already grown into a town of several thousand. No one knew how many. A letter from San Francisco dated August 1849 had this description of the town: “Built in the shape of an amphitheater; it has today eight hundred houses of wood and four hundred tents; 150 ships are at anchor in the harbor.”39 According to these first French accounts, San Francisco was a vast encampment. Most of the residents lived in tents, cabins, or brush wickiups. Streets were dusty or muddy and filled with men and goods, both recently landed from the parade of ships that dotted the harbor. The institutions for law and a court system were minimal and confined to the old Spanish office of alcalde. Regulations for sanitation and public health were unknown. Furthermore, San Francisco’s population was endlessly in motion: landing, arranging accommodation and sustenance, finding employment. Above all, large numbers were engaged in selling something.40 As the French disembarked in San Francisco, many of them began an immediate search for lodging and food. Here, they encountered for the first time the high prices that characterized gold rush California. Wages were also high; opportunities for employment lay everywhere. Whether they intended to make their fortunes in the mining camps or find economic opportunity in San Francisco, the new arrivals had to find temporary shelter and subsistence. Then, they could make plans that might include preparations to move toward the placers in the interior. Almost immediately they found in San Francisco—like California itself—a place of endless economic opportunity; it was also, in parallel fashion, a place of endless economic risk. French observers early agreed on both dimensions of the story.



California Enthusiasm and excitement were tempered by the reality of daily life. This range of astonishment and eager anticipation was described in a letter from a French gold seeker to his parents, written from San Francisco, dated September 25, 1849: “Thanks be to God! We have arrived in good health, Henri and me. We are now in the land of gold! The day that I disembarked I found work with an American merchant for 5 dollars a day. I have worked six days. We leave after tomorrow for the mines. We are six French men from the same ship who leave together, where we have a good chance to gain some advantage.”41 While the first French arrivals accustomed themselves to the economic and social rhythms of San Francisco and California, mixed with the arrival of the first great wave of overland Americans, they found the rhythms upset by seasonal changes. The onset of winter in late November changed the dynamics of the mining cycle. With snow falling in the mountains, most of the mining sites closed down. Miners packed up and headed to the towns along the coast and in the valleys, in search of warmer weather, short-term employment, and a degree of rest from the harsh labors of the fall. With the influx of gold seekers from all over the world, San Francisco was more crowded than ever. Accommodations were scarce, subsistence high. Miners with gold from their labors of the previous months sometimes went to the many gambling establishments; even when they did not, their gold (the prevailing currency) drove up prices. Many of the initial waves of French Argonauts landed in the late autumn, the opening of the rainy season. San Francisco was chaos. The streets were mud ditches; goods and people were everywhere. Arsène Grosjean arrived in November 1849. He described San Francisco Bay as the largest in the world. Three-quarters of the houses were made of pine planks, he noted, with commercial houses and gambling establishments made of brick. And the wind blew constantly. Practical matters soon intruded. Grosjean continued: “On my arrival in California I was almost without a cent. I rented a small room with some of my comrades for 75 francs a month. . . . We made our own meals. . . . After dinner we got together for the evening to relate the events of the day. I stayed there a month.” Grosjean took a job as a day laborer, carrying packs on his back. He worked as a carpenter and then as a shipyard worker. Finally, he sold goods from a cart: ‘’One spoke to me in Turkish, another in English; a third interrogated me in Chinese. I understood nothing, but I sold all the same. In the end, at the end of the first month, I had realized about three hundred francs. I left with this [on] the first of January 1851 for the placers (or gold mines). We were four in number.”42 Other arrivals pursued much the same pattern. A letter from a young gold seeker to his family in Orleans described the high wages and the admirable vista

Voyages and Arrivals of San Francisco Bay. He joined with seven other young men to set up a tent. Other foreigners without money, he noted, did the same. “There are many French; one place is called Camp Français.” He immediately found work as a porter, and “we have met individuals from many companies, here from two to four months, making a living the same way.” He described San Francisco as a place without thieves, citing the piles of goods everywhere on the streets. “For the rest,” he noted, “everyone is at the mines.” After individuals made some F 1,000–1,500 in a month, they went to “the placers.” Thus, the city was a way station for gold seekers to gather resources and make plans on the way to the goldfields. As for opportunities for profit, “The best speculation to make, on coming here, is to carry some crowns [écus], money worth more than gold, relatively. One lends here at 10% a month.” There was a general agreement that miners at the placers made F 50–75 a day. Others, luckier, might make much more. One French Argonaut was said to have harvested F 45,000 in three weeks. Grosjean concluded: “It’s all a matter of luck.” Indeed it was.43 Another range of responses came from a group that traveled together. The first letter of three men from Lorraine was written from San Francisco, dated November 1849. Ten days ago, they had disembarked and immediately sought work to assist in their subsistence. Thus far, the letter writer had found nothing. “Only those with a special trade, carpenters, and joiners find continuous work, and these earn up to 80 francs a day.” He continued: “Life here is difficult; everything reaches the highest price.” The three men lived outside San Francisco in an abandoned den.44 One of the most important and widely publicized of the San Francisco letters was from an ordinary working French Argonaut named Jean Montes. In the letter, dated San Francisco in December 1849, Montes wrote of the difficulties of the French gold seekers on first landing: “We have been very fortunate being in a country where a great deal is earned and where work is not lacking. I say ‘work’; that is, go to the docks in San Francisco, become a working man, carry bales of merchandise in various stores, and you will be quite well paid. For carrying a trunk weighing about a hundred and ten pounds for a distance of fifty meters or more one is paid three dollars (about sixteen francs); and in this way we have lived up to now.” For Montes and other French Argonauts, it was temporary work in a temporary (and expensive) place as they awaited the reopening of the mines in the spring. In the interim, Montes and his companions worked hard and were paid well. He continued, “It seems unbelievable to me when I think that for working two days, six hours per day, the six of us received two hundred and twenty dollars in pay.” Numbers like this kept alive the dream of gold in California, even on the docks.45



California One of the more detailed accounts of arrival was that of Ernest de Massey, who sailed into San Francisco harbor on December 14, 1849. He wrote of his initial impressions: “Two years ago this spot was almost a wilderness. Now it is crowded with wooden and sheet-iron houses of every kind, shape, and description, and with tents of every color forming an amphitheater. These house a population of adventurers, bankrupts, refugees from justice, merchants, deserted sailors, gamblers, and vagabonds who have no home or country. Interspersed among them are some honest men, workmen and speculators, who have come here from all over the world. This is what we see about two kilometers ahead of us—a great city in the making.” And surrounding the future city, three hundred ships lay at anchor.46 Even the businesslike de Massey was moved by the sights of the city and the bay. The sparkling lights made it seem “just as if every star in the heavens had been seized with gold rush fever and had migrated to the coast of California.” The lights that reflected off the water “seem to have a supernatural and magical air about them.” Like so many other arrivals, beyond the rain, mud, and confusion, de Massey found the scene suffused with an air of magic.47 Other accounts also emphasized the wide-eyed sense of newness and opportunity. One of the members of the Société Lyonnaise described the setting, his vessel’s arrival, and some of the activities of its members. He wrote: “We arrived four days ago in this golden land. Our first need has been done, to land our baggage and to put up tents . . . on the shore of the bay and close to the city, near wood and water; tomorrow we begin to unload our merchandise. . . . The view of the city of San Francisco is magnificent.” Prices were high, even for bread and meat. Upon the ship’s anchoring, the authorities immediately came on aboard and assessed the passengers and the cargo for duty, which had to be paid forthwith in cash. Upon landing, the passengers discovered that wages by comparison with French standards were high, especially for those with specific skills. Bakers, butchers, cooks, carpenters, and joiners could ordinarily earn F 1,000 a month, plus food, lodging, and laundry. “A printer on board, knowing English, Italian, Spanish, and French, had been offered 2,000 francs a month, plus food and lodging,” he wrote, “then a commercial house offered him 40,000 francs a year, plus food and lodging. It is the English language that dominates in this country.” There were forty thousand inhabitants in San Francisco and sixty thousand in the mines or placers. There were endless stories of immense fortunes realized in a short time. “I have seen six Frenchmen who arrived in the placers in the middle of summer; in one month of work, they amassed 300,000 fr[ancs], that is, 50,000 each. They employed Indians. Another company built a dam; 100,000 francs for each associate.” As for order and security, they were effectively enforced. The

Voyages and Arrivals writer thought the security for goods was equal to that in France. The reason was simply that thieves were immediately hanged.48 The relief and joy of the French Argonauts on arriving in San Francisco was soon tempered by the ongoing challenges of food and shelter. This was a strange land with an alien language, a growing village swimming in the mud of the rainy season, and prices were out of all reason. In general, the French seem to have made a remarkable adjustment, but immediate needs must be seen within the context of their long-range plans, which for most focused on the mines. THE VANISHED PROMISES OF THE CALIFORNIA COMPANIES

One of the shocks that French Forty-Niners encountered on arriving in San Francisco was the disappearance of the support so grandly promised by the California companies. The blizzard of advertisements for the California companies presented a common consensus on one point. The companies would transport associate workers to California, and once there, the company would be a source of ongoing, indeed unending, support. Whether in the form of daily subsistence, a ship of succor and refuge anchored permanently in San Francisco harbor, or the continuing attendance of a doctor or a priest, an associate worker would be part of a community where he would be sheltered and supported from the unpleasant surprises of this strange golden land. The reality turned out to be painfully different. From the first landings, the California companies failed to make good on even the most elementary of their guarantees. The shocked associate workers struggled to survive and triumph over this unpleasant surprise, and while doing so, they sought to convey the news of this desertion to France. One of the early reports followed the adventures of Jean Montes, who made the voyage as an associate worker of the Société Nationale pour l’Exploitation des Mines d’Or de la Californie. He wrote to his father that he and others had been abandoned by the company. Instead of the promised elaborate and continuing support on arrival in California, they received only tents. He was one of a group of six Frenchmen who joined together. Still, in spite of the failure of his company, Montes remained optimistic about this new world: “Everything is inconceivable.” He and his friends had determined to go to the mines in February.49 The news of the default of the companies on the Argonauts’ arrival in California appeared at almost the same time as there was a second great surge of new companies, and French newspapers responded by revisiting the founding and promises of the California companies. “Apropos of California,” commented one paper, “the most seductive promises have combined with the most pompous



California qualifications.” Yet the intercession of the news does not seem to have seriously damaged the reputation of the old companies or the prospects of new ones. That it did not do so was a continuing tribute to the magic of the words “California” and “gold.” But there was another dimension—namely, the jobs created and the business generated by what one paper called “the repercussions of the California movement . . . in our seaports.”50 The most complete analysis of the failure of the California companies was that of Étienne Derbec, whose account appeared in the Journal des Débats. His letter, dated February 1, 1850, represented an obituary for the grandiose support schemes that played such a prominent part in the public advertisements for the California companies. Derbec wrote: “I do not want to end this letter without saying a word about the Companies which are forming in Paris and elsewhere, whether by stocks or by agreement between workers and others, and which have California as their destination. In the public interest, it is good to know how they end. The truth is that the companies no longer exist here and that all, without exception, dissolve on arrival if they have not already broken up during the voyage.” He continued, “Even the best constituted Société and those which seemed to be very strongly organized do not last any more than those which appeared to be without safeguards and without strength.” As a result, “the disunity and wretchedness of the human race have everywhere won out over reason and common sense, and everyone relies on his own strength.” He concluded: “It is with this knowledge that those emigrants who plan to come to California must prepare themselves, for without doing so, many regrets await them when they arrive here without money and without help, after having entrusted their savings into the hands of strangers who have jeopardized them.”51 For Jean-Nicolas Perlot, the failure of the California company Fortune was immediate and personal. The members of his company had made a good voyage—albeit a long one (six months and three days). The Courrier de Cherbourg anchored in Monterey harbor to the voices of the company rising in song, at last freed from their water confinement. To the surprise of the company and its officers, the approaching longboat brought the French vice-consul and the American customs officers, but M. Thibeau, the manager of the company, did not appear. Gradually, the unhappy truth dawned on the newly arrived French Argonauts: “The company, less fortunate than its members, had been wrecked! Shortly after our departure from Le Havre, it had been declared bankrupt.” Customs officials seized the ship. The members of the company were “thrown on the shore like castaways, without money, without resources, in an unknown land whose language we did not understand.” They set up tents (the customs officers allowed them to land tents), and they were fed at the

Voyages and Arrivals expense of the vice-consul. It was a shocking welcome to California and the rush to gold.52 The French consul, Patrice Dillon, reached the same conclusion about the California companies as had Perlot. He extended the indictment to include companies from several countries, but he argued that the impetus to dissolve lay with the workers. “All the companies that are organized so noisily, be they in the United States, or in France, or in England, are dissolved from the day of the arrival of their directors in San Francisco, and it will be the same for all those that are formed again.” The foundation of this decision was grounded in simple self-interest. The worker or the mechanic had concluded that the company counted on his labors to make a fortune, so he walked away from the one-sided arrangement. Dillon summarized the thoughts of the French Argonaut about his company: “Why should I do this? . . . Why accept a role that puts me out and prevents me from moving on to those spots where each [man] enriches himself at the end of a few days?” So the associate workers marched toward the placers as independent miners, leaving the directors of the company with machines they did not know how to operate.53 Dillon went on to suggest a new form of unity and identity in California. “I write history, not of one, but of a hundred companies. The only kind of association that holds in California is that of the family. A family of six boys and girls, knowing how to work and having a spirit of unity can make, in San Francisco, from 20,000 to 30,000 francs in six months. Life there is not excessively expensive for an ordinary person.”54



IN THE MINES Living and Working in a Masculine Community


Much of the West Coast of North America turned out to be a vast and varied landscape brought together under the single word “California.” It was an area larger than most European nations. With the discovery of gold in January 1848, attention focused on the land forms west of the sierra and the streams that drained the mountain ranges, for it was here that gold was found. The goldbearing region would eventually stretch north and south for more than 150 miles. As the origins of the gold were the swift streams that drained the mountains, none of the many sites was close to San Francisco, the principal port of entry. Thus, although the French Argonauts had survived the long ocean voyage, they still had before them another voyage (this one by land) to reach the sites of the gold mines. Many of them fresh from five months at sea now confronted the final leg on their long pilgrimage to the promised land of gold, about which they had heard and read so much and that they had worked so hard to reach. This final stage of moving to the goldfields, for most French Argonauts, involved two separate parts. The first was a trip by steamboat from San Francisco up the Sacramento River to the village of Sacramento. It was a one-day trip, made at considerable expense and not without the twin dangers of boating accidents and robbery. Still, most of the French Argonauts arrived safely in Sacramento, where they now made arrangements for the final stage of their long trek to the goldfields. Instead of a “rush to gold,” it turned out to be a long, three-day slog, with the Argonauts walking alongside the wagons and beasts of burden they had hired to move their baggage into the mining camps. This final leg of the journey was slow and expensive. It emphasized in the most direct way 110

In the Mines the remoteness of the mining camps in a California that was a place of vast spaces occupied by only small groups, whether Indian peoples or European peoples of various origins. Such was the isolation of these mining sites and the primitive nature of roads and other means of communication that the prospective Argonauts must carry their baggage and supplies to the camps. Whatever the transportation costs, they were surely less than the cost of buying anything— whether food, clothing, or tools—at one of the local stores. So the miners who had joined forces for the trek followed their wagons and oxen along the dusty roads toward the green band that marked the beginning of the mountains. Charles de Lambertie has left a detailed account of the trek up to the mining camps on the Mokelumne River. His starting point, with three other French Argonauts, was Stockton—he described the town as “strongly commercial”— the outfitting point for the southern mines. In order to move his baggage some fifty miles to the site on the river, he hired mules and Spanish-speaking muleteers. Throughout, he commented on the endless streams of traffic, mule trains moving toward the camps or returning. There were also carts pulled by oxen, carrying “foodstuffs of all sorts and tools of work for the gold miners.” Interspersed along the route were tents and wooden houses where travelers could purchase meals or refreshments or even spend the night. But, de Lambertie continued, the face of the country never changed: “It was always immense savannahs covered with groves of oaks which seem on approaching always [to be] in the distance.” When they camped with a big fire, beef roasting on spits, he was reminded of the treks of Arabs and Oriental peoples. The guides offered them beef; they reciprocated with French wines. As he fell asleep wrapped in his coat, he was serenaded by distant barking coyotes.1 The second day en route, de Lambertie spent much of the time riding in the wagon, saving himself from “the terrible fatigues” of the journey. Over the course of the day, the landscape changed to rolling hills interspersed with flowering valleys. He collected several flower bulbs to send to France. Finally, the track carried the travelers into the foothills of the mountains, covered by fir and pine, with the smell of heather. After another night under the stars, the four French Argonauts reached the Mokelumne River late on the morning of the third day.2 JEAN-NICOLAS PERLOT AND THE COMPANY OF TEN

Many of the orphaned members of the bankrupt company Fortune found a readily available economic opportunity in agriculture. Their mining company bankrupted, some attached themselves as workers to the farmers in the area



California around Monterey. For a large group, this seemed an attractive solution to an awkward situation. Jean-Nicolas Perlot declined such an offer. He refused to give up his dream of mining, which had propelled him to California in the first place. The placers were some two hundred miles distant; reaching them was a forbidding challenge. Perlot organized the Company of Ten, each man contributing F 110 to the common treasury. The company then purchased a mule (and later a second mule) and set out for the placers, guided by a map drawn by the French vice-consul. Perlot led his company on the march armed with a compass and a Spanish-language dictionary, the two necessary tools of the land voyage toward the sierra. His Company of Ten occasionally crossed paths with another company, the Provençaux, also formed from original members of Fortune, this one composed of a dozen men from Provence.3 In moving from Monterey to Mariposa, Perlot and his companions ran through the range of experiences common to many new Argonauts. They began by attempting to impose their wills on unbroken mules. Over the two weeks of the trek, they encountered grizzly bears, rattlesnakes, and Indian peoples. In spite of the map and compass, they were often lost or at least uncertain about where they were. They were also sometimes hungry and thirsty. They passed by shallow mounds that they eventually recognized as the graves of miners who had died en route to the diggings. It was a harsh and intimidating introduction to the California landscape.4 When Perlot and his group reached the placers at Mariposa, their euphoria lasted until an inventory of their resources: they had no tools and food for only one day. A trip to the stores in Mariposa introduced them to the high cost of tools. Throughout, they were confronted by language problems. Almost all the miners spoke English; a few spoke Spanish. There were almost no French speakers. Like others arriving in the goldfields in 1851, the first mining experience of the Company of Ten was working for someone else. The wage was four dollars a day (twenty francs) and food. The remaining six of the original company (four had left for another opportunity) dug trenches and then washed the gravel in a “long Tom” (a larger version of the cradle, built on two levels with a perforated iron sheet to strain the gravel). After two and a half days of hard work, they were paid in gold. The sight of the gold, measured from the harvest of the week, gave rise to a burst of optimism. As Perlot wrote, “We were at last convinced that the placers and their product were not a chimera but a brilliant and ringing reality. For sure, we were all soon going to make our fortune, and Lord knows the castles we were building in Spain!”5 Over the next month, as the six Frenchmen labored to keep the “long Tom” full of gravel, they learned about the customs and culture that framed the rush

In the Mines to gold in California. The basis of mining was the claim. Miners on a watercourse would meet and establish rules for staking and holding a claim. Punishments for violating these rules, or for theft or assault, were draconian. The eight articles that formed the basis of Perlot’s camp would remain in force until changed or “until the government of the United States should be legally installed.” To change the rules required a petition of twenty-five signatures and a public notice of fifteen days. In case of issues not covered by the laws, conflicts would be submitted to a jury of nine composed of individuals acceptable to both parties. The decision of the jury was final and could not be appealed.6 When Perlot and his French miners decided to leave wage labor and strike out on their own, their American employers urged them to reconsider. They were good workers. Perhaps some accommodation could be reached. Perlot asked for a wage increase to six dollars, and it was immediately granted. The Company of Six agreed to work under such terms for the next thirty days. Later, after mining on their own for two weeks with disappointing results, four of the company decided to resume work for wages with their original employers. Perlot and the remaining companion, Beranger, determined to mine independently on their own. The Company of Ten was now the Company of Two. Their second claim brought them good results—F 2,350 cleared after six weeks of hard labor. They wintered in the placers, mining during breaks in the weather. With the coming of spring, Beranger left to work for four dollars a day. Perlot was now a “Company of One.”7 ARSÈNE GROSJEAN: THE SEARCH FOR GOLD AND A FRENCH COMMUNITY

Arsène Grosjean’s account covered the broad range of living and working in the mines. On arriving in the placers, he wrote, “I saw there unbelievable activity; some work in the river, others dig holes; at the bottom of a hill each searches for gold and finds more or less.” He noted that the miners worked in water and mud, “which seemed to have the power at every minute to bury them under their debris.” Whatever the dangers and discomforts, they worked with a single focus: “Nothing slows them [down]; everywhere there is gold, someone comes forward to go to search for it.” When he had completed his reconnaissance, Grosjean noted, “I chose a place and I put up my tent, with a stone chimney.” He then built a small house, “and I was ready to defend it to the last extreme.” Of his mining activities, he wrote, “The gold of the river is in the form of grains; the gold of the steams is in powder and found throughout. When one hunts for gold in the rivers and in the holes, it is always necessary to go up to the



California rock. It is ordinarily in the crevasses of this rock where one finds it in greatest abundance. The main instruments for washing are the long Tom, the cradle, and the pan. The pan is always necessary.”8 Grosjean’s account reflected his wide-ranging activities. French Argonauts mined, but they also traded, hunted, and sought other economic advantage. He wrote of his surroundings: “Throughout where there is a gold mine, there forms a small village; merchants of all sorts come to establish themselves there, and today with money, one can procure a little bit of everything.” He enumerated the high cost of provisions, including bread, meat, potatoes, onions, and bottles of wine, beer, and brandy.9 Grosjean continued, “I immediately resumed my search for gold, which I left for an instant.” He had first worked with his companions from the voyage, but this partnership was unproductive. Over two months, he scarcely made enough by mining to buy his food. To support himself, “all the Sundays and the Thursdays I hunted. I killed some deer for a part of the week. All the deer of France are found in California, and in large quantities.”10 When Grosjean became ill, he was cared for by an American who came to see him and gave him some opium. The next day, the American returned with a new remedy: “He made me a half glass of brandy, which he boiled with a piece of white sugar.” In two days, Grosjean began to recover. The illness sapped his energy and his enthusiasm for the search for gold: “I swear frankly that these two months were very hard for me. I regretted to have gone [to California], and if I had money, I would immediately have left California, but I didn’t have enough means, so I stayed. Some days after, I sold my rifle, I thanked the American, and I left for another placer. I left my colleague, who in his turn fell ill.”11 Grosjean resumed his account: “The placer where I took myself was called Mont Calamet. It was a dozen leagues farther than the other. I had a small journey. I carried on my back a part of my tools and some provisions.” He was en route for two and a half days. In this new place, he found an abandoned house without a roof. It had been built by some Chinese, and he found in it two Chinese hats. “I wore them for a long time on my head. They shaded me very well from the sun. I stayed temporarily in this house.”12 As a veteran in the gold camps, Grosjean “received visits from many French; some asked me for a priest, another for work. I tried always to make them content. One day there came three [visitors] at one time: the captain of a ship, a baron who had dissipated his family fortune (both of these were French), and a Polish doctor. They stayed at my house four days. I made them work a little for their food, and at the end of this time, I took the captain on as a partner. He

In the Mines had a good character, always gay and happy. The baron spoke to me only of his old family fortune; the doctor, of medicine and sickness. I put two of them in the abandoned house, and I gave them a place to work.”13 Grosjean’s prospects improved, and he described the multiple uses of his donkey, Trompette: “My work continued to be good. I purchased a donkey for 300 francs; I no longer went any more without him when I worked. He carried my tools. When I went hunting, he carried my deer the Sunday mornings we went hunting, the two of us, for the provisions of the week. After noon I rode my donkey and toured the placer; I visited with my friends and sometimes invited two or three to dine with me; when one entertains reciprocally, one better conserves.”14 When Grosjean hunted, his faithful donkey carried provisions for three days. Moving to the Feather River, Grosjean continued, “We [Grosjean and his partner, the captain] worked to buy a small hut, clean and well located. It was sheltered from the rays of the sun by two splendid pines, cooled by a small stream that flowed by the side. I spent two months there, which seemed to me quite short. I was with my partner like with a brother.” His partner did the cooking; Grosjean kept up the house and brought the water. After the evening meal, the two of them would sit before the fire until late in the evening, drinking coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.15 More than most miners of any nationality, Grosjean enjoyed a kind of domestic tranquility, a combination of good returns from his claim, a pleasant place to live, hours of rest and introspection after work, and happy companionship. That most of his companions were French was not surprising. CHARLES DE LAMBERTIE: THE SEARCH FOR GOLD AND COMPANIONSHIP

One of the most complete accounts of the mining experiences in the first full year of French participation in the gold rush was that of Charles de Lambertie. His experiences began in the gold camps when he and his three French associates arrived on the banks of the Mokelumne River. It was the summer of 1850. De Lambertie’s account was the story of a man who struggled to mine and, at the same time, find reliable and amiable companions. Like others in the mining fields, he was often dissatisfied with his partners because they were less driven than he. And like so many others, when he found an attractive companion for living and working, that companion would leave. Miners, even the French, were often in motion in the goldfields. They moved from mining site to mining site (claim to claim); they left one partner for



California another; they departed the mining camps to go to the city or to go home. In the face of the random quality of the mining harvest—many compared it to a lottery—the current and future prospects on their claims were a perpetual topic of conversation. Even the most productive claims would give out. Hence, the sense of miners in constant motion was well-nigh universal. All these qualities emerged in de Lambertie’s story. De Lambertie’s first experiences in mining seemed to confirm the pessimistic views of his friends in Stockton. The labor was difficult, and the returns were marginal. He wrote, “My harvest of gold during the first fifteen or twenty days was not of a nature to give me spirit and courage.” He also emerged from this apprenticeship period with serious misgivings about his partner, “the most indolent and the most lazy that one could find.”16 Placer mining rewarded continuous digging, carrying, and washing. De Lambertie wrote of his partner, “If I had listened to him, I would have washed only 40 buckets of dirt a day.” Instead, spurred by de Lambertie’s endless badgering, they washed seventy or eighty. As for his partner, “Every day there were new complaints, followed, on his part, by exhibitions of fury unlike any I have ever seen.” Fortunately, some fifteen days later, another Frenchman established a second camp on the Mokelumne, and de Lambertie’s unreliable partner left to join the new arrival. De Lambertie was greatly relieved. He continued his “labors and happily enough. One day I found 6 dollars in 7 buckets of dirt. . . . I made 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and up to 17 dollars a day. . . . In a short time, I had gathered a pound of gold.”17 Still, de Lambertie needed a partner for shared work and living and for companionship. One soon arrived in the person of “a young Englishman, who was not happy either, at the beginning. I encountered him many times, and as he spoke French well, we chatted. He told me I was wise not to leave Mokelumne. . . . Finally, he implored me to take him as my companion.” The new arrangement was an exceptionally happy one (the more so by standards of his earlier partnership). The difficulty was that his new companion tired of the constant labor and “determined to return to San Francisco.” De Lambertie tried to dissuade him with the argument that working on the Mokelumne for eight dollars a day was a sure thing; San Francisco meant high costs and the risk of unemployment. “I am no longer able to endure the idea of the placers,” his partner responded. “In San Francisco, I can always do one thing or another, but I do not wish any longer [to endure] the difficult labors that break down the body and stupefy me.” De Lambertie continued, “I saw that everything was useless to divert him from his plan, and he left the next day for Sacramento, depriving me, at the same time, of the only agreeable acquaintance that I had

In the Mines at Mokelumne.” It was a separation that characterized life in the mining camps. De Lambertie missed his English companion’s presence (and very likely his fluent French). He wrote, “After his departure, I was plunged, for two days, into a dark melancholy, which was so strong that I quit my work to dream in my tent.”18 De Lambertie soon resumed work. His view of the world was a panorama of endless movement in pursuit of the same goal. “One sees continual goings and comings of men with buckets, now filled with dirt, now empty, others who come from large distances with bags heavily loaded, who come to a place favorable for washing.” The landscape was littered with heaps of stones and dirt. Holes five or six feet deep dotted the mining sites. The clang of the pickax, the shovel, or the iron bars sounded at all hours. In the background was “the murmur of the cradle, where the shining metal comes to a stop.”19 The new season brought crowds of new gold seekers in the months of July and August. These included Mexicans from Sonora and Chinese. At the center of the camps were several provision stores, cafés with musicians, and restaurants. The successful miner could fill all his needs: tools and clothes for work, liquor and gambling houses for recreation. Sunday was a day of rest and recreation. People came together in restaurants and cafés. They consumed strong liquor and refreshment. The miners might be divided into two groups. One worked to gather, the second to spend. The Sonorans did not practice economy. They lived from day to day. They were happy without a fortune. De Lambertie liked them a lot.20 De Lambertie’s experiences and observations encompass the range of reasons that drove men forward in the mines. A part of the response was coming to understand and accept the random nature of the exercise. He observed: “It is still a singular thing that in the mines, some make much and others hardly find what they need.” The narrow and irrational line between subsistence and wealth provided justification for continued hard work in defiance of experience. That a miner had found little or nothing over a long period did not mean that his fortune could not change tomorrow with the single blow of a pick. De Lambertie’s companions soon left, some for Stockton, others for Sacramento or San Francisco. One day, de Lambertie recounted, sitting in the shade, on the banks of the river, “I heard chatter by some Frenchmen who worked on the other side and whom I had not seen before; I listened. They said that ‘the desire to come to the mines is a fever, a passion, and this curiosity costs dearly.’ [One said,] ‘I know young people who in France were commercial travelers, who had a steady five francs a day, all expenses deducted, and a commission in the sales they made,



California happy as princes; they are miserable here in the placers where they lack for everything, even bread.’ All this was very sad to hear. I greeted them and, after various questions, I asked them how much they made each day. ‘Two dollars,’ they told me.” It is not necessary to lose heart over that, de Lambertie replied, for over the past fifteen days, he had gathered eight to ten dollars regularly.21 De Lambertie’s experiences were the gold rush in microcosm. He had cycles of good days and bad days; he made friends and lost friends. On occasion, he reminded himself of the family he had left behind in France, and after a brief period of introspection, he returned to dig, carry, and wash. LÉOPOLD ANSART DU FIESNET MINES TO RAISE CAPITAL

Léopold Ansart du Fiesnet arrived in San Francisco after a voyage of more than twelve months. He wrote to his mother that he no longer knew precisely “his destiny,” but California seemed to offer endless opportunities and choices. He admitted that he had been “an ingrate” and did not merit his mother’s attention or advice. When the ship anchored, he asked the captain’s permission to go ashore. When the captain refused, Léopold deserted. In order to raise funds to go to the mines, he sold his possessions, but his trunks were still on board ship, limiting his inventory for sale. So he “went to the placers with my blankets and a linen shirt on my back.” He “arrived at the placers without a cent and famished.” A generous and understanding innkeeper lodged and fed him on credit. He was lucky.22 Léopold immediately turned to mining. He “had a little luck” and repaid his innkeeper. Still, the constant work in the cold, rushing water and sleeping on the ground, sometimes in wet clothes, damaged his health. He fell ill. The doctor who attended him charged one ounce of gold a visit, and the medicines added another half-ounce a day. After three weeks of illness and recuperation, he was in debt 147 piastres. Still, he wrote home, “My character was sufficiently resilient that I worked to surmount this first test.” He did so. He thought that he might remain in California for ten years, but he hoped to return earlier “with a fortune.”23 Léopold had success in the mines, and with his profits, he returned to San Francisco. There, he bought a house, a quantity of brandy, and other merchandise. His business prospered, and he was in the hopes of “gathering a fortune to return to France at an appropriate rank.” Among his projected enterprises was a series of transactions with a miner named Longchamps. The object was to move money from California to France. In order to finance the exchange, he asked his brother Edmond to send him 150 piastres from their late father’s estate.

In the Mines He ended his request with a promise to use the funds wisely. He also wrote of his upbeat frame of mind and his “determination to make a fortune.”24 Léopold’s request to his brother Edmond for funds was the first of a series of such appeals. The death of his father in 1849 and his mother in 1851 gave him expectations of inheritance. With the monies dispensed by Edmond and the profits from his mining operations, Léopold pursued commercial ventures. When he mined, he did so to raise capital for his schemes in San Francisco. Léopold had an entrepreneurial focus. He always used mining as a means of capital accumulation, and he soon recognized that the larger profits from the gold country came by providing goods and services to the mining community. His plans fell victim to one of the periodic fires that ravaged San Francisco. Imagine, he wrote, a city the size of Caen reduced to ashes. Nonetheless, like his vigorous response to illness and debt, he continued to believe that he had the ambition, talent, and determination to make a fortune. And he continued to believe that California was the place to do it.25 FRIENDS FROM LORRAINE MINE TOGETHER

A group of French Argonauts from a village in Lorraine traveled to California together, reached the goldfields, and remained united in their work and living arrangements. From the placers, they wrote to inform their friends and relatives of their new world and their efforts to succeed there. The three Lorrainers wrote that they prospered in the placers. They did not publicize their riches for fear of being robbed. They concluded with a plea: “Prie Dieu. We will not forget you, either in our thoughts or in our prayers. I hope that we will be rewarded.”26 In September 1850, one of the Lorrainers, Victor Munier-Pugin, wrote a letter from the placer where they mined to his brother Jules in Gerbévillier. After two months of hard labor in the mines with marginal results, the Lorrainers had decided to travel to Oregon in search of richer claims. It was a major undertaking, involving the transportation of four hundred pounds of baggage over some 240 miles. They had several encounters with rattlesnakes, which were part of the French lore of the California mining landscape. Victor also wrote of meeting hostile Indian peoples. After twenty days, they arrived at the Trinidad River, where the news was discouraging: “Unhappily on our arrival, all the mining sites were occupied and all the claims taken by some Americans coming by the overland route.” In order to live modestly for several weeks, they had to sell the most valuable parts of their baggage. Some of their difficulties had become personal: “Our trials are not over.” Another of the Lorrainers, Édouard Gadel, was ill. “He received assistance from four young men, three Englishmen



California and one Frenchman. He recovered and worked a neighboring claim to repay his hosts. In only two days, he made 180 francs in gold, of which he found more than fifty francs in a single rock crevice.” The Lorrainers returned from Oregon to Sacramento. Victor concluded of the first year in the goldfields: “The experience was over; it had come at great cost.” The pessimism of his letter echoed a general sentiment that reigned in France concerning the hopes for California.27 A second letter from Victor Munier-Pugin to his brother Jules in Gerbévillier was dated December 1850. Here he wrote that bad luck was following them. “On returning from Oregon to our old placer in the Sierra Nevada, we were badly received by our old comrades. They give back to us only a part of our old claim, which is already poor in minerals.” Édouard Gadel’s health was poor; he was ill with fevers. There was not a single doctor in the region to attend him. If his condition worsened, they would take him to Sacramento. As Victor’s brother would see, at the end of the year, their ideas were no longer optimistic. In a burst of nostalgia, Victor wrote, “What we would not give to be in the grand room of our old house in Gerbévillier!” He reported on rumors of violence against French miners: “French miners, installed for a long time on the Stanton Plateau, have been attacked by lawless Americans; there are a number of wounded, but you should not worry, for this took place in the rocky mountains, far from us.” More and more, the issues in the correspondence were not about mining but about the health and condition of the young men caught up in an adventure so far from home.28 CALIFORNIA MINING CAMPS AS COMMUNITIES WITHOUT WOMEN

For the French, among the most striking characteristics of gold rush society was that it turned out to be almost exclusively male. During the summer of 1848, when mining operations were the work of Californians, Indians, and Mexicans, families were a common presence in the goldfields. Men who came without their families often went home every week to see them. There was a sense that the search for gold existed along with the long-standing commitment to family and community. With the arrival of prospective Forty-Niners from ever greater distances—Oregon, the Sandwich Islands, Peru, and Chile—the mining sites became increasingly male. When the Americans appeared in large numbers—first by sea in the winter of 1848–1849 and especially in the fall of 1849 with the appearance of the great overland migration—this maleness had become overwhelming. The federal census of 1850 reflected that of every one hundred people enumerated in the mining counties, only three were

In the Mines women. Gold rush California had become one of the most male societies in the world.29 Within a nation where family connections lay at the heart of political, economic, and social life, the French found this condition almost as astonishing as the widespread presence of gold. This dramatic skewing of gender ratios might be seen as another sign of the uncivilized nature of California, its gold camps, and its towns. And who except the Americans could produce such a society and be comfortable in it? Alexandre Achard commented in some detail on the women in the mining camps—or rather the absence of them: “Here one surrounds them with respect, and all the fortunes of the camp are at their feet.” In Camp Murphy, Achard “found five French women, one American woman, in a population of 500 or 600 able-bodied men.” So “here is the secret to their empire!!!”30 It was numbers. And women enjoyed a status that was partly the result of their scarcity but went beyond it. Patrice Dillon wrote of the American attitudes: “Since a purely American element has taken over in San Francisco, no one is able to insult a woman with impunity. In no place one knows is a woman more respected than in the United States.”31 Manners aside, the scarcity of women in gold rush California had two separate dimensions for French women. The first was opportunity, a quality that they shared with their American female counterparts. Those who could afford the voyage and made it to San Francisco could find immediate employment in saloons or gambling houses for F 2,000–3,000 a month. Others found a bonanza in prostitution, where French ladies were at the top of the profession and their rates reflected their standing. Alexander Holinski, an observer, wrote, “California is a paradise for women in general, and French women in particular.” Far fewer women went to the camps to mine, and many of these accompanied their husbands there. Reports of French women miners suggested they dressed with a certain stylish flair and did a man’s work.32 The second dimension was the absence of marriage partners for the male population. A letter written by an American woman from San Francisco described the only commodity scarcer than gold: young women to marry. In the new arrivals to the gold rush country, men outnumber women by a ratio of five to one. As a result, according to this account, men married Indian women. Indeed, she continued, “Father Manaque, a Catholic priest, has blessed, during the past month, the marriages of one hundred and ten whites with Indians. If this continues, the tribes of Indians, already reduced in numbers considerably by their immoderate use of brandy and by other vices that they have [acquired from contact with the] Europeans, will soon disappear with the mixing of the races.” A rumor spread that a “a cargo of young women will be sent to California,



California where they will be advantageously married, for up to the present, there are few women among the emigrants, and they are in great demand.”33 Amid the sarcastic asides on the lack of civilization and refinement, the overwhelmingly male nature of gold rush California also carried with it a strong commercial dimension. If women could be provided for such a vacuum, they would command a respect and price beyond imagination. Indeed, women would be more valuable than gold in California. It was universally accepted that gold was everywhere, whereas women were nowhere to be found. Even the most experienced prospectors could not find them! More than one observer commented on the great opportunity for profit in bringing to California the most valuable cargo imaginable. By the summer of 1849, the ratio of men to women in California was estimated in the press as fifty to one; in the mining counties, according to the census of 1850, it was closer to one hundred to one. Accordingly, amid all the other talk of commercial prospects—the cost of food, tools, or land—the greatest commercial opportunity would be a cargo of women. Journalists called the idea “an excellent speculation.” The very idea sparked an image of intense, competitive bidding for the services of scarce women. The French press gave much attention to these commercial expressions.34 One entrepreneur, Mrs. Eliza Farnham of New York City, moved aggressively to take advantage of this scarcity. A respectable widow, Mrs. Farnham proposed to organize a company to transport to California some 100–130 young white women. These poor but virtuous young ladies would provide testimonials to their character. Mrs. Farnham would screen the candidates and vouch for them. This female company would also include six to eight respectable married women who would act as chaperones. Mrs. Farnham’s objective was the marriage of each of her charges to a lonely but affluent miner in the gold country, “[so] that the gold diggers of California are likely to have help mates to share the fruits of their labor.”35 If the French were mesmerized by the intensely male nature of California society, they were equally fascinated by the so-called Farnham Plan. They noted Mrs. Farnham’s departure (with her “lovely companions”) from New York and her progress toward California. French accounts, perhaps anticipating her arrival and the astonishing appearance of her charges in the mining camps, announced that many marriages had already been agreed to.36 Mrs. Farnham’s plan soon had imitators. The most prominent was a merchant in Santiago, Chile, who proposed a similar scheme. He would identify some two hundred young white women, poor but beautiful and virtuous, to be transported to California. The object was an honorable marriage to North

In the Mines Americans, with a substantial profit for him.37 In discussions of the various schemes to bring women to California, no commentators in the United States or France objected to the commercial dimensions of the enterprise. The need was sufficient to justify whatever price the market would bring. In the end, neither enterprise achieved its goal. Mrs. Farnham did sail from New York for California, but she had only a handful of eligible ladies. The Chilean merchant’s scheme came to naught, perhaps discouraged by the violence against Chileans in the fall of 1849. That the Chilean commercial houses in San Francisco were looted and burned provided scant encouragement for shipping such a rare and valuable cargo to the north. The failure of the plans to bring numbers of virtuous single women to California as marriage partners for the newly enriched gold miners of the remote gold camps intensified interest in the gender balance in California. The topic of the scarcity of women changed in its popular presentation from arranged marriages for doughty old miners who had struck it rich to issues about how to construct a viable civil society. Women were desirable because they were necessary to such a society, and not until California had a suitable proportion of women would it move into a new stage of maturity and development. Accounts of the condition of “society” in San Francisco emphasized the increasing numbers of women as a way of promoting the virtues of the new city on the bay. One San Francisco paper noted that “society in San Francisco was as good as in the cities of the East, although here were few women. Many women arrive daily with their husbands.”38 The new mix was a welcome one. In the end, of course, the growth of San Francisco and California would accommodate increasing numbers of women and families. San Francisco would gradually mature into a city less dependent on commodities for the mines and entertainment for miners and more attuned to city growth, the legal profession, merchants, and banks, and with these, issues of schools and churches. Already by the 1850s, families in San Francisco would live in an increasingly genteel world more like Boston and less like Grass Valley and Nevada City. For the French, the male nature of gold rush California was another in an endless series of bizarre qualities associated with this remote fantasyland.39 There was another dimension to the absence of women and the families left behind. An analysis appeared in the Chronique de Paris. At the close of a long recitation of the opportunities in California, the Chronique offered this observation: “The largest part of the Europeans who leave their country with a view to making a fortune make the serious mistake of leaving in their country their wives and children.” In the first place, this decision affected their morals and



California then their health. They deprived themselves, in the second place, of the opportunity to double and triple their riches. “There are no idle hands California.” Women and children can be fully employed. “Cooking, management of the household, washing, . . . all the little industries . . . prosper and more so than some of the major professions. The number of women is greatly inferior to the numbers of men. Fathers of families would have an interest in bringing their daughters to California, where they would be sought by the richest and most distinguished men.” Here was the new dimension to the California excitement: California offered great economic opportunities not only to single women, but also to married women with families who would do a thriving and profitable business in supplying those services that single men so desperately needed.40 THE BALANCE SHEET AFTER TWO SEASONS IN THE PLACERS

French miners struggled to find a balance between hard work and hope. One observer estimated that by the end of June 1850 some ten thousand French were working in the mines. They were established along the San Joaquin River and the streams that flowed into it. The Americans, by contrast, worked in the valley of the Sacramento River. Last year, this observer continued, the average French miner had realized some F 50–60 on a daily basis, of which F 10–15 had to be set aside for food. Although this was a good return, two conditions limited the eventual results. The first was the seasonal limitation of mining, which ended in late November. The second was the severity of the work. Even the most vigorous constitutions could hardly work a full five months. These were sobering reminders of the physical limitations of the exercise in a world in which such labor was still done by the human body and not by machines. The “cradle” could process dirt and separate the gold from the gravel, but the dirt had to be dug and carried to the cradle. The task was hard and endlessly repetitious.41 In the fall of 1850, M. Lombard, the French vice-consul, made a trip to the placers to observe “the general conditions of our nationals.” His report to the consul, M. Dillon, emphasized the severity of the labor. “For a man accustomed to hard labor of the soil, there is not a point on the globe which can offer comparable results to those awaiting him in the mines of California.” Yet in the midst of so many riches, there was not only misery but also “frightful poverty among our nationals.” Among the most intractable of the problems was the difficulty of Frenchmen working as a group. “There is not a single example of Frenchmen in the mines having been able to remain twenty-four hours associated together for exploitation in common. . . . This special trait of the French

In the Mines character has been extremely unfavorable to the interests of our nationals, whereas magnificent profits crown the collective efforts of the American population.” Still the net harvest of the French miners was from two to three dollars a day.42 Others had a more pessimistic conclusion. Alexandre André offered these comments based on his tour of the French camps in the sierra: “The miners work from 5 in the morning to 7 in the evening, and they hardly make 20 francs a day. And they need more than that for food. They stay because they don’t have enough money to leave and return to San Francisco. The largest part find themselves in the same situation; they continue their routine.” André advanced money to two of these for their passage, for which he was later repaid.43 Charles de Lambertie’s conclusions also had a strong strain of pessimism. By the end of the second mining season, he thought the mines had been played out. “I strongly believe that if one does not discover new placers,” California will soon suffer the fate of Mexico, Peru, and Brazil: a country fallen from its primitive glory. “Gold was a great lure which attracted all the peoples of the universe, and at the moment it failed, not only was there nothing more here, but they left in crowds, leaving empty towns and their trade up against it. Here is the future that I predict for California.”44 To succeed at mining demanded a particular set of physical skills—namely, strength and endurance mixed with mental determination. Those who lacked these traits, whatever their accomplishments and training in other fields, worked at a great disadvantage. The French consul, Patrice Dillon, observed that the human order was reversed in the mines. That is, those who succeeded—“with ten, fifteen, twenty, and often one hundred thousand francs in their yellow belts—were the day laborers, sailor deserters, or the robust peasant.” Dillon continued: “Thus the simple worker, who gains hardly enough for his daily needs, becomes a millionaire in California, whereas the man of letters, the lawyer, the banker, the commission merchant run a great risk of dying of hunger if they are not able to live from those occupations connected with their special aptitudes.”45 In an overview of the first years of French mining, the images that emerge from the accounts of French miners in gold rush California run parallel to those of other mining groups. The French Argonauts complained about their partners, the high prices of tools and food, and the uncertainty associated with the mining enterprise. At the same time, they continued to work on in the face of their own difficult experiences and those of others. The reality of returns could be measured by hard work over a period of months (even an



California entire season). However, mining was an enterprise in which fortunes might be reversed in a single stroke. So the search for a rich strike that would repay the endless days of hard work and small returns went for weeks and months, to be terminated only by the end of the mining season. Alexandre Achard wrote at length on the randomness associated with life and work in the mines. Indeed, le hasard was simply the defining quality of life in California. Even as an emigrant exhausted himself in the repetitive fruitless search, he looked up to see his neighbor “amass in three blows of the pick more gold than he had found in a month of fierce labor.” Two Basques, with a claim of six square feet, harvested from ten to a dozen ounces of gold a day; the men working equally hard on the adjacent claim did not find a single nugget. There were several similar examples.46 The French mined, in large part, surrounded by other French people. This was understandable. Their lack of English tended to isolate them and to place them at a disadvantage in disputes over claims. They seem to have been creative in finding other sources of income, although probably no more than other national groups. Like other individuals and groups, in discouraging times, the French had moments of introspection. At these times, they rationally (or so they thought) assessed their past and their prospects in the placers. They invoked their families and their long absences from home. And like others in the mining camps, the French celebrated on Sunday. It was a welcome reprieve after a week of the hardest kind of labor.

Part Three


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In the summer of 1849, after the initial surge of interest, the energy in the California companies seemed to fade. Other issues intruded into French life. The dispatch of French troops to Italy to put down the revolution there and restore the Pope to his Vatican sanctuary dominated the news. At the same time, railroads increasingly entered into the future of every city worthy of the name, which meant plans for a line to Paris. Work on railroad lines moved forward, and railroad companies actively sought investment funds. There was a sense of recovery in the rural areas. In Lorraine, for example, the period of catastrophic harvests seemed ended. The ravages of cholera declined. Agriculture recovered, and rural France began to come to life.1 In the autumn of 1849, a flurry of new California companies presented themselves to the investment public and to prospective gold seekers who intended to go to California. In September and October 1849, five new companies announced themselves, with shares valued at F 85 million. Once again, the publicity organs of the California companies sprang into action and bombarded the public with a flood of new advertising. This activity was followed by a final flowering of the California companies that occurred in the middle of the new year. Between April and October 1850, another fifty-two companies appeared, making these six months a golden age of California companies. The total shares of this group of companies had a face value of F 200 million. Driving this resurgent interest were the glowing reports from the mining country, mixed with the usual flood of new advertising.2 The new California companies entered into a competitive world. The first generation of companies had been on the scene for more than six months, 129


France filling the newspapers with their prospectuses and news of their departures. The new companies, like their elders, showed the continuing fascination for the words “California” and “gold.” This reliance had not changed since the first companies had appeared in January 1849. Many of the new companies relied on the traditional arguments, with bigger numbers, more guarantees, and more inducements to the prospective emigrant or investor. Other new companies sought to find a specific clientele that would embrace their views of California gold and ways to profit from it. For both groups, a continuing appeal to the public was crucial. After all, without the continuing sale of shares, most companies had a scant present and no future.3 THE OLD COMPANIES: BUILDING ON SUCCESS

The ads of the first generation of California companies carried the traditional appeals: wealth, adventure, group solidarity, and continuing support in a venture that blended associate workers into an extended community. For those who participated in such an exercise, the strange landscape, the English language, and the presence of the Americans in overwhelming numbers would hold no anxieties. For those who wished to invest, the opportunities for staggering profits were greater than ever, continuously proven by the flood of golden accounts from the placers, reported in all the newspapers, American, English, and French. Aside from reports of individual hardships, which were real enough, the production of gold from the Sacramento, according to a French newspaper, had reached $100 million a year—that is, as much as from all the mines in Russia.4 And everyone was aware of the most important difference between the mining enterprises in Siberia and California. The Siberian mines were the sole property of the Russian royal family; the mines of California were open to anyone with basic tools, strength and endurance, plus the necessary determination. At the same time, the older companies (and their newer competitors) continued to pay scant attention or ignore crucial issues that came into play in California and especially in the goldfields. For example, the California companies paid little or no attention to issues of American tariff charges applicable to goods imported from foreign nations. It was an immediate issue when French ships arrived in San Francisco, where the assessed duties had to be paid in cash before the goods could be unloaded. Instead, many French Argonauts seemed surprised and outraged by such charges and complained to the French consul, who could provide them with little or no relief. Yet this issue attracted little or no attention in the flood of advertisements of the California companies and

The New California Companies little commentary in the newspapers. Nor did the management of the California companies seem attuned to the issue of American sovereignty. California was now an American place. The authority of government—national, state, and local—rested in the hands of Americans. American institutions of government and law in the goldfields were often extremely informal (by French standards) and in flux, but these ad hoc arrangements did not change the American sense of authority, which was often accompanied by a sense of entitlement. When rumors of conflict reached France, the managers of the California companies downplayed such outbreaks as long as they could, or they shifted advertising to emphasize their attempts to acquire title to land and mining rights.5 With these common denominators that flowed from the original great surge of publicity for the California companies came variations. One of these was in the trumpeting of successes. As these original companies (such as the Californienne) and their promises had been before the public for several months, so one could declare that the original promises of the company (however quixotic they may have seemed at the time) had been fulfilled. The evidence lay in the preparation for and sailings of associate workers. The Californienne was the most active in dispatching associate workers and so the most energetic in offering a detailed accounting of the various expeditions of associate workers that had set sail and arrived under its auspices. In a characteristic statement, the company proclaimed that the “Californienne is the oldest of the companies for the exploitation of the gold in California.”6 By early 1850, the Californienne could boast (and did!) of four sailings of associate workers: on the Jacques Lafitte, the Gaetry, the Uncas, and the Louisiane. Such was the demand for passage, noted the company, that its managers had refused more than two hundred prospective associate workers passage on the Uncas because the ship was filled to capacity.7 In August 1850, the Californienne published the names and addresses of the associate workers transported to California by the company. The specific names and addresses gave a sense of the widespread nature of the emigration to the California goldfields and the central role played by the company in making this possible. A large proportion of those listed came from small towns and villages. There were no unattached women. Those women listed accompanied their husbands.8 As a gesture of its firm foundation and transparency for the public, the Californienne held the first annual meeting of its shareholders. This was designed to dispel doubts about the responsibility of such companies. Its annual report, issued in anticipation of the meeting, noted branches in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. The company had sold 5,636 shares to the public; it had sponsored multiple sailings of associate



France workers. The board voted a 5 percent interest payment to shareholders. There were no dividends.9 THE NEW COMPANIES: NEW DIRECTIONS AMID INTENSE COMPETITION

Among the new companies, there were extravagant claims and the constant search for a distinguishing advantage. Consider one company, Fortune. Launched May 12, 1849, it boasted of a technical advantage in the form of company machines. In operation, each machine harvested two kilos of gold a day, or the work of one hundred men. The profit would be F 6,000 a day for a party of eight, or F 5,670,000 a year, with dividends to shareholders in like proportion. Or note the Société Française et Américaine de San Francisco, with equally extravagant claims, bolstered by exclusive rights to a machine recently invented by a university professor. This California company also moved to a new level in its self-proclaimed popularity, with the declaration that its shares at five francs were in such demand that the administrators were unable to sign all the certificates.10 Another new company, the Gerbe d’Or, pledged to take care of the families of its associates, each of whom would make at least F 120,000 a year. That these promises enlisted only thirty workers suggested the intensity of the competition. There was also an appeal to regional, religious, political, and personal sentiments. The Société de Jésus et de Marie included a large number of rural priests as investors. The most diverse of the inducements came from the Californienne Française, which promised each member F 500, free transportation, 10 acres of land, and 12 head of cattle.11 The financial promises of the new companies (and the old, for that matter) escalated through the early months of 1850. Along with the guarantees for shareholders went expanded terms for the associate workers. The conditions of passage included rave reviews of the ship, enticing accounts of the food for all classes of passengers, and the presence of a support staff including doctors, pharmacists, and chaplains. On arriving in California, the company’s workers would proceed to the mines under the direction of an engineer. The fatigued or injured might avail themselves of the company’s vacation resorts and hospitals.12 Consider, for example, the travel arrangements for the company Toison d’Or. The workers would travel to California on the “superb ship” the Louis. The three classes included a “very lovely comfortable room” for first-class passengers, a beautiful roof on the bridge for passengers of the second class, and a “vast and magnificent steerage” of 8-foot elevation and well ventilated, able to

The New California Companies hold two hundred passengers” of the third class, with separate beds for each passenger. The “food and the care given to the passengers leave nothing to be desired.” Of course, “the first subscribers would have their choice of cabins.” Other support included “a doctor, pharmacist, etc. specially allocated to ships.”13 With the entry of so many new companies onto the scene, some companies began to focus on new ways to tap into the great profits associated with an outpouring of riches at a great distance, generated by a large and growing population of miners that needed a wide range of goods and services. One of these services was banking. One company proclaimed, “We are occupied neither with the search for gold nor with workers; our special purpose is a bank and consignment, the exchange between France and San Francisco of the products of the two countries.” Or note this ad for the French Bank of California: “Most of the emigrants exchange their resources for goods, but on arriving in California, they have great difficulty in profiting because of the tariff [because they must] pay immediately these charges and those for transportation, etc. Hence the creation of the French Bank of California. This is the opportune moment.” Here was a bank for the French in California, whether digging and washing in the mines or engaged in commercial pursuits.14 Another special area of potential profits was real estate. An early advertisement proclaimed “150 francs a year . . . for 25 francs.” The origin of this bonanza was the Société pour l’Exploitation en Californie, which proposed to convey to California some fifty prefabricated houses made of wood and iron. Another company with a special interest was the Société Immobilière de San Francisco, which specialized in fireproof constructions. The Ruche d’Or directed its appeal to agricultural workers.15 The Bretonne noted that it had sent two hundred emigrants to California with a view to establishing an agricultural colony.16 In response to the intense competition, new dimensions of investment appeared. For example, one company offered to exchange shares of stock for trade goods. Specifically, shares of one hundred francs would be given in exchange for merchandise. Manufacturers and industrialists were urged to come forward. This proposal was cast as an opportunity for French merchants and artisans to exploit the new market of California. Individuals or companies that participated would receive shares with the same dividends paid to regular investors.17 In the rush of the new companies to distinguish themselves from their competitors, one group exclusively pursued trade. The public appeal of the Société du Commerce de San Francisco drew on a successful English model. The prospectus intoned, “There has been much talk of the dividends realized by the Anglo-American companies. Here is a grand ‘exclusively commercial’ enterprise.” It was neither a bank nor a discount house; both were deemed too



France risky. Instead, this was a carefully thought-out enterprise focused on trade. The first expedition of selected merchandise with a F 200,000 investment was already under way in September. Others would follow on a monthly basis.18 As the California companies became more numerous, joined by the unifying search for investors, a market appeared for information about the companies. By the fall of 1850, advertisements proclaimed reliable sources of information about the California companies: their shares, their status, and all the information necessary for investors. These sources were impartial, or so it was said. They would guide the provincial and foreign shareholders.19 The most important of these was M. Philippart’s Petit Manuel de l’Actionnaire. This pamphlet analyzed California companies based on confidential information. Throughout, M. Philippart and his journal focused on a single issue: which companies gave the best results.20 July and August 1850 were the months of extravagant promises. The stockholders could hardly make an exact count of all the images that came before their eyes. So dizzying were the claims and counterclaims, one observer declared, that the founders of the companies struggled “to find out what they have promised.” Almost everyone agreed that whatever the claims of the companies, the dividends for shareholders were as distant as ever.21 THE COMPANY PAPER: THE ÉCHO DU SACRAMENTO

In a world of communication and advertising, a company newspaper was a logical extension of the use of the popular press. Several companies published on a regular basis, at least for some months. As for the rest, their publication schedule was generally irregular and did not extend past a few issues. These newspapers were filled with wondrous information: they reported all the news of California (at least the favorable news); reproduced the letters of emigrants and articles borrowed from the American press; signaled the next ships’ departures; and, above all, contained full pages of advertising.22 The Écho du Sacramento was an excellent example of a company newspaper. A “monthly publication of the interests of the associates of the Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Californie,” the Écho was sent to all shareholders and prospective shareholders. This publication simultaneously served two separate but compatible purposes. Of course, its first mission was to provide the most favorable support for the company—specifically, to recount in as much detail as possible the company’s voyages to San Francisco and the activities of its associate workers there. Its second purpose was to mount a spirited defense of California companies at a time when these institutions were coming under continuing attack. In this capacity, the Écho du Sacramento was untiring, as we shall see.23

The New California Companies The Écho began publication in November 1849, and the early issues detailed the embarkation of the first sailing of the company’s associate workers. It was an intimidating voyage of twelve thousand miles. The editor wrote in detail of the gathering of the group in Le Havre; he described the imposing mass sung at the Church of Notre Dame, celebrated by Father Delmas, the priest of the company. In the choir were the attending associate workers, dressed in the uniform of the company: “brown berets, black tunics or pea jackets, and velvet trousers make up the uniform of these gold seekers.” There followed a listing of the principal officers of the company, with their qualifications. At five thirty, the company’s ship, the Espadon, raised its sails and at about eight, dropped its pilot and moved silently into the night.24 Also sailing on the Espadon were the company employees, to provide the support necessary for such a venture at such a distance and to fulfill the promises to the shareholders and the associate workers. A roster of these employees included the director; an engineer, architect, priest, doctor, optician, and health officer; two mechanics; a carpenter; a blacksmith; three bakers, two naturalists; and two commercial men. There were also several manual laborers. The company also embarked equipment to assist in the gold-mining operations.25 The Écho had another theme that it explored on a regular basis—namely, the importance of the California enterprises for the French nation: “The exploitation of the California mines for the profit of France is an eminently national work. We think to have proven it.” The great successes associated with these ventures would redound to the benefit of the nation.26 The others engaged in this national enterprise were collaborators, but they were also rivals. Here, the Écho moved carefully: “Our intention is not to critique rival companies; each is responsible for its own work. . . . If we have the pretention to do better than the others, it is by acts and not by words that we are able to prove it.” What the journal felt strongly about, however, was the notion that “pretends to show that it is more advantageous to emigrants to leave alone rather than in a company.” That was an outrageous suggestion, characterized as “this enormous anti-social argument,” to which the editor responded in detail. Over the course of twelve thousand miles, ran the reply, the single traveler confronts a series of dangers that would deplete his resources. Suppose he arrives in San Francisco ill? Who is going to help him? He does not have the security of associates. The editor became specific. He did not approve of expeditions of 300–400 emigrants. No company could give proper attention to such large numbers. “As for us,” he continued, “we propose 50 to 55 workers for the first and second expeditions. The power of the machines will advantageously supplement the number of arms.”27



France The Écho identified another and more dangerous adversary. An important mission of the editor and his paper was to defend the idea and the operation of the California companies against what he called “the regular abuse every day in the industrial press of [so-]called chanteurs.” These critics “exploit in an indignant manner the cause of every new enterprise.” This abuse was based on a system of intimidation; their charges were “expressions of lies and ridicule.” They sought to shape public opinion against the California companies. In so doing, they trashed “every new company formed.” In their chants—hence the origin of the name—“their conduct wounds the interests of all, capitalists and speculators.” Here was the great danger, and the Écho intended “to combat the effects of scandal in the licentious sheets.”28 With the Espadon’s arrival in San Francisco, the Écho turned to practical issues. The initial reports were vague but hopeful: “The condition and spirit of the members of the company are good, and we have the greatest affection for our director.” But more pressing issues soon intruded. The first was the charge that the machines so widely hailed and so carefully transported to San Francisco were too heavy to move to the mines, and when there, too unwieldy to assist the associate workers. This charge was made by the Courrier de la Californie, which wrote that the machines, the tables sibériennes, were too heavy to be carried to the placers. Nonsense, responded the editor of the Écho: the machines are light and efficient. They will give the company’s workers a notable advantage in the placers. Before the company’s future miners moved to the goldfields, however, the company officials had much to do. In the first month, they were “employed in the unloading and transporting of supplies; with the paperwork associated with customs and preparation for departure, all has been accomplished with great difficulty.”29 With the arrival of the Espadon came immediate rumors of the dissolution of the company. After all, widely circulated rumors, supported by the letters of Étienne Derbec, had pronounced the California companies dead on arrival. The editor of the Écho was quick to separate the Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Californie from the others. “All the companies have dissolved except ours,” he wrote. “Thanks to their loyalty our emigrants have resisted numerous seductions.” There were eight deserters. The remainder were steadfastly loyal. Given the record of the California companies on reaching San Francisco, this was a noteworthy accomplishment. The editor and the directors of the company thereafter called constant attention to the continuity of their enterprise and the loyalty of their workers, both of which confirmed in the strongest terms the integrity of the company.30 The message was clear: only a well-run company that fulfilled its promises would command such loyalty. With the remaining twenty-eight loyal workers

The New California Companies and after a month of preparation, “our faithful band heads to the placers,” where they anticipated “a rich harvest.” Thus, continued the editor, “our company is the first among all those in France to avoid dissolution.” After some delay and careful preparation, “we have arrived at the mines; this was excellent news for shareholders! Good news because we will soon gather the fruits, and the abundant fruits, we hope, of our enterprise.” There were prospects of a dividend by December.31 In this time of high anticipation, the editor turned to the great opportunities before the company. California was rich beyond belief: “Gold was everywhere! There was feverish commercial activity.” San Francisco was a place of fantasy: “All appears as if by enchantment: steamers, horses, streets, hotels, etc.; all is prodigious, inexplicable.” Mixed with the great riches of California was the high character of the French nation in responding to the gold discoveries, although there were drawbacks as well. France was “the most enlightened, the most intelligent, the most advanced [nation] in the world; we reason, we discuss, we dispute everything, and we do little and that tardily. Our neighbors across the channel, by contrast, talk little, but they act. . . . We should adopt the taste, the allures, and the methods of the English.”32 The story of the Écho de la Californie and the Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Californie that it represented was one of a dozen company papers and their sponsors. The Écho and its company were more long-lived than most. The paper chronicled the modest-sized sailing (thirty-six workers) of the company and its successful arrival in San Francisco. There, the leaders of the expedition marshaled their loyal workers for the trip to the mines. The company and its paper saw the success of the voyage and the loyalty of its workers (surrounded by the temptations of San Francisco) as evidence of the company’s success. Amid these narratives and celebrations, the Écho fought a determined rearguard action against critics of the California companies, of which there were, by this time, several. As the company’s mining force left San Francisco for the mines, the paper ceased publication. The future of the enterprise remained shrouded in the mists covering the placers. “WHAT SHOULD ONE THINK ABOUT THE CALIFORNIA COMPANIES?”

In April 1850, the Chronique de Paris posed the question: “What should one think about the California companies?” Over the next several months, the Chronique offered an exhaustive analysis of the companies, to which it added advice to prospective French gold seekers. It was the height of the resurgence of



France new companies and widespread advertising. Amid this flood of visual and verbal images of gold for prospective French Argonauts, the Chronique advised against joining a company and pronounced that “the monopoly of the companies was the cause of the ruin of European emigrants.” Accordingly, prospective French gold seekers should go to California independent of a company or with a group of friends. They should contract directly with a reliable shipowner or through a well-known agent in Paris.33 The Chronique entered wholeheartedly into the opportunities for French people associated with the California gold discoveries. Indeed, to promote these prospects “which open an immense horizon for the proletariat, a future of unexpected hope, the Chronique would happily furnish free, to all who demanded it, all the indispensable information for the crossing to California. For the benefit of the public and its readers, the Chronique proposed to give, in each of its issues, a view of the march of affairs in California and of the progress of this country.” It was a vigorous declaration of the potential significance of the gold discoveries for French people at all levels of society.34 Other observers offered a skeptical response to the question about the California companies. There was a growing sense that the promises of the companies—ever more enlarged in response to the competition—had outpaced common sense, much less the real world of gold rush California. The company officers of the Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Californie had good reason to be concerned about the publication, reception, and reputation of their enterprise. Even as the new companies organized and joined in the flood of advertising, skeptics continued to raise cautionary flags, and their doubts grew with the proliferation of the California companies. There were several sources of this doubt. Some of the mainstream Paris newspapers began to show increasingly critical coverage. The business journal Gazette des Affaires continued a drumbeat of critical analysis. The arrival of the first ships with associate workers in San Francisco provided a major benchmark in the history of the California companies. In the eyes of many observers, this was the point at which judgment might be passed on the companies. In the view of the Gazette, the companies failed the test of legitimacy. Landed on the wharves in San Francisco, the company officers and their crew of associate workers, equipment, and goods found themselves confronted by the reality of gold rush San Francisco. Challenges were everywhere. Whether it was an issue of the continuing food and shelter for workers, mining equipment, transportation to the mines, or negotiations with American officials, these extended challenges and negotiations cost money. Companies often found themselves in straitened financial circumstances, and

The New California Companies as they negotiated, their workers became impatient. On every side, they saw the bustle and confusion of California, the universal presence of gold as a circulating medium, the varied opportunities to make money outside the goldfields, and the temptations to strike out on their own or in small groups. Many did. Those who remained loyal found themselves deserted by the company to whom they had given allegiance and whose shares they had purchased to assure their participation.35 One of the most remarkable features of the flowering of the California companies in the spring and summer of 1850 was that it did so amid a rising chorus of cautionary—even alarmist—reports that appeared in a track parallel to the endless ads trumpeting the virtues of this or that company. In addition to the Gazette des Affaires, among the journals that published skeptical accounts were Illustration and the Journal des Débats, which printed the letters of Étienne Derbec. In a curious juxtaposition of promotion and criticism, the rising tide of negative comments appeared in the same newspapers as the flood of advertising for the new California companies with their extravagant claims.36 The critics of the California companies fell into three broad groups. The first was composed of individuals who wrote from personal experiences. Their letters and reports were accounts of the difficulties of miners in general and foreign miners in particular, mixed with questions about the legitimacy of the claims of the California companies. Their attacks targeted both the arrangements to transport associate workers and their arrival in California. Added to these were the implausible—indeed more like fantasy—promises made to shareholders of future dividends.37 A second group of critics were those associated with the press and especially the Gazette des Affaires. This weekly report on economic issues in France emphasized stability, with constant coverage of railroad construction projects and the attendant financing of such lines. In the view of the editors, the claims of California companies were not only deceptive, but also siphoned off investment capital important to the development of a financial infrastructure in France into a series of quixotic schemes focused on distant California. These schemes were more than bad business; they were bad for the nation. From the beginning of these company ventures—and rising with their second life and proliferation in 1850—the Gazette noted that the extravagant ads of the companies had the effect of distracting French people generally and potential investors in particular from legitimate French investment opportunities. The Gazette concluded: “The greatest part of these enterprises consists of promising the most exaggerated results, in exchange for a minimum payment; and the fools, the ambitious, and the needy are persuaded to accept the mirage of a



France clique. It is above all in the country . . . that one throws out these golden come-ons.”38 A third group of skeptics were French officials in California. Here, the French consul, Jacques Moerenhout, was the leading figure. From his early tour of the mining camps and placers in the summer of 1848, Moerenhout had been extraordinarily well informed about the opportunities and hazards associated with the gold rush for French people. He continued to speak in strong terms, urging French commercial participation and advising individual Frenchmen to stay home. Perhaps the appearance of so many destitute French Argonauts at his home and office gave an additional intensity to his strictures.39 In August 1850, at the high point of the flowering of the second generation of California companies, the Chronique de Paris published two long articles summarizing the indictment of these speculative ventures. The first began with an account of the infatuation of the French people with California and gold. “The question on the order of the day, that which is the most important of all others, is the California question. California is at this time in the dreams and imagination of everyone. This magic word, before which the most superb head bows down, is gold!!!” The Chronique then analyzed the individual companies by name with a view to their resources and prospects. It concluded that “these companies seem, for the most part, without capital, without operating funds; they count on foolish mankind, and they are right.” The editor published two letters from San Francisco, “the most complete information with regard to this country, on which the eyes of the entire world are fixed at this moment.” He concluded that the activities of several companies in San Francisco did not offer confidence to the French investor.40 Another paper, the Télescope, identified itself as protecting the interests of the French in California. After the usual disclaimer of its disinterested posture, the Télescope went on to describe its mission: “We have no single interest in California; we do not export merchandise; we do not lead a single worker to the Sacramento. . . . We enter into the lists, entirely free, without pretensions, without hate, without friendship, uniquely with the strong desire to serve whomever, with intelligence; to aid the movement of emigration, the development of foreign commerce, and to facilitate for French people the means to gather this gold, which already in great numbers the avid hands of strangers have amassed for two years.” The editor continued: “Our paper is separated thus by the direction of these ideas in all the California papers. Everything that has been written, said, up to here on California is stained by the spirit of partiality that all men necessarily press to make a return from the enterprise to which they are attached.” Nonetheless, in spite of these disclaimers, the Télescope was

The New California Companies prepared to pass judgment. By the middle of August, it would confirm, “In our last issue we said that companies founded only on the basis of the exploitation of gold, by the hand of associate workers, do not have a serious future.”41 At about the same time, an exchange of letters appeared that gave a serious cast to what had become a war of numbers and competing claims. In January 1851, Étienne Derbec, whose work had regularly appeared in the Journal des Débats, published another in a series of letters from California. This newest account chastised the California companies for failing to live up to their elaborate promises and leaving their associate workers to fend for themselves in gold rush California. In response, Victor Viard replied on behalf of the Compagnie des Mineurs Belges. In so doing, he attempted to rescue the reputation of the California companies (or at least his own company) from a barrage of bad news and negative publicity. He began his response by noting that Derbec’s letters “had a certain literary merit which we take pleasure in stating.” However, he continued, “We have sought in vain the cause of his disfavor. . . . We say to our miners, and we repeat the terms to our shareholders, [that we offer] not extravagant and foolish promises of fabulous riches, but the certitude that their capital will be engaged in one of the richest and one of the most fertile exploitations of gold in the world.” What emerged was the sense of an honest company of mining professionals caught in a backlash against the excessive claims and failed promises of so many of the California companies.42 Two months later, Viard wrote another letter in which he raised larger, national issues: “If France remains inactive, the colossal riches of California will not be less extracted, and our country will soon be disinherited in the family of nations. Well! On soil saturated with gold, eighteen men, forming a small company of the Mariposa, represent France! However, these eighteen men, in spite of their inexperience [and] the imperfection of their tools, have carried F 1,100,000 to San Francisco after two months of work.” Enough said!43 Viard and his company continued to advertise their professional qualifications (“the special character of the company”) and their realistic expectations (100 percent dividends in January 1852—that is, after three months of work) at the very moment when the criticism of the California companies had reached a crescendo. Viard later addressed the development of quartz mining, an important change in mining technology readily adopted by the professional miners of the Compagnie des Mineurs Belges. Viard noted that the harvest of the quartz-mining operations would be deposited on a monthly basis in the vaults of the Bank of France, from which dividends would be paid at six-month intervals on the first of January and July each year. Viard’s letters represented a last



France gasp for the legitimacy of mining operations under the structure of a California company.44 By the end of 1850 potential investors and directors of new California companies were becoming aware of continuing discouraging news. The work in the mines remained hard to the point of exhaustion. There were continuing frictions within the gold camps, especially directed against foreign miners. A foreign miner’s tax, enacted in April 1850, gave these attitudes official state sanction. Foreign miners had been singled out, French miners among them. A kind of disillusion had set in, driven in part by the news from the goldfields but also in part by the grandiose expectations generated by two years of unremitting publicity and advertisements couched in the most extreme numbers and superlatives. The close of the year prompted an accounting or a kind of balance sheet. The outlook for French miners and investors was not promising.45




The magic words “gold” and “California” received fresh impetus with the explosion of new California companies in the first six months of 1850. The rolling barrage of ads for new companies kept the economic opportunities associated with this distant, exotic place before the public. To this mix was now added a dramatic new event that would become the most remarked on and written about, the single topic universally associated with France and the golden land of California. It was the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. The most famous lottery in French history had its origins in the plans of a whaling captain from Le Havre, Jean-François Langlois. His idea was a great national lottery that would offer a golden ingot as the first prize; the proceeds of the lottery would be used to send five thousand French emigrants to California. Thus, the enterprising captain tapped into the twin streams of interest that mesmerized France at mid-century: gold and California, now brought together in the same enterprise and open to all citizens. The California companies had raised the level of interest in “California” and “gold” to an astonishing level, but the cost of emigration—F 1,000 for an associate worker or a private passenger—was far out of the reach of ordinary French people. This lottery scheme of assisted immigration would send deserving French citizens to California at the expense of the government. The prefect of the Paris police presented the idea to the minister of the interior with a recommendation for approval. The minister endorsed the idea, and he authorized the lottery on August 3, 1850. In so doing, he placed the Lottery of the Golden Ingots under the sponsorship of the government of the republic. What was the scheme that now burst onto the scene with the official imprimatur of the French government? It was a lottery with 7 million tickets of one



France franc each. The first prize, the golden ingot, would be worth F 400,000; second prize, F 200,000; third prize, F 100,000. There were lesser prizes to the number of 224. The profits of the lottery were estimated at F 2 million.1 As it emerged in final form, the lottery served a number of constituencies. To begin with, the transportation of five thousand French emigrants to California provided a modest bonanza for the commercial shipping industry. Eventually, some seventeen ships were chartered for the voyage. For the government, it provided a useful and effective way to raise money to move emigrants a long distance. Then, there were continuing domestic considerations. Some influential figures thought that part of the solution to domestic unrest and economic upheaval lay in emigration. The favored destination was the French colony in Algeria, for which companies had been formed and the National Assembly had voted F 50 million. Several thousand of those arrested during the violent uprising of June 1848 had been transported to Algeria. Finally, for government officials at several levels, the lottery offered a way to move a large number of undesirables out of France to a destination halfway around the world with the prospect that they would never return. This dimension of the arrangement depended, of course, on who would choose the emigrants and why. But as it was an official government lottery, the government would control the mechanism of selection.2 From the beginning, the project was controversial. The lottery was first debated in the newspapers. The editor of the Siècle began the discussion by noting that for the first time since the abolition of lotteries in 1836, “the government has engaged its responsibility directly in affairs of this kind. It is therefore a place for the press to examine in the most careful way the organization of this lottery without precedent.” And what was the project? The Lottery of the Golden Ingots, said the prospectus, “has for its objective to facilitate the free transport of five thousand workers to California and their initial establishment there.” Serious question should be raised about the enterprise, the editor continued, including cost and the arrangements to support the five thousand emigrants.3 Whatever the divergent views, the lottery was about to become an important national presence. Writing from Blois, an editor confirmed: “Everyone in Paris and the Departments is talking about the Lottery of the Golden Ingots to transport 5,000 workers free. The benefits which are offered are complete and without restriction.” He concluded that this was a “work eminently national and philanthropic in its implications” and so deserving of the support of the public.4 The humor magazine Charivari began what would become its extended coverage with a tongue-in-cheek observation: “The California lottery is going to

Lottery of the Golden Ingots eclipse all the other lotteries known up to this day. Aside from the massive and extraordinary first prize, the smaller prizes will be composed of trifles such as a river of diamonds, a table service of solid gold, and so forth.” The most important question that comes to mind, continued Charivari, is the purpose of this new lottery. “Why has the minister of the interior authorized some philanthropists to find seven million [francs] in the pockets of French people under the pretext of California?”5 In December 1850, the focus of the public debate on the new lottery shifted to the National Assembly. Some members of the Assembly thought the idea of a national lottery was a bad precedent on principle. Others, who accepted the idea of the lottery, thought the California destination worked against the national interest. In their view, deserving French citizens should be sent to Corsica or Algeria. These were French places; they were close to France, as opposed to California, which was halfway around the world. What was the point, ran their argument, in promoting the emigration of French people to places that were not French? Later, other objections would arise. Did the emigrants really wish to go to California? They would have to endure “a long and barbarous journey.” The debate provoked a new consideration of the lottery plan and gave voice to continuing opposition to it. An editor of the Bordeaux Indicateur thought the honor of the nation and the Assembly was tarnished by such a scheme.6 A writer for the Mémorial Bordelais had another view. He noted that the Lottery of the Golden Ingots was, in every respect, legal. The attackers of the lottery could not cite a single violation of the law, but this did not stop the party of the “left” from raising its voice in opposition. The writer continued his analysis with a discussion of the legal issues. The Lottery of the Golden Ingots advantaged two groups. First, there were poor workers seduced by brilliant promises “to seek a fortune on a soil richer than ours.” The second group were the discharged members of the Garde Mobile who wished to enjoy the free passage. The Mémorial Bordelais concluded that it was for the second group that the minister of the interior had decided to embrace the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. Hence, the new lottery was not a violation of the law of 1836, which had abolished all lotteries grounded in real estate. As for the debates, they were politics as usual. In the end, the séance of the Assembly had produced much noise for nothing.7 The Siècle had its own interpretation of the lottery and a different set of questions. It began with the observation that the lottery “has occupied the public for some time.” This was the work of the government itself, which promoted it, recommended it, and propagated it. So there was reason to examine



France the organization of this lottery for necessary guarantees and vigilance. But there was far more at stake here—namely, the futures of the five thousand French workers who would be brought to California under the auspices of this project. They would be “removed for the most part from the sedentary trade of towns into a life filled with adventures, of perils and hazards, in the middle of a country where there is still no regular or functioning authority, where the largest part of the only important city has been destroyed by fire. Where it will be necessary to struggle against intemperance, against disorder, against the passions loosed by the thirst for gold. What is necessary is order. Repeat: Order!!! The responsibility of the government has been gravely compromised in this affair. Will we give these emigrants free passage only to abandon them on the shores of America?” The Siècle referred to the lottery’s objective of establishing French workers in California, and it concluded: “What is the point of initial establishment in a country where the great masses of emigrants are not established?” These French emigrants would end up living the nomadic lives of the American pioneers or trappers. The images of the American frontier of Kentucky and in the works of James Fenimore Cooper were firmly established reference points in French life.8 ENTHUSIASM, ADVERTISING, AND CRITICISM

These arguments were overtaken by the enormous burst of enthusiasm for the lottery scheme. The price of a ticket at one franc placed it within the reach of literally every French man or woman. The blending of “gold” and “California” in one enterprise proved irresistible—and the more so because the official endorsement of the French government seemed to promise that the lottery was honest and well managed. “This Lottery of the Golden Ingots, as one calls it vulgarly, has seized all imaginations the very first time,” announced one paper. And another added, “Everyone in Paris and in the departments speaks of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots.”9 With the support of the national government and leading with the word “gold,” the Lottery of the Golden Ingots rapidly spread across the nation. It penetrated into every geographic locale; it found roots in cities and small villages; it cut across the political landscape. Journalists and scribblers of every persuasion, who had found the finest subject in a generation, promoted its dreams of castles in Spain and carriages pulled by white horses.10 Debates and editorials aside, the government moved quickly. As noted, the minister of the interior authorized the new lottery on August 3, 1850, and the prefect of police issued his initial directive within a month. The first of countless ads for the new lottery appeared in early September, a month after its

Lottery of the Golden Ingots authorization. The first ticket was sold on September 5. A series of official notices sent to all the departments set the commission for the sale of individual tickets at 3 percent, with the assumption that tobacco shops would be the most natural and universal outlets. And, the directives continued, the merchants of Paris should assist in placing the tickets, along with their counterparts in “Lyon, Toulouse, Rouen, Havre, Avignon, and many others.”11 Some commentators raised the issue of the connection between the Lottery of the Golden Ingots and the California companies. One observer noted that in a sense, every California company was a lottery, for it promoted prizes of various kinds for the payment of fees. He continued: “There is not a company . . . which does not offer to the shareholders a gold ingot. There have been other fantasies of riches, but the greatest is ‘the California metal.’ ” This analysis reflected the close connection between the lottery with its real gold ingot (or its equivalent) and the California companies, who traded on the fantasy of a golden ingot for the investor.12 The lottery was at the forefront of the news, and as such, it became the target of humorous publications. The most important of these, Charivari, accused the French government of fomenting “this disease of gold,” heretofore associated with the American press, now given official sanction by the French government. Now the government proposed to lure honest French working men, laborers, artisans, servants for wages, and tailors or dressmakers to a hazardous California, where one promised them F 400,000 in consideration of a twentysous piece. The price of a ticket was one franc, continued Charivari, but this was a day’s wages for a male laborer, two days for a woman. And a family would miss this franc, “the mother and the children with no bread to eat!” Such a game of chance carried onto every street corner made a mockery of the revolution’s principles of economy and hard work. Instead, the circular of the prefect of police “has transformed . . . mayors into dealers at a gaming table.” Charivari concluded that the lottery was “nothing more than a concealed raid” on the pockets of ordinary French people.13 Charivari further attacked the circular from the prefect of police to the mayors of France because it created pressure to sell lottery tickets. It recreated scenes of the mayor consoling a grieving widow, advising recruits for the army, and performing a marriage ceremony, each conversation leading to the sale of lottery tickets. An employee selling lottery tickets advised a prospective purchaser that the ages of family members taken together provided the winning lottery number. With such advice, the sale of tickets surged.14 At the same time, Charivari ran continuous ads for the lottery. As the budget of the government for publicizing the lottery far exceeded that of any California



France company, the ad business for the lottery was its own bonanza for newspapers and magazines. In the midst of its caricatures and outlandish sketches, Charivari made sure to collect its share of advertising revenues.15 THE PUBLIC EXHIBIT OF THE FAMOUS GOLDEN INGOT

Amid the initial burst of enthusiasm for the lottery and the emerging questions about it, the organizers moved to ensure the continuing fascination with this government-sponsored project. They produced a golden ingot designated the first prize and exhibited it in a store on the Boulevard Montmartre. It was a public relations bonanza. Much of Paris lined up to view the golden ingot. It was the subject of articles and illustrations in every Parisian newspaper and magazine. It was an ingenious scheme ideally suited to the time and place. For the first time, the magic words of “California” and “gold” seemed within the reach of everyone. In short, the lottery carried the California adventure to the doors of everyone, joining the hopes and dreams of ordinary French people across the length and breadth of the nation.16 The exhibition of the ingot began with a parade of the ingot from the headquarters of the lottery to the exhibit site. With the heading “The Promenade of the Golden Ingot,” Charivari described the “splendid ceremony . . . being prepared in Paris.” It continued, “One is occupied at this moment at the Treasury to melt down the famous block of pure gold which will serve as the first prize for the drawing of the California lottery. This ingot will next be transported from the Quai Conti to the Passage Jouffroy, but the administrators of the lottery have understood that such a voyage could not take place in a vulgar carriage, with the blinds lowered. The Parisians do not have the occasion every day to be able to contemplate a golden ingot of four hundred thousand francs.” The account went on: “The philanthropists who had the idea of this first prize have wished that it be seen by all the subscribers. Only one [Frenchman] will win the ingot, but all the others should have the joy of seeing it; this will always be a consolation. The golden ingot will be placed in a triumphal carriage, and all the administrators of the lottery [will be] around it, dressed in California style.” What an introduction to the exhibition!17 Charivari noted the opening of the exhibit with an account in the form of a conversation between two Parisians. The most recent “great news,” began the first, was the opening of the exhibit of the famous gold ingot. “Is it pure California gold?” asked the second. The program affirms it, responded the first, and the Municipal Guard on duty nearby gives its “word of honor!” “And will

Lottery of the Golden Ingots the great drawing take place soon?” “Indeed, it only remains to sell four million tickets . . . a trifle.”18 The exhibit was fully as successful as the promoters hoped. The crowds lining up to see the ingot ranged from working-class Parisians and small children to the bourgeoisie in formal dress and top hats. Uniformed security testified to the value of the object and the significance of the occasion.19 ALEXANDRE DUMAS (SON) AND THE HISTORY OF THE LOTTERY

The director of the lottery now moved to build on this enthusiasm by another creative stroke. The first was the exhibit of the ingot, an event that attracted crowds of onlookers and endless articles in newspapers and news magazines. The second was to provide a history of the lottery that would enable those beyond Paris to grasp its significance. To do this, the director employed Alexandre Dumas (the son) to write a history of the lottery. The son of a famous father who was already making a name for himself as a dramatist, Dumas was handsomely paid for the work. Certainly his was a name that would be recognized by every literate French person. A letter from Dumas to the editor of the prospectus as part of the introduction included these closing lines: “I shall be happy to have taken part in the publicity of the lottery, which I’ve found original and which I believe useful.”20 Dumas began his history with an observation about the exhibition of the golden ingot. This event had “excited the curiosity of the capital to the highest degree [and] exerted the same kind of influence upon the province.” Fashion has embraced the lottery and its golden prize, “and speculation, which travels behind them like canteen women in the trains of victorious armies, will not delay exploiting it by all possible means and under every possible form.” Perhaps Parisians will soon take their coffee “in cups modeled after the golden ingot.” And soon thereafter “we shall see the golden lion of the Jouffroy Arcade toss his glittering mane in the first rays of the April sun.”21 As for opposition to the lottery on moral grounds, Dumas wrote, monies generated by lotteries have financed some of the grand monuments of Paris. This new example will benefit five thousand workers. In reality, to suppress the lottery, “it would be just as well to suppress everything because everything in the world is a lottery. Life is a perpetual lottery for the benefit of death; love, the lottery of the heart; ambition, a lottery of the head; the future, the lottery of everything.”22 Whatever the objections, everyone had to agree “that at least the lottery, with its delightful illusions, does poetize the miseries of the poor and gilds their lives with a ray of hope. How many thatched roofs, how many attics,



France are at this moment metamorphosed into castles and palaces by the magic properties of a little square of paper bearing the numbers of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots.”23 Dumas emphasized that this was without doubt a French lottery. Accordingly, this prize should be won by a Frenchman or Frenchwoman. One can condemn a “patriotic egoism,” but we should feel “acute pain upon seeing the great Golden Ingot worth 400,000 francs, or one of its 223 brothers, take the track to Lisbon, Madrid, or St. Petersburg.” For it is not only the government and the prospective immigrants who benefit. Shopkeepers would sell tickets and receive a commission; purchasers stay to buy cigarettes and newspapers. Such a program benefits those engaged in “domestic work.” Consider that a “maidservant, who did not earn six francs a week by her usual labor, earns by selling tickets four, six, or eight a day according to the number of tickets she places.”24 Dumas extolled the administration of the lottery, with expenses estimated at 14 percent, as opposed to the 25–30 percent costs for other lotteries. He showered compliments on the director of the lottery. Soon, the public would embrace the vision that had moved him from the beginning—namely, that one franc could win “a big chunk of gold worth 400,000 francs.” Gold, he wrote, is the key here: “insolent, brutal, without grace notes, with no ornament but itself, borrowing nothing from art, owing nothing to anyone, radiant as the sun, naked as the truth, and saying, ‘Look at me; touch me; open me up; cut me; melt me—and you will have done a fine job. I am worth 400,000 francs.’ ‘And I, 200,000,’ says the neighbor; ‘and I, 100,000’; ‘and I, 50,000.’ ”25 Dumas then appealed to the character and role of women. “Women,” he wrote, “are so fond of gambling and the unforeseen!” Tickets in this lottery will make the perfect gift to a woman. They cost little, and if the recipient wins something, “She will be eternally grateful to you, and who knows what might come from the eternal gratitude of a woman?” “Take these tickets, then,” he concluded, “for I confess to you that this article has no other objective than to encourage you to take some of them. Take a lot of them, and, as one does not know what may happen, you, perhaps, will win this golden monster so recently displayed at the Jouffroy Arcade.”26 Dumas’s brief recitation touched on all the issues of the moment: concern for the poor, the moral issues surrounding the lottery, questions about its origin and administration, and the sale of tickets in other nations. This brilliant display of French character and hopes came down in the end to a single word: Gold! It was gold that drove the lottery and its message. It was the image of gold that stoked the fascination with the ingots displayed before the French public. It was gold—as Dumas had described it, “radiant as the sun, naked as the truth”—that

Lottery of the Golden Ingots would ensure the seduction of the French public. His was a splendid introduction to the strengths and weaknesses of French life and the prospects for a golden future. Dumas’s history of the lottery was straightforward. What was striking was a closing section in which Dumas turned the lottery into a matter of national interest and national honor. There were great resources at stake here, he wrote. He was not speaking of the potential emigrants. He was writing of the prizes. Four hundred thousand francs was a part of the national patrimony that should remain in France. Accordingly, every patriotic French man and woman must buy up all the tickets, even at the cost of personal sacrifice.27 THE STORM BEFORE THE DRAWING: FAVORITISM AND INCOMPETENCE

Even as the Lottery of the Golden Ingots captivated the French imagination and the pocketbooks of so many ordinary French people, rumors began to circulate about the conduct of the officials in charge. In the fall of 1850, as the sale of tickets was just under way, the first whiff of scandal surfaced over the awarding of contracts to transport the lottery emigrants to California. JeanFrançois Langlois, whose original idea was the foundation of the lottery, sought the contract for transporting the emigrants soon after the lottery was officially approved. (He would already get a percentage of the ticket sales.) There was a scandal over the issue, and the two legislators from the National Assembly resigned from the board.28 The administrators of the lottery had programmed a series of uninterrupted triumphs in presenting the lottery to the public. The enormously successful exhibit of the ingot had been followed by Dumas’s widely reprinted history. Throughout, the advertising budget financed an endless series of ads in newspapers across the country. All pointed to a surging sale of tickets and the continuing fascination of the public with the lottery. In the midst of this unbroken record of successes, the lottery’s administrators stumbled. On August 21, 1851, Langlois announced that all the tickets had been sold, lottery offices would close on August 31, and the drawing would take place on October 31. As it turned out, all the tickets had not been sold. Indeed, many tickets were still available. The editors of a prominent Paris newspaper, the Droit, reported that more than 1 million tickets were unsold. If this number was anywhere near accurate, then the lottery scheme had turned into a great speculation, and the administrators of the lottery appeared to have lost control of ticket sales.29



France Additional coverage of this very public issue followed almost daily (imagine how many individual French people and French families had already purchased tickets). One account confirmed that all the boutiques sold tickets at the premium prices of F 1.25, 1.50, or 2 apiece. Those selling the tickets had “exploited the credulity of the public for a profit.” In the face of such reports, the prefect of the Paris police moved to shut down such sales. Rumors swirled in the Palais de Justice as officials tried to calm the storm and regain control of the apparatus of the lottery. The drawing scheduled for October 1 was postponed indefinitely.30 Another and even more embarrassing issue soon intruded. A Paris tobacconist displayed lottery tickets as a way of promoting their sale in his store. A few sharp-eyed observers noted duplicate numbers. An angry crowd gathered, and the embarrassed tobacconist went to the headquarters of the lottery and brought back one of the officials. After a careful examination, four of the numbers were found to be duplicates. The tobacconist took the duplicate lottery tickets to the nearest police station. The ensuing investigation found other irregularities. The prefect of the Paris police dismissed Langlois. The date of the drawing remained postponed indefinitely.31 The controversy over the removal of M. Langlois immediately captured the attention of the press and the public. Officials suspended the sale of tickets, and the suspension created “a certain anxiety in the public.” The Patrie devoted almost daily attention to the issue, with the observation, “All these actions relative to the lottery have preoccupied the public for several days now.”32 The blizzard of rumors about the lottery and its tickets received a degree of confirmation in the form of a lawsuit. With the close of the lottery approaching and a large number of tickets still unsold, stories had circulated that M. Langlois had wholesaled out some five hundred thousand lottery tickets (the number varied widely) to a M. Savalette. On October 1, even as the government took over management of the lottery in the face of many administrative missteps, M. Savalette sought a subpoena in civil court to protect his financial arrangements associated with the sale of these tickets. He demanded a confirmation of the sale and the sum of F 250,000 for damages and interest. On October 13, a month before the newly rescheduled drawing, the Tribunal of Commerce for the Seine rejected his suit.33 The Mémorial Bordelais had a different perspective. The administration may have been flawed, ran its argument, and there was also the issue of an unaccounted-for block of tickets—listed precisely as 427,259—somewhere. But the main question was the credibility of the lottery as an institution promoted by the government and squarely in the public eye. Accordingly, the drawing must

Lottery of the Golden Ingots proceed as soon as possible. Whatever the other questions, the need to proceed far outweighed any possible inconvenience.34 Yet even as rumors swirled and some were confirmed, the public’s fascination remained undiminished and even grew, and the tickets continued to sell. The government was walking a fine line between putting its house in order and trying to maintain confidence in the lottery. The drawing was rescheduled again, this time for November 16, 1851. After the series of postponements, some commentators remained unconvinced that the new date for the drawing was any more certain than the previous dates. The newspaper the Droit, a confirmed critic of the lottery, claimed that the drawing would not take place in 1851 and was uncertain for 1852. The same paper also provided a breakdown of the F 7 million generated as income from the sale of tickets: for the five thousand immigrants, 4.6 million; administrative expenses, 1.2 million; prizes, 1.2 million.35 On the eve of the drawing of the greatest lottery in French history, many issues continued unresolved. How many tickets were unsold? Had the administrators of the lottery, reversing an early declaration that all the tickets had been sold, attempted to retrieve the error by wholesaling out the last several hundred thousand tickets? Newspaper accounts examined every side of the question of the missing tickets. Or were they missing? Some doubted the capacity of the administrators to organize a credible drawing, one that would be transparent and accepted by millions of ticket holders.36 CHARIVARI SERENADES THE LOTTERY AND ITS UNCERTAIN FUTURE

The weeks leading up to the drawing and the drawing itself were probably the most heavily covered national news story of the year. Like the arguments that accompanied the lottery from the beginning, the end created no perfect consensus. Charivari was always a caustic critic. Under the heading “The Thousand and One Winners of the Lottery,” it surmised that the individuals who bought lottery tickets were “perhaps some poor workers, the fathers of families having women and children crying from hunger at home. They, waiting, have come to spend their last sou, the product of many days, and the bread of their families in tickets of the lottery.”37 Charivari went on: “It is necessary to leave hope and illusion to the poor, say the philanthropists, the friends of the family and of religion . . . ; let us be creative, let us be authoritative, let us set things up, let us push the lottery.” If these aggressive tactics fall short, let “M. le Curé recommend the lottery in a sermon.”38



France Charivari also captured the place of the lottery in the dreams of ordinary French men and women. With high expectations of relief from the drudgery of ordinary life, the many ticket holders (whom Charivari addressed directly) would “then take up the plow again with light heart, return to the forge, to the mine, to the attic, inhale the gas, all the smoke, all the dust, all the emanations of the workshop, return to the incessant labor, to the work that uses all the forces of body and spirit, when for six months you have held in [your] pocket, tight against your heart this ticket of liberation which must change your poverty into riches, your painful labor into pleasures.” It concluded, “What noble and religious means the philanthropists have found to offer hope to the poor: a lottery!!!”39 Two weeks later, Charivari soon issued another dispatch from the front lines of the lottery. This one took the form of a fictional conversation between two characters, Gros-Pierre and the narrator, who had recently arrived from Paris in the provincial town that formed the center of the journal’s story. Gros-Pierre asked the recent arrival for news. He went on to enumerate the most important local issue: his neighbor, Gros-Jean, and his neighbor Goton (who was the daughter of Marie-Jeanne), and then the niece of grandfather Nicolas, and then the rural police, and then the bell ringer at the church, and then the priest, and then the apothecary—all had bought tickets for the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. What news from Paris of this important item “of interest to the entire country”? When will the drawing take place? Village life is at a standstill until the drawing. The president of the republic also wants to know. It is the first question he addresses to his minister on arising in the morning. The answer: no one knows when the drawing will take place. Let us raise a glass of wine to the health of the emperor!40 Charivari now embraced the new date of the drawing: “Sunday, November 16, will be a memorable date in French history.” It continued: “We hope that the new prefect of police is up to the job. Already immense preparations are under way on the Champs-Élysées ‘for this national ceremony.’ Not only in the Salle du Cirque, but also on the grand avenue, which is covered with shops and boutiques as in the days of the great public holidays. The expectation is that the poor devils who win the grand prizes will abandon themselves immediately to all sorts of expensive follies.” There were many examples to prove this outcome.41 Charivari concluded with the solemn declaration: It was the age of gold fever! “All Parisians this evening have the fever—and the most terrible of all— gold fever! Time was when one said: See Naples and then die! Today all of France repeats with sighs: Win four hundred thousand francs and then live well.” As part of the proof, “This evening fifteen hundred people are already in

Lottery of the Golden Ingots line for seats for tomorrow’s drawing. Now, I understand perfectly the folly that invaded the Americans with the discovery of the mines in California.”42 THE DRAWING: “ALL PROCEEDED IN THE GREATEST ORDER”

The rising intensity of interest in the drawing for the Lottery of the Golden Ingots was matched by doubts about whether this great moment would ever come to pass. As it turned out, in spite of the checkered history and continuing doubts, the drawing did take place on November 16, 1851. It was preceded by official bulletins as to time, place, and procedure. The most important first directive (aside from the date) was the declaration that the drawing would be supervised by a special commission that would oversee the whole affair and guarantee its legitimacy.43 Anticipation now replaced debate and doubt. What remained was the drawing and the final closure of this great benchmark in French life. On the eve of the drawing, the Chronique de la Semaine summarized the anticipation in these terms: “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots—the king of ingots and his family. . . . It is altogether worth more than politics.” And a Marseille paper commented: “All Paris is completely occupied with the drawing of the lottery. All preoccupation with politics seems to have ceased.”44 The drawing was to take place at ten in the morning in the great amphitheater on the Champs-Élysées. The Constitutionnel described the hours before the drawing: “All night the boutiques where one sold lottery tickets remained open.” All the shops were illuminated, and the crowds were everywhere. “Just after midnight,” the account continued, “all the boutiques were filled with purchasers. One hears the story of one shop which sold tickets worth 40,000 francs in the day and evening before and in the morning today.”45 Another crowd began to gather at the site of the drawing: “This morning, before six o’clock, a considerable crowd filled the approaches of the CirqueOlympique on the Champs-Élysées.” The people waited patiently for the opening of the doors, “chilled with cold.” It was, after all, mid-November. The doors opened at nine, and the public was allowed into the chamber. Inside the Republican Guard and the sergeants of the city were in place to resist the avalanche that engulfed them. Within a few minutes, the vast amphitheater, which held some six thousand seats, was filled. Little by little, calm was reestablished in the amphitheater, and precisely at ten, after a drumroll, M. Monnin-Japy, the president of the proceedings, accompanied by the mayor of the sixth arrondissement and the other senior mayors of Paris, declared that the meeting was open. He then read the decree that



France authorized the drawing at this time and in this place. The decree also named a special commission to preside over the proceedings. He then gave an explanation of the system used in the drawing. It featured seven independent wheels. Twenty-one young people from the Asylum of the Enfants-Trouvés had been chosen to participate in the drawing. The twenty-one would rotate in three shifts of seven throughout the 224 drawings. At the command, the first group of seven young people would spin the seven wheels, then reach in and take a number, and, finally, post the number in a designated space at the top of the wheel. The seven numbers from the seven wheels would represent the winner of the first prize, the golden ingot. Thereafter, the wheels would be spun again until all 224 prizes had been identified by number.46 With the legal forms certified, shortly after ten, the command was given and the seven wheels spun for the first time. In the moment of great anticipation, the winning number appeared: 2,558,115. When the buzz had died down, the proceedings continued in the same businesslike format, through 224 drawings, for some three hours. All observers agreed that the long-anticipated and, for some, anxiety-provoking drawing took place in a joyful yet calm and subdued atmosphere. One newspaper commented: “This operation was performed in great calm, and there did not take place the scandalous scenes that one could imagine.” And another agreed “that all proceeded in the greatest order.”47 Gradually, the hall emptied, and the crowds on the streets also began to drift away. By five o’clock, some seven hours after the opening of the proceedings, the square was empty of onlookers. Shortly after one o’clock, news vendors on the Paris streets were selling sheets with the numbers of the winning tickets and “doing a brisk business.”48 Then came the rush to identify the large winners. As late as November 30, the identity of the grand prizewinner was unknown. Only then did his identity emerge. The grand prize, F 400,000, went to a vintner from the Reims area; second prize, F 200,000, to a Parisian; third prize, F 100,000, to a landowner near Honfleur.49 Alexandre Dumas (son) must have been pleased. French citizens had won all the major prizes. The largest share of the patrimony of the golden ingots had stayed in France. The drawing of the winners in the Lottery of the Golden Ingots produced human interest stories to satisfy the most devoted observers of Paris and French life. Winners came from every part of France and from every social and economic condition. Most of the attention focused, naturally enough, on the larger winners. A brigadier in the Republican Guard won F 25,000; an interpreter at the Hotel Maurice, 5,000; a wine merchant in the Faubourg du Temple, 10,000. Among the other winners, a Paris chambermaid won F 25,000,

Lottery of the Golden Ingots authenticating the argument that the lottery was an equal-opportunity enterprise, open to people of every class. An Irishman, living temporarily in Paris, won F 10,000. And then there were the stories of winners outside Paris, in Rouen, Banon, Tours, and other places. Among the winners of F 1,000: a woman in a counting house, a man of letters, a day laborer, a bookbinder, a postal clerk, a hairdresser, a schoolteacher, and a clerk to a wholesale merchant.50 Then there were the less happy experiences. A young woman from Montrouge who bought four hundred tickets won nothing. An apprentice dressmaker asked for 1 franc, 10 sous, from her employer to buy a ticket. After many objections, the employer agreed. The ticket “won an important prize,” which the employer claimed in its entirety. “The poor young woman is in despair,” but in spite of newspaper opinion to the contrary, she received nothing. The message of this unfortunate incident was to call attention, once again, to the lottery and “the cold side of the human heart.”51 AFTER THE DRAWING: SATISFACTION, SADNESS, CONFUSION, AND LITIGATION

In the aftermath of the drawing, the first great response was satisfaction. In spite of scandals, confusion, and questions of omission and commission, the government had produced a credible drawing with a ceremony of considerable dignity. The administrators of the lottery breathed a collective sign of relief. The nation exhaled. The holders of the lottery tickets, winners and losers, retired satisfied that the individual numbers each had had a valid chance. And with 7 million tickets supposedly outstanding, a chance was all one could reasonably hope for. The credibility of the government to oversee such an operation of national importance, badly scarred and tarnished, seemed reestablished. At least to a degree. Newspapers across the nation celebrated the results and the odd quirks that had singled out random individuals for fortunes, or at least parts of fortunes. Stories of cupidity and selfishness were mixed with the heartwarming accounts of ordinary working people, who, if they had not won castles in Spain with a horse-drawn carriage, had at least won enough to make a change in their work-weary lives and those of their families.52 There was another surprising quality associated with the aftermath of the drawing. This was sadness. It was the loss of dreams. It was the disappearance of hope that had flowered during the wait. Before the drawing, every ticket had an equal chance at a fortune. Every ticket holder could dream accordingly. After the drawing, all these dreams disappeared. The drawing was a dash of reality. One newspaper said of the famous day: “Let us repeat only that Sunday has



France been a fatal day. We don’t regret the loss of the twenty sous to purchase a ticket, but everyone regrets bitterly the loss of their dreams.” One can only speculate on the conversations in cafés, in places of business, around the family table that revolved around the prospects of winning and the plans that would accompany such a triumph. The poorer the family, we can only imagine the richer the dreams and the harder the results of the drawing.53 Some did not take the loss of their dreams passively. Their response was litigation. The newspaper La Patrie noted the appearance of duplicate tickets, at least three confirmed. One was for a prize of 50,000, a second for 25,000, a third for 10,000. The stakes were large as the courts began to sort through conflicting claims of various kinds. Clearly some kind of high-level investigation was needed. Individuals who were party to such confusions moved quickly to the courts.54 Two major legal cases grew out of the lottery. The first concerned the decision to sell large blocks of lottery tickets to a third party for resale. This policy was the subject of rumors for several months. The decision to move in this direction apparently reflected the director’s concern about sales of the final tickets. The fascination of the public drove the sale of the tickets in the final months of 1850. Then came the display of the ingot and Dumas’s history to drive interest in the early months of 1851. But 7 million was a lot of tickets to sell. As spring rounded into summer, in the midst of continuing postponements of the drawing, stories circulated that a principal reason was simply that several hundred thousand tickets remained unsold. These stories were lost in the exciting run-up to the drawing and the drawing itself, followed by fascination with the winners and endless human interest accounts of the winners and even the losers. In response to the many rumors of malfeasance on the part of the director (leading to his replacement), the government determined to offer a complete and transparent public accounting. As the new administrators were to discover, the balancing of the lottery books involved an accounting of the large blocks wholesaled to third parties. The first of these major cases heard before the Civil Court of the Seine involved a lawsuit by the “liquidator” of the lottery against the administrators of Lafitte, Caillard, and Company. Or in the words of the official description of the case, “An affair connected to the famous Lottery of the Golden Ingots has been brought to this Court.” The issue was the demand of the administrators of the lottery for the “restitution of the lottery tickets” from the company to which they had been sold. The lawyer for the director of the lottery, M. Oudine, outlined the case. At the close of the year 1850, M. Langlois, then director of the lottery, offered to Lafitte, Caillard, and Company a large number of lottery

Lottery of the Golden Ingots tickets with a premium of 5 percent, to be placed mainly in Paris rather than the departments. The offer was accepted, and the lottery officials imposed the condition that the receipts for the tickets given to the company would be signed by the company directors themselves. On December 5, M. Langlois delivered 20,000 tickets; on December 7, two days later, another 10,000 tickets. The directors receipted the two deliveries. Over the next eight months, there were seventeen additional deliveries and seventeen receipts with the signature of M. Godoneche, one of the company’s directors. Langlois conveyed a total of 150,000 lottery tickets to the company. After the drawing, an accounting showed that 117,358 tickets had been sold and the receipts transmitted by M. Godoneche to the directors of the lottery. On October 3, 1851, M. Oudine wrote to the company in order to reclaim the remaining 32,642 unreimbursed tickets. Two days after receipt of the letter, M. Godoneche disappeared, and the company now refused to pay for the remaining 32,642 tickets. M. Oudine sued the company for the face value of the tickets plus other expenses, totaling F 38,500. This sum, according to the lottery’s lawyer, was now owed to the lottery. The learned counsel for the company offered a different account. In his summary, M. Langlois, the former director of the lottery, had sought agents to place lottery tickets in the provinces. He had addressed an inquiry to the company along these lines. First, the company refused. It was an awkward business because of the many small sums involved, and the collections were uncertain and difficult. There were many opportunities for dishonesty, the lawyer continued, and it was impossible to keep exact track. In effect, the system of control adopted by the company, so simple and ingenious, became impossible to execute. But the learned counsel’s principal legal point revolved around the conditions set by the lottery itself. In brief, M. Godoneche, the signatory, was not a proper officer of the company, and the more so as he had now fled. Or, in the words of the court’s decision, “M. Oudine had transmitted the tickets directly by the agents of the lottery to the employees of the company.” The messengers had emerged “without the signature of the administrators.” As a result, “The director of the lottery has thus committed an infraction of the contract, and this infraction is the primary cause of the loss sustained by the lottery.” Therefore, the lottery was entitled to nothing. The basis of the decision was a narrow point of law, revolving around the signature on the receipts for the tickets and the authority of the individual. That the signatory had disappeared cast further doubt on his position with the company. The judge declined to make the company liable for his signature and oversight.55 The narrow grounds for the decision skirted many of the charges made against the lottery in the months leading up to the drawing. Yet the case provided



France an insightful look into some of the inner workings of the lottery. As rumor and newspaper stories had claimed, the lottery had indeed wholesaled out large blocks of tickets, especially in the final months, in a last attempt to sell the full 7 million tickets. The case also offered a window into what must have been a large administrative apparatus deep inside the lottery headquarters. As counsel for the defense reminded the court, the record-keeping apparatus must have been extraordinary. Seven million tickets represented 7 million individual transactions. The details were infinite; the opportunities for errors were everywhere, accidental and deliberate. The second major case before the court involved the duplicate numbers of some winning tickets. Or, as the official account characterized the case: “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots—duplicate tickets; the winning number— dispute.” This was another issue that had engaged the press and damaged the credibility of the lottery and its administrators.56 The second case was also tried before the Civil Court of the Seine. After long arguments and much deliberation, the court handed down its verdict. The holder of the duplicate ticket with the face value of F 25,000 was to receive F 1,000 from the lottery office. The reasoning of the court seemed to follow the line that the duplicate tickets were, in the final analysis, the responsibility of the government. At the time, the court limited the government’s liability to F 1,000, a fraction of the face value of the ticket. The court moved to protect the government from a larger figure. The law was implacable on this point. Yet as a question of responsibility to its citizenparticipants, the issue was more open-ended. After all, the lottery had generated the better part of F 2 million in profit (to be used for the lottery emigrants, to be sure). No matter; the government presumably must be protected in this and other future suits.57 The Lottery of the Golden Ingots had a brief but powerful intrusion into the life of the French nation. To begin with, its identification with gold and California fascinated the nation for twelve months, at the expense of politics and even economic hardship. Second, in spite of the scandals and irregularities, which would be visited in the courts in subsequent years, the government managed to organize and execute the drawing with order and a degree of dignity, amid a scene of great rejoicing that drew orderly crowds. Finally, the lottery financed the departure at government expense of 4,016 emigrants from France; of these, 3,293 disembarked in San Francisco.58 Even as the wheels drew forth the numbers, so the lottery ships, as they were called, were loading and setting sail with their human cargoes. Between November 1851 and May 1853, ships set sail from France every month. At the end of a long and hard voyage, they dumped

Lottery of the Golden Ingots their human cargoes on the wharves of San Francisco, where they were issued some food, clothing, and supplies (described in chapter 13 below). They were now free to seek their fortunes in California. The long lottery experience, from authorization to drawing, with its bursts of national publicity, had another unforeseen consequence. In its advertising and commentary, it drew attention to the hardships of French life for ordinary families. If part of the appeal of the lottery lay in its dreams of relief from the drudgery of the routines of life, then the drudgery of this life had to be identified and remarked upon. So the lottery came to depend on the dreams that it spawned among working people. A hard-earned franc or several francs could buy a chance at a new life, a chance so astonishing as to promote dreams around the table of bread and thin soup. The revolution had brought these hard lives (for all members of the family) out of the shadows, and Étienne Cabet’s “Icaria” had created a utopian community of equality and justice. But these interludes had quickly faded in the reality of the economic uncertainty (whether correctly blamed on the upheaval of the revolution or not), and relief (quickly lost in the fading national workshops) had been replaced by the promise of a ticket in a great national lottery. Even as the news went out on the results of the drawing, so there appeared nostalgia for the lost hopes embodied in a single one-franc ticket. Although an occasional item in the press alluded to these vanished dreams, the inarticulate condition of so many of these working families would keep these references to a minimum and ensure that they would soon disappear. So there faded from French public life one of the most important and, at the same time, one of the most underplayed and shadowy dimensions of the great lottery. The drawing of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots and the sailing of the seventeen lottery ships wrote a conclusion to the public story of the French and California. It was a story characterized by fantasy and dreams, mixed with hard reality, in the gold fields and in the schemes of the California companies.





News of the California gold discoveries trumpeted the improbable reports of ordinary citizens picking up gold nuggets off the ground. Such accounts lent themselves to doubt and scorn: doubt that such events could be true; scorn that people would give them serious credence. Not surprisingly, visual representations soon joined these verbal descriptions. The early months of 1849 produced an increasing number of such representations. Humor magazines, growing in number and shielded from censorship by the new press laws of the republic, were a center of visual images depicting the California gold discoveries and their impact in France. The assault on shaping (or reshaping) the California image was led by Charivari, the leading humor magazine. Initially, the sheet decried the news of the gold discoveries as the worst kind of fraud. Then, it moved to unwilling acceptance of the presence of gold, perhaps grounded in part in the recognition that potential stories were more interesting if the gold was there. Other magazines, such as Silhouette, the Caricaturiste, and the Journal pour Rire soon followed. These visual presentations may be grouped under several headings that reflect how they were brought to the attention of the public. COST OF FOOD: MINERS ARE RICH BUT STARVING

A widespread early caricature of California and the gold discoveries reflected the richness of the gold discoveries and the parallel potential for French investors at several levels. One example involved a fictional character, “the 162

French Stories and Images of California celebrated Barbanchu.” “All the world is leaving to search for gold in California,” he writes in his journal, and he soon sets sail for California with a band of emigrants. After months at sea, he hears the cry: “Sacramento! Sacramento!!” He quickly goes to the fabled goldfields and begins work. Imagine the instant results! “I have only been at work three hours after my arrival; because of fatigue, today I have only harvested two hundred fifty-five dollars of gold.” For his dinner that evening: bread—$25; wine—$50; beefsteak—$100; Chester cheese—$50; a toothpick—$25; plus $5 to the waiter. The next day, he works a new and richer mine. “Today I gathered ten thousand francs of gold. The price of food is rising. After having dinner and buying a pistol, I still have two thousand dollars.” Thus begins an account of rising (indeed astonishing) success, balanced against the parallel rise in the cost of all basic necessities for life. The following day, Barbanchu discovers a mine that he names “the Tragic Virgin.” Its riches are astonishing. Yet “with the two thousand dollars which is left to me, I cannot find a slice of roast beef to purchase; I dine with two thousand dollars’ worth of cheese. Today they found two new mines to the west.” And the next day, “three new mines to the southwest. I made fifty thousand dollars in my day.” His daily gold harvest rises to $100,000 and then $150,000. For dinner, he buys a piece of cheese for $50,000. Three days later, amid this continuing hard work, his boots split. The cost of a new pair of boots: $1 million!1 The accounts of the world of California quickly moved into the realm of fantasy. Among the best examples was the widely circulated account of a soldier who deserted his unit, found a substantial fortune in the placers, and left the mines weighed down by gold in several forms. On the road from the mines, overcome with hunger, he collapsed at the side of the road and offered to trade a large gold nugget for a plate of pork and beans. No fellow miner, going to or returning from the mines, would accept the offer. This story nicely fed the French perception that amid an abundance of gold, American miners lacked every other element necessary to life, of which the most important was food. Driven by stories of outrageous prices and isolated mining camps, French editors and caricaturists saw gold miners as constantly on the edge of starvation.2 Another newspaper wrote of the harvesting of blocks of ore worth F 15,000 or 16,000 each, but “it was necessary to spend ten thousand for a bit of potatoes and twenty thousand to have a piece of black bread. . . . If you have a million dollars, of course, you can sleep on a hard surface, and one dies of hunger before the end of a week.” And the Pays continued in the same vein: “The largest part of the gold hunters are in the position of King Midas, who, changing everything that he touches into gold, feels famine in the midst of these treasures.”3




Another dimension of the gold country now engaged Charivari and other humor magazines—namely, the desertion of San Francisco and the countryside as individuals of every age and station rushed to the goldfields. Crews deserted as soon as ships anchored in the harbor. Servants left their masters and mistresses, who were forced to do household chores for the first time in their lives. Enlisted men in the army deserted, followed by their officers, and finally by government officials. If the governor’s servants and those of the alcalde deserted for the mines, the servants of new French emigrants would surely do so. The visual representation of this world without a servant class quickly caught the eye of caricaturists.4 The earliest reports from the goldfields—as early as the official report of Jacques Moerenhout to his minister—emphasized the wholesale desertion of Upper California’s villages and countryside as the population rushed to the mines. What was even more striking in this generally ordered world was the desertion of officials, both civil and military. In a structured world of civil bureaucracy and a well-ordered military, French observers found such dereliction of duty truly astonishing. It spoke to the compelling attraction of the goldfields; perhaps it also reflected on the fitness of the officials and military officers. Whatever the origins of this powerful force that swept people of all stations toward the gold streams, the occasion caught the eye of artists and commentators alike. Their attitude seemed to be one of astonishment mixed with disapproval. THE SCARCITY OF WOMEN

Another of the caricaturists’ fascinations with California was the scarcity of women. Given the popular impression of commercial opportunity in California, it was only a short step to transforming women into a commercial enterprise. What lovely stuff! Charivari conjured up commerce in women based on Mrs. Eliza Farnham’s attempts to transport several score young women of good character to California, with a view to marriage with wealthy single miners. Mrs. Farnham was real enough, pursuing a reality as she “brought together two interrelated symbols: the symbol of marriage and a good-faith commercial enterprise.” Imagine the idea of eligible women in California on a commercial basis. In the words of Charivari: “Prix fixe! How much is that blonde? So much! And that brunette? So much!”5 Another journal, the Caricaturiste, commented in these terms: “What can we say about an entire nation, a modern and civilized nation, which assimilates

French Stories and Images of California a woman as a thing, as an item of merchandise. It is true that this is a nation of merchants. Decidedly the merchants make money in every possible way. Here one reads in the American newspapers that much of California awaits the arrival of Mrs. Farnham with her valuable cargo. The Caricaturiste castigated the “brutal” treatment of women, who were seen “as an article of shoddy goods.”6 THE FANTASY RICHES OF CALIFORNIA

The French had another variation on the extraordinary riches of California’s gold-bearing landscape and the almost Midas-like thirst for gold. One account of the new El Dorado began with the comment, “What a country for misers! What ground! The fertility within it is so great that with nothing more than thrusting one’s knife or fork into the ground, one withdraws a knife or fork of gold. What a wonderful transformation for those who love gold!” The account continued in the same vein: “But this is still not all; if the ground of California is the ground of gold, the climate is not less marvelous; it makes men almost immortal, something incredible.” And such is the power of California on the individual that one man lived to be 250 years old, and tired of life, he wished to die. “But [to die] in this happy climate of gold is not easy.” Finally, “our ancient” leaves California, and when in a different country, at last he can die. A friend then returns the body to California for burial, but as soon as the body experiences the vitality of the California climate and ground, it springs to life again! Imagine! This is the penultimate account of California as fantasyland, a mythical place of perpetual riches and eternal life some twelve thousand miles and five months distant.7 IMAGES OF THE CALIFORNIA COMPANIES

Of all the excesses and foibles loosed by the gold in California, none provoked so much activity or comment as the wave of emerging California companies. And such enterprises made a wonderful subject for humor magazines and caricaturists. Here is one response: “The walls of Paris are covered with large notices, shaded yellow, and the color of gold. These posters are destined to inform us about the charms of California, and naturally these are based on the most golden promises. . . . A new company is being formed to permit Parisians to go to California in return for five francs.”8 Of course, as the gold fever burned hotter and the company promises rose in like proportion, the companies themselves were an irresistible target. Whether it was their extravagant promises of dividends, of the luxurious accommodations



France and of continuing services provided to associate workers or the ever-reduced price of shares to find a new market, the California companies, by their elaborate, pompous, and continual advertising, lent themselves to caricature. By the end of March 1849, “one counts at this moment in Paris more than two hundred companies or associations . . . to go to California. We have the fraternal association, the national association, the European association, the universal association, etc. All these associations have a social capital of several millions. One subscribes for stock certificates of five francs. I am not certainly the most tight-fisted to refuse a certificate of five francs in an enterprise of such eminent use, and as I hold to favor the maritime commerce of my country, I subscribed for ten francs.”9 The opportunities offered by the California companies led to the resurrection in updated dress of a traditional French comic character. Robert-Macaire was a rascal. He was clever, quick, and at heart a fraud. In this sense, he was a character created for caricature. He combined new and innovative ways to steal with a bumbling quality that ensured he would invariably be caught. He was joined in his adventures by his faithful companion Bertrand. The California gold discoveries were ideally suited to such a pair of confidence men. Charivari rose to the occasion. “One has asked for some time, what has become of Robert-Macaire? He is dead, say some. Not at all, reply others; he has emigrated. And Bertrand? Bertrand has followed him. It’s true. RobertMacaire is at the head of a company for the exploitation of mines in California. It is not a question of one of these mean exploitations which have hardly to put posters on the corners of some streets, one of those vulgar traps, where one makes the stockholder the victim of . . . the trick so characteristic of the Americans.” The account continued: “Robert-Macaire does things in a grand style as usual. . . . [The company] has a magnificent suite of rooms, sumptuous furnishings, employees, servants, everything pointed to permanence and opulence. Enter, Messieurs the stockholders, enter! You wish to have nothing but the most accurate information about California, Messieurs; meet with the celebrated traveler, Sir Bertrand.” Every Paris reader could infer the outcome of that conversation and be amused by it.10 THE CALIFORNIA IMAGES OF CHAM

Cham was the artistic name of a celebrated mid-nineteenth-century French caricaturist. Born Amedée de Noé, son of the Comte de Noé, a peer of France, the son turned to the arts. His images represented a summing-up of California and gold as both appeared in the popular imagination, faded from it, and then

French Stories and Images of California returned. Cham and his work mark the division of the images of California into two separate groups, representing interest and subject matter. The first appeared with the opening of 1849 and extended for the next five months. A second and separate upsurge of interest and popular representation reappeared with the flowering of the California companies in the first six months of 1850. So Cham’s work might be described as at the close of the first period of popular images. The focus of the first period: California and gold; the second: the California companies. STORIES: THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH AS THEATER

The several different venues that emerged for verbal images of California included long fictional accounts—generally presented as feuilletons in newspapers—theatrical productions, poetry, children’s literature with moral messages, and narrative accounts to accompany commercial panoramas. Beginning in early February 1849, Paul Duplessis’s “Les Chercheurs d’Or du Sacramento” appeared in several newspapers.11 This fictional account arrived with the first explosion of interest in “gold” and “California,” and the transition from acceptance to gold mania was under way. Within the year, the lengthy story—it ran for six issues when serialized—had been transformed into a drama and staged at a leading theater in Paris, opening in January 1850.12 Duplessis’s story of the “rush to gold” in California began in New Orleans. It was built around three main characters. The first was a gigantic American from Kentucky. Presumably, the identification with Kentucky would evoke images of frontier strength and manliness. The second character was “a young woman of 18 to 20 years [who] seemed without contradiction, of that beautiful and strong American race that the excesses of civilization have not yet had the time to corrupt. The regular features of her fresh face—her large blue eyes, her magnificent auburn hair, her lustrous complexion . . .—form an ensemble otherwise poetic and distinguished, little short of very agreeable . . . and she is called Miss Annette B.” Attention now passed to the third character, “who, with the large Kentuckian and the pretty Miss Annette, has the privilege to attract, as I have already said, my attention [and who] was seated at the other end of the table facing me. It was a man with a figure bronzed by the sun.” This was the native Californian. The drama tells the story of the main characters in pursuit of gold in California. It contrasted the nobility of the native Californian with the grasping, clumsy, naked pursuit of gold by the Kentuckian, with the young woman offering a romantic interest in the background.13 As noted, almost a year later, a drama with the same title opened at the Théâtre de la Porte-Martin. Subtitled “A Drama in Five Acts with Six Scenes,”



France it was co-authored by Marc Fournier. The theatrical production reflected changes appropriate to the place. The role of the Kentuckian and other Americans had disappeared, replaced by French characters on the way to California to search for gold. Georges, Comte de Montalegre, goes to California to retrieve his family fortune, ruined by his ill-advised speculations. He is a wild gambler, a man of few scruples who seeks out adventure and does not hesitate to risk the most perilous enterprises. He is accompanied by his wife, Clarisse de Montalegre, in almost every respect his opposite. She has joined him out of a sense of duty and a marriage sacrifice. At the hotel in New Orleans, they encounter a French doctor, Henri Desroches. Another French character, Polissart, a “professor of dance and pantomime,” provides humor. The several American characters, appropriate to French images of travel across the plains, included Apache Indians and an escort of twenty-four Americans to guard the count and countess on the overland trek to California and who, when they arrive, will work in the placers. In a hotel in New Orleans, the large party organizes for the overland trek. When Dr. Desroches and Clarisse meet, the encounter reveals that he is a former suitor for the hand of Clarisse, who emigrated to America after his suit was rejected. He is joining the caravan for the voyage overland. His destination is San Francisco; theirs, the goldfields. A fourth main figure appears on stage toward the close of the first act. He is Andres Arrianiga, a native Californian. He represents the natural man in his native landscape, surrounded by invading gold seekers, all flawed in different ways. The three main characters play out their roles to show the range of the impact of gold. Georges de Montelegre meets Arrianiga, who is known as the King of Golden Sands. De Montelegre’s search for gold on his own fails, and he comes to believe that the Californian knows the location of a huge gold deposit. He is right. He uses Arrianiga’s attraction to his wife, Clarisse, to pry out the secret. Arrianiga had paid homage to his mother by surrounding her burial site with a great bed of gold. De Montelegre kidnaps Arrianiga and violates the grave to seize the gold. He now confronts a choice between his wife and his gold. He abandons his wife to the Indians. On the orders of Arrianiga, Georges de Montelegre is shot several times and expires on the stage. With his vengeance secured, Arrianiga returns to his desert solitude with his gold and his sister, Carmen. Clarisse de Montelegre and Henri Desroches join hands and walk together toward the setting sun. The curtain falls. The play was widely reviewed. Two reviewers paid much attention to the issue of California and its new place in French life. The reviewer from Événement wrote, “California is one of those real dreams that God has pleased

French Stories and Images of California to send to our age.” In this production, “the two authors have created three characters to show the range of the impact of gold. In the end, one character, Georges, finds death; Arrianiga regains his solitude; Henri finds love.” And from the review in the Presse: “Gold fever has invaded society from the highest to the lowest level, as a sign of the characteristic of our age.”14 A second and different kind of verbal and visual representation soon appeared in the form of a panorama, ideally suited to the varied landscape of the American West, with the added fascination of gold embedded in its streams flowing out of the sierra. The first large-scale production advertised itself in these terms: “The Voyage to California or an Explanatory Notice of a Panorama Presented for the First Time to the Public, in the Théâtre des Variétés, August 6, 1850.”15 A third example showed the theater moving to meet a demand of the public for visual images of gold and California. This production carried the title Le Train de Plaisir pour la Californie. A reviewer in the Siècle described the presentation in these terms: “The director of the Théâtre des Variétés has announced a splendid spectacle on California, something fantastic, etc.” At the theater, the reviewer saw a “broadside to announce a spectacle, and what a spectacle!” Unfortunately, the visuals were accompanied by a most banal recitation of the passing landscape, with reference to the trunk of a tree, a rock, the Kansas River, and the Great Salt Lake. “Fortunately,” the reviewer continued, “there is a little booklet.” The cost is 20 centimes, and “it explains everything that passes before your eyes.” The reviewer concluded by calling it “an attractive vaudeville, and good comedy.”16 Another reviewer in Événement spoke of the intensity and look of California, where “one gathers gold like little pebbles.” He continued: “Everyone is anxious to know about this curious country, where the fourth page of newspapers, transformed by translation of ‘A Thousand and One Nights,’ gives us some of these marvelous stories.” Some of the views presented in the panorama included the Valley of Desolation, the Devil’s Door, the waterfall, the port and city of San Francisco, and the panners of gold at work.17 STORIES: THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH IN FICTION

The California gold rush was an author’s dream. For newspaper editors and feature writers, it was an unending source of news and human interest stories, at the national and local levels. For writers of fiction, it had every necessary ingredient to capture the attention of the reader. French authors, like their American counterparts, seized the opportunities. One of the most prominent of French literary figures, Alexandre Dumas (father), used the setting. Others,



France lesser known, wrote features for newspaper feuilletons, capturing popular interest driven to heights by the publicity and advertisements associated with the California companies and later the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. The longest and most detailed account of the French in the gold rush, published contemporaneously, was the work of Edmond Texier. The title of his twenty-two-part feuilleton was “Two Parisians in California,” and it first appeared in March 1849. This work touched all the pressure points of the gold rush: gold, wealth, adventure, danger, Indians, landscape, high society, class, and romance. It featured two young men from Paris, albeit very different from one another. Indeed, the differences added to the charm and flexibility of the narrative. The first, David, was a sober and skilled carpenter, anxious to work but without work; the second was a young man from the streets, “File-ton-Noeud” (his street name), who had lived by his wits, also without future prospects.18 The two men initially come to America as a part of the Icarian community that sailed with great fanfare from Le Havre in 1849 to establish a new community in Texas. The expedition was a disaster. The land in Texas was a desert, and the community broke up, much to the satisfaction of critics in France. The two characters in our story take passage to California, the obvious site of economic opportunity. On the voyage they meet a cross-section of gold rush immigrants, “a pandemonium which is worthy of inspiring the brush of Callot.” Among their new friends is an American named Tom, with whom they plan a partnership.19 Arriving in San Francisco, they accept the hospitality of an hotelier—“They are fed, given rooms with beds and sheets, and a new outfit of clothes”— unaware that he will present them with a large bill. Faced with a large debt they are unable to pay, they agree to work in the mines for the hotelier. Their conclusions about California and San Francisco: “California is a very amusing place. We have not yet found much gold, but considering how easy it is to spend money, it ought to be easy to get.”20 In the placers on the San Joaquin, our two heroes encounter a cross-section of the world, with endless variations in clothing, languages, and customs. After the hard work of the day, the community comes together for recreation: “In the evening, the work done, the placer is transformed into a rendezvous of pleasure and well deserves its name. All the ranks are mixed together. There is an equality about gold. The magistrates, the doctors, the workers—all play, gossip, and eat together. The Spanish women who have followed their husbands each evening organize a fandango.”21 Unhappy about working for the hotelier and amazed by the large quantities of gold amassed by ordinary miners, the two Parisians flee in the dark of night.

French Stories and Images of California The flight provides the author with the opportunity to describe the dramatic California mountain landscape, which is both challenging and dangerous for our two Parisians. Tired and hungry, they are surrounded by the dangerous Apache Indians. Surprise! The king of the Apaches is Polyphème, who turns out to be a former French blacksmith. Polyphème tells his story, which like that of David and File-ton-Noeud, is about harsh work in his native France, cold, hunger, starving little children, and laboring within an inflexible and pitiless system. Coming to California, Polyphème immediately goes to the placers, where he is captured by the Apaches. Using his skills as a blacksmith, he shows the Indian leaders how to transform a plow into iron lances. With this new weapon, the Indians win a great victory over a traditional rival, and Polyphème is made a chief. He is exercising his prerogatives as a chief when he meets the Parisians. The three friends now flee the Apache encampment, and after suitable adventures, they leave the mountains behind and reach the lovely valley of the Sacramento. The three friends now unfold Tom’s map, which reveals the location of a hidden mine. They work in a frenzy: “David was by nature honest and hard working. He was the personification of that class of honest and intelligent workers, of which File-ton-Noeud himself was the expression of joyful insouciance.”22 As the three friends work on building a cabin, the author tells the story of David’s first months in America. Landing in New York, he opted to find work in or around the city rather than go with the Icarians to Texas. His search for work as a carpenter led him to the estate of William Hamilton and to his niece, Anna Lawrence. David is astonished to learn that Anna’s wealthy merchant father was once a laborer. America is truly a land where hard work, initiative, and talent can overcome class. David is smitten with Anna, and her father’s experiences give him hope. David has gone to California to make the fortune that will enable him to become a legitimate suitor for her hand. While the friends work at the mining site, File-ton-Noeud passes himself off as a doctor from the Faculty of Paris. Using folk medicine practiced by his Aunt Cadiche, he cures ill miners and establishes the primacy of commonsense folk remedies. One of his patients calls him the greatest doctor in the world. When he departs, “he takes two bottles of rum, tools, and the benediction of the colony.”23 With the first harvest from the hidden mine—F 60,000 in gold—they return to San Francisco. What a pleasant surprise! Anna Lawrence is in San Francisco, visiting her uncle, who is governor. Word of the wealth of the three friends spreads across San Francisco. David and File-ton-Noeud are invited to a soirée at the governor’s home at the Presidio. In the meantime, on the East Coast, Anna’s father has been ruined by an unscrupulous partner. David



France and Anna meet in an emotional reunion. After they renew their vows to one another, David makes a dramatic statement: “I am rich, very rich!” David offers to pay her father’s debts. He “understands the power of gold. Miss Anna is stupefied.”24 The three friends return to work the mine. They achieve astonishingly rich results. One evening, just as they uncover a huge block of gold, an unknown figure appears and demands the gold. “Give me my treasure!” A terrible struggle follows. The unknown intruder is killed. Horrors!!! It is Tom, the American, the source of the map that led to the treasure. David buries Tom and resolves to hide the involuntary crime. David and File-ton-Noeud return to San Francisco, where David’s suit for Anna is accepted by the uncle: “I know enough of Mr. Lawrence to be persuaded that he will not refuse his daughter to an honest working man who will make her happy; a former working man himself, he has not denied his origins; moreover, in our country, a large number of masters, of manufacturers, of businessmen have begun by working in workshops.”25 Anna’s father has disappeared. He has gone to the source of the Sacramento, and Anna and the two Parisians follow. Horror of horrors! The man that David struck was not only his benefactor Tom, but he was also Mr. Lawrence, Anna’s father. “I killed him for a piece of gold,” cries David. They all return heartbroken to San Francisco. In the dénouement, David gives all his wealth to Anna to pay her father’s debts. David watches her ship leave the harbor. Polyphème urges David to use his future wealth to aid others. The two Parisians depart for the mines of the Sacramento. The story ends.26 Texier’s story was a perfect summary of the several exciting strands of the rush to gold in California. Two Parisians of very different character, fleeing the hardships and harsh world of France, join together in a great adventure in California. They are, at various times, exploited by an unscrupulous innkeeper; they are laborers in the placers and fugitives in the vast California landscape; they are captured by the legendary Apaches, released by another Parisian in his guise as a chief, and later are successful beyond their dreams in mining gold. Running parallel to this narrative of unending excitement is the story of David’s romance with Anna Lawrence. This exposes the very American life of Anna’s wealthy father, who began his career as a laboring man. His rise contrasts with the lack of opportunities for our two Parisians in France. They have not only come to the so-called land of gold; they have come to a place with infinite opportunities for honest working men. Whatever the tragic ending of misunderstanding and misidentification, the story is a continuing recitation of the opportunities in golden California for ordinary working men.

French Stories and Images of California Another kind of fictional account of the California goldfields was one intended for young readers. J. B. J. Champagnac’s Le Jeune Voyageur en Californie: Récits Instructifs et Moraux appeared in 1852. The author proposed “to make known to our young readers this California, a name that has served to make so many dupes, this country nearly marvelous, of which one has said too many things true and false, and which has precipitated in our days a great number of adventurers who have not found what they sought there.”27 The story opens with Cadet Grosjean, “who has wrestled long against the temptation of gold.” On one of the narrow streets that lead to Rue Saint-Paul, not far from the old convent of Ave Maria, the revolution closed “all these aisles of venerable piety.” La mère Jérôme, the grandmother, was the essence of strong character and piety. “Alas this happiness was not to last. At this time, the marvels of California excited all the imaginations, and above all, those of the poor.” All of the young people listened to the amazing stories about California, “but with the exception of Cadet, no one was tempted to make this distant voyage.” Cadet continued to be transfixed by stories of California gold, and “the thought of making a quick and large fortune haunted him day and night.” He would use the fortune to make his grandmother comfortable in her old age. She had worked hard and been tired all her life. He could also make gifts to pious and useful institutions. He was supported in this ambition by M. le Curé, who recognized his philanthropic goals. The final advice from la mère Jérôme is accompanied by her benediction. As Cadet is making preparations for departure, she constantly expresses anxiety about the people he will meet. “In villainous California, there are many bad types from all nations.” The curé responds that California is not more dangerous than the Faubourg Saint Antoine, where Cadet has passed his days.28 Yet even as the moral story unfolds, the larger story adds to the prevailing sense of the richness of the goldfields in California. In Cadet Grosjean’s journal, which he writes in the mines, gold is found everywhere. He describes the wide extent of the gold region. He offers details on the exploitation of the mines. In his informed view, the gold found in the beds of the rivers will eventually extend to the Oregon border. His account of the “riches of the mines” is one of astonishment. He continues: “A hard worker will harvest 25–40 dollars of gold a day.” He recounts the stories of great fortunes. He reflects on the hard work and the harsh landscape: “California is rich in other ways, but everyone rushes headlong toward gold.29 As the title implies, this story of a voyage to California by a deserving young man was couched in terms of the right moral decisions. Among the several influences on the young man were his grandmother, his priest, and his friends.



France All contribute in their own way. Cadet Grosjean goes to California to find gold to relieve his grandmother’s hard life. The priest provides the funds to enable him to make the trip. The young friends provide a parade of information and insights into California and the goldfields. The young man has adventures and makes good, but within the appropriate moral guidelines of the day: he seeks gold to support his grandmother and to do good works for the less fortunate. The story is one that would have resonated with young men or women surrounded by endless news of California gold. These visual images and verbal accounts fed the public’s growing fascination with California. The visual images were especially strong and numerous in the early months of 1849, when interest in California gold burned white hot. The advertisements for the many California companies fed the frenzy. And amid the rumors, many bizarre stories emerged to be printed repeatedly. The starvation of miners in the midst of piles of gold and the scarcity of women were only two of the most prominent. Over the first six months of 1849, a kind of popular consensus emerged in which California appeared as a true El Dorado but surrounded by so many dangers, internal and external, as to make plans to go there fraught with hazards. The difficulties once one had arrived were equally challenging. The publicity surrounding the failure of the celebrated California companies to support their associate workers confirmed the idea that California was hazardous under the best of circumstances. A final visual representation of the California gold rush in French life was an image by Honoré Daumier. The great French caricaturist of the nineteenth century, Daumier skewed politicians, financiers, lawyers, and the middle class, all within the context of the issues of the day. As a subject of multiple stories and visual representations, the California gold rush caught his eye. The subject of his sketch is the dock at Le Havre and the accidental meeting of two French Argonauts, one about to depart, the other returning. What is striking about the two representations is not only the visual contrast of the characters, but also the date of publication of the sketch. The sketch appeared on October 30, 1851. The French nation was in the throes of the excitement leading to the great drawing for the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. In a larger sense, in retrospect, this drawing and the departure of the lottery ships would represent the end of the story, or at least the close of a national fascination with California and gold. In one image, Daumier had summed up the fantasy and the reality of the previous three years.30

Figure 1. “Croquis Californiens.” This is one of the most widely reproduced of Cham’s early California images. It represents the widespread availability of gold in California to every participant. Charivari, April 11, 1849.

Figure 2. This ad of the Fortune company features a machine for washing and gathering together the particles of gold. It reflects the emphasis on technology by some companies. The implications were that the machines were more effective and reduced the hard physical labor associated with mining and that only the best companies would have them in service. Note the matching costumes of the workers. The fine print advertises shares in the company beginning at ten francs. Charivari, June 25, 1850.

Figure 3. The great exposition of the prized ingot from the Lottery of the Golden Ingots on the Boulevard Montmartre. A cross section of fascinated onlookers by age, class, and gender is under the watchful eyes of two guards in the background. Charivari, February 28, 1851.

Figure 4. The successful miner (with the signature pick) has harvested F 10,000 and wishes to dine. The cook replies that he cannot serve him a dinner for less than F 15,000! The image reinforced the French perception of the high cost of everything in the goldfields. Charivari, January 14, 1849.

Figure 5. A French family, just landed, finds itself deserted by the servants fleeing to the goldfields. The solution: perhaps we should offer them a small increase in their wages. Charivari, January 29, 1849.

Figure 6. The governor of California, having seen his servants depart for the mines, now sees his wife (with a pick) and son make a hasty and clandestine exit for the same place. Charivari, April 24, 1849.

Figure 7. The governor of California is approached by a traveler who asks him to take note of the proffered letter. The governor demands to be left alone. “You can see that I am busy!” The image reflects the desertion of officials, even at the highest level, for the mines. Charivari, January 14, 1849.

Figure 8. The commercial packing of a shipment of young women for the mines. This article is “in great demand.” Charivari, April 11, 1849.

Figure 9. A distraught mother expresses the hope that she may embrace her daughter one final time before the girl is shipped to California. The official in charge regrets that he has already sealed the box. The notices fixed to the box state “Women from 30 to 40” and “Women—Fragile.” Charivari, August 1, 1850.

Figure 10. Underneath the sign of a California company with the title The Joke of Gold, two officials of the company plot strategy. It is necessary to gild something for our shareholders, says the first. His colleague replies that that’s right. Let’s sugarcoat a pill. Note the costumes of the employees and in the background the outrageous figure for the capitalization of the company. Charivari, September 28, 1850.

Figure 11. A meeting of two shareholders of California companies. The first has poured F 5,000 into a thousand shares of the Company of California Gold Coins. He says the company will work the entire right bank of the Sacramento River. He believes this is a good business arrangement/investment. The second prefers the Company of the Golden Carrot. He has placed all his money there. Both the image and the commentary spoof the California companies as financial fantasies. Charivari, September 27, 1850.

Figure 12. Cham offers another caricature of the sales techniques of the California companies. Here a company official (with a slightly sinister look) offers prospective investors an array of items found in the mines in California. Who would “now hesitate to take a share for five francs?” The banal nature of the objects is juxtaposed against the surprised expressions of the prospective victims. Charivari, April 24, 1849.

Figure 13. Honoré Daumier’s image of the before and after of “the rush to gold.” The well-dressed man is departing; the skeleton in rags is returning. The timing is intriguing, for the image appeared at the height of the national enthusiasm for the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. Charivari, August 30, 1851.

Part Four


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French immigration into California surged in the winter of 1849–1850. Ships that had departed from the French ports in the spring and summer had begun to arrive. The French consul, Patrice Dillon, documented this growth. At the close of 1849, he estimated the French population in California at ten thousand, and he wrote of their experiences in these terms: “Those of them who are well behaved—and I am happy to be able to say that they are the great majority—succeed perfectly.” Although the French would come to California over four years, most of them arrived in a twelve-month period between fall 1849 and fall 1850. On October 15, 1850, nine months after his initial calculations, Dillon estimated twenty-five thousand French people in California, and a year later, he thought the French population the same. He described their distribution as ten thousand at Marysville and on the Yuba and Plumas Rivers; six to eight thousand at Mokelumne Hill; five thousand in Sonora and on the banks of the Mariposa and Merced Rivers; about six thousand in the city of San Francisco; and fifteen hundred agricultural workers around San Jose.1 Whatever their reservations about the character of California society and its confusing systems of local governments (down to individual mining camps), by the end of 1850, French observers of all political and economic persuasions had agreed that California was a wonderful place to make money. A large number mined (with boundless hope and uncertain results); some in the camps became merchants; many made their way to San Francisco and the other growing towns. There was plenty of money in circulation, for the mines produced an unending flow of gold. Prices, accordingly, were high, and California had about it the air



California of a series of unending speculations, whether in mining claims, real estate, or trade in commodities.2 In his letters to the Journal des Débats, beginning in the spring of 1850, the journalist Étienne Derbec described the varied experiences of the French immigrants. The French, he wrote, had great products, but they displayed little savvy about the market in San Francisco and the gold camps. They were also handicapped by the extended sea voyages necessary to move their goods from France to markets in California. He thought the commercial situation generally unfavorable, with intense competition everywhere. At the same time, whatever his skepticism in some areas, Derbec praised “this wonderful land of California,” where “everything points to a brilliant future for this country.” It was the language of a true believer. At the same time, he noted the high cost of everything. He advised future French Argonauts to bring food for the sea voyage, but above all, they should bring “pockets full of money” for the many initial expenses they would encounter.3 Just as the costs of basic goods and services were astonishing, wages for ordinary workers were also high. Ordinary laborers earned five dollars (or twentyfive francs!) a day! What an extraordinary wage! With the arrival of the rainy season in the late autumn, miners suspended operation in the placers and streamed into San Francisco, where they were employed by the city in a series of civic improvements. Derbec likened the system to the French national workshops of 1848. Of course, this work in the city would be suspended with the opening of the mines in the spring.4 It was significant, wrote several observers, that the markets of San Francisco and California were part of a large and growing economic matrix. These trade and commercial ties bound New York to California (for immigrants and commodities), and on the distant horizon lay the connection between California and China. This future market reflected the long-range significance of American sovereignty on the West Coast of North America and its control of the important harbors along this long coastline. French reporters recognized that California was only one part (albeit a very important part) of this growing highway of trade. The market connection between California and New York was now “40 days by the isthmus of Panama, and the proximity to Oregon, the Sandwich Islands, and the coasts of South America forecasts that this new country is destined to have a great influence on the commerce of the U.S.” Much of the California gold was destined for New York City, anchoring that port with its trading and financial institutions to California. On the other side of this network, China lay some 40–60 days west of California. This was clearly one of the great commercial markets of the future.5

The French Trade, Mine, and Reflect Within this confusion and endless flux, the French had established reliable markets for their exports. The most important of these were for beverages, especially wines, brandy, and champagne. Brandy had found a universal market among all nationals. The higher-end products depended on the prosperity of the mines and the demand for luxury goods unleashed by unexpected bonanzas in the placers. This trade was made the more uncertain by the long period necessary to transport these goods from French ports to San Francisco, and once there, the French had long, awkward, and often tense negotiations with American customs officials.6 Outside of San Francisco, a growing market lay in the interior. There, the immediate needs of the practical miners defined the market in the camps.7 The French had gone to California with visions of immediate wealth, whether in the goldfields or through commerce. Wrote one participant in the California cavalcade, “California is the only country, the only chance, the only business which is able, in an almost certain way, to make you a millionaire at the end of two years.”8 After three years in this golden land, the conclusions were not so much different as refined. With all the risks (and there were an infinite number), many observers concluded that California was still the best place to make a fortune. While trade captured the attention of the French officials, newspaper reports, and other commentators (such as the correspondents of the Revue des Deux Mondes), the French soon fashioned other routes to fortune in San Francisco. Some established themselves as prominent doctors and lawyers. Among the most important of other occupations were entertainment, especially the theater; restaurants and food service; and banking. Finally, there were the opportunities associated with prostitution. Charles de Lambertie wrote, “There are at this time in San Francisco courtesans who earn fabulous prices; also they are the true dispensers of a stream of gold, which passes from their hands into those of the stores of new things. . . . San Francisco is thus a city, par excellence, of the courtesans.”9 Other accounts of life in California and San Francisco noted the opportunities for profit but also emphasized the unstable condition of society. Newspapers across France but especially in Paris described the cycles of crimes and punishments in San Francisco. In an American tradition of local sovereignty that was inexplicable to the French, citizens of the mining camps or San Francisco seized suspected parties, immediately tried them before a local jury, and executed the sentences within hours.10 For some, San Francisco and California seemed remarkably secure. Étienne Derbec wrote of the order in San Francisco: “In no country are the laws better



California observed and crimes more rare. Theft and thieves are at present unknown.” He continued: “There is the greatest security, and everyone has complete trust.”11 Others supported Derbec’s comments about increasing safety, security, and order in San Francisco. The systematic application of the court system seemed to have made “considerable progress.” Yet French observers were astonished that the vigilante groups that exercised such influence included some of the most respected professional people and merchants in the city. The French had little understanding of the American tradition of creating a sovereign body that would make its own rules and enforce these rules through whatever means it thought necessary.12 Among the cries that echoed through San Francisco in the years 1849–1851, the most terrifying was “fire!!!” At the same time that people and goods were more secure from lawless elements in San Francisco, the town growing into a city was continuously vulnerable to destruction by fire. Indeed, San Francisco burned in December 1849, May 1850, and May 1851. What was astonishing beyond the catastrophic losses was the rapidity with which the city was rebuilt to await the next conflagration. Losses to merchants were serious and sometimes devastating. In the intensely competitive commercial atmosphere that characterized the city, fire was a great leveler that struck the experienced and savvy merchant with the same force as the new arrivals. Losses among French merchants were high.13 Throughout the story of the French in the professions, entertainment, and trade runs the constant theme of the challenge of the Americans. One newspaper editor wrote of “the energy, the courage, the spirit of enterprise and the prodigious activity of the North Americans.” Étienne Derbec agreed. He admired American organization and initiative, and he thought San Francisco showed these American qualities at their best. Everything had to be built (and later, in response to the periodic fires, rebuilt) in San Francisco, and the Americans readily accepted the challenge: “The American genius is essentially organizational, and everything is being created, everything is being started, and the town is taking on great dimensions every moment.”14 Against these displays of initiative and energy, the French struggled to compete. Derbec wrote that the French were not skilled workers, and they lacked knowledge of common trade. Most important, they refused to learn English. Hence, they tended to fall behind in their commercial transactions. On balance, he concluded, the French were at their best in the mining camps, where they energetically competed in spite of periodic discrimination against them. They were less effective in the hurly-burly competition in trade.15


Mining camps were isolated islands of settlement (almost always temporary) in a vast, wooded, often mountainous landscape. Here gathered from all over the world the men (almost always men and generally young) who had come to make their fortunes and to change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their families. They were driven by a sense of mission and opportunity. They were gladdened by the prospect of wealth and saddened and anxious about the sense of competition, the random nature of the rewards, the endless hard work without commensurate returns, and, in the end, the fear of failure. In short, the miners feared that this great opportunity, which appeared only once in their generation, would pass them by and leave them stranded in their old world of hard work, marginal returns, and no hope. The French Argonauts joined this mixture of expectation and fear. They quickly embraced the contradiction that the most selfish of enterprises demanded cooperation. They joined other Frenchmen in mining companies. Their results were like those of other national groups. Their informal companies had strains and stresses and in due course disbanded, fractured by the playing out of a claim or the defection of members toward greater perceived opportunities. Yet such were the random results of mining that the French sometimes joined with other national groups or they worked for others. The gold rush created an amazing blend of new economic opportunities and an equally complex mixture of people who pursued them. The cycle of mining was well established by the close of the first full season in 1849. Once arrived at a mining site, the French Argonauts prepared to dig, carry, and wash. The extraction exercise was simple and straightforward, at least in the early years of the gold rush, but there were necessary preparatory steps. To begin with, the company of French miners had to establish a camp. Like others, they pitched one or two tents. If the opportunity presented itself and the financial arrangements suited, they might buy a cabin. They then established rules for housekeeping, sharing duties and expenses. Already the pressure of numbers intruded. By the summer of 1849, the first waves of overland immigrants had reached gold rush California. As soon as they put the last crest of the Sierra Nevada behind them, they headed for the mining camps, anxious to begin their gold harvest as soon as possible. Burdened by their dreams and the expectations of those they had left behind, they were driven to begin mining and show returns immediately. As the population of the placers increased, so did the pressure to establish a claim. For without a claim, any mining group lacked the basic ingredient to



California begin work. One French Argonaut laid out the basic ground rules: “The claim here always belongs to the first occupant. The excellent spirit of order that develops under the influence of this law is really marvelous and without example.” Thus, mining emerged as an exercise governed by a series of housekeeping functions on one side and quasi-legal forms and local customs on the other.16 Although new to the French arrivals, these forms and customs had a long history in the story of American expansion. The mining claim had been recognized as an American legal form for a generation, stretching back to the lead mining enterprises of the American Midwest and later the flurry of gold mining in Georgia. In California, the idea of the claim appeared early, but the vastness of the landscape diluted its need and presence. When existing claims became too costly, so much landscape lay adjacent to the watercourses that new arrivals simply moved whatever distance was necessary to separate them from the existing claims and established their own. Then they might or might not register their claims in the approved fashion in the mining district, as they chose. French miners were not familiar with the institution of the mining district or the mining claim, but they surely learned rapidly, probably from the French colleagues they met in the diggings. They soon came to recognize that mining for gold in California was not a free-for-all; rather, it was an exercise of hard work conducted according to carefully established rules. As the numbers of miners increased at the same rich sites and the size of claims shrank, questions of ownership assumed new significance. How were claims to be laid out? How did a miner established a right to a claim? What were the conditions under which a claim might be held? How many claims could a miner (or mining company) hold? When was a claim vacated? How were claims to be sold? And, above all, how were disputes among miners (over claims and other issues) to be resolved? It was widely accepted that violence in a mining camp was bad for business. Miners should spend their time digging and washing, not feuding. Pursuant to this end, the miners met and enacted rules; these were then posted around the camp.17 Thus, mining camps were more than simply communities of like-minded individuals at work in the same place for the same product. They could be transformed into structures with legal form and authority. The institutional form was the “mining district.” A letter dated “In the woods” described for French readers the establishment of a mining district with its sovereign authority. Newspapers and letters were filled with stories of murder, robbery, and civil war. To the contrary, wrote the author of the letter, “All the miners in our diggings assembled every Sunday morning, to the number of 120 or 130, of the 153

The French Trade, Mine, and Reflect members that signed the statutes. . . . At ten o’clock the secretary reads the statutes, after which the president rises and says: Does anyone here know of any infraction committed? Three times out of five, there is no response to this question. And since I have been a member of the association, that is, eight months, I know of only a single example of a real offense,” and that could be punished by something as simple as a reprimand of the president.18 The nature of these rules reflected the conditions of living and working. Within the camps, the French confronted the same issues of security and order that appeared in every mining camp. The problem here was that the miners spent the days digging, washing, and carrying. In their long work day, they left the campsites vacant. Hence the harsh penalties for those who robbed or despoiled the vacant campsites. Those who violated the rules of behavior in camps might be confronted, tried, and, if necessary, expelled. Alexandre André wrote of “an infernal Parisian who had stolen from his comrade and who was expelled from our company.” Of this miscreant, he wrote, his fate in the hands of the Americans or the Spanish would have been hanging. “But we French are more humane; we are content to chase him out of camp.” Still, whatever the variations in punishment, the challenges of maintaining order were largely the same.19 The many letters from the mining camps almost always opened by canvassing the prospect of profit and loss. There was a continuing consensus of the richness of the California placers and the opportunities associated with them. After two years, wrote one correspondent, “California is decidedly a marvelous country; such is the refrain that one hears from each new arrival at Chagres [in Panama] and truly with reason, for one does not know how to assign the limits of the richness of El Dorado. The mines there seem inexhaustible.”20 Yet the closer one came to the mines and to the miners, the more mixed the message. That is, the mining was invariably hard to the point of exhaustion, and success was random and elusive. There were also constant references to the physical hardships of mining. The seven young men from Bruley (discussed in chapter 5) found work in the mines harsh and unending. With the gold harvest seemingly defined by constant labor, individuals and companies had to work continuously to achieve a minimum daily return for each individual. In a letter from the goldfields, Jean Migot wrote of the terrible heat of the mines in July. Mining was “a hard trade,” to use a term more commonly associated with a skilled artisan. These men had labored on a regular basis from their youth, since they were old enough to walk to the fields. Migot went on to describe the combination of heat from the sun juxtaposed against the cold water that challenged the strongest men. The successful miner, he wrote, needed a “constitution of iron.”21



California An official report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce agreed that the condition of “our emigrants, if not miserable, is one to be pitied.” Still, the report concluded, with the return of a minimum of F 20–25 a day, French miners have generally accustomed themselves well to their new kind of life. The conclusion was probably valid, given a comparison between the average daily wages in France and those in the goldfields.22 Étienne Derbec was among the most important commentators on the French in the mining camps for three reasons. First, he was among the first to report in detail of the French mining; second, he was on the ground, where he talked to French miners and visited French camps; finally, he mined himself and wrote of his own experiences. In the camps, Derbec wrote that drunkenness was unknown and gambling was rare. The sanitary conditions were excellent. At the same time, mining and the opportunities associated with mining had narrowed. He continued: “I must say, so that it will be well known in France, that the mines are no longer what they think and that it is necessary to be distrustful of those marvelous accounts which are only partially true and [that] only rarely.” Many of the original rich placers were exhausted. Out of one thousand miners, scarcely ten were satisfied. At the same time that a sadness hung over the miners, they all remained hopeful. “Each one awaits his day, but luck will not come to all. The average daily earning of a miner here is two, three, sometimes four dollars.” Derbec recounted the story of a Frenchman from the Stanislaus who had harvested a fortune of F 200,000, but his dramatic success was the exception. “Several [of the miners] have returned to San Francisco or other places, preferring to do the work of the huckster rather than run the risk of the mines, for all is chance.” And it was chance within the context of the hardest kind of work, standing in icy water for eight to ten hours a day.23 Derbec now turned his attention to mining himself. After four months, he was disenchanted, even exhausted. “Good God! How many holes have I dug, how much earth have I moved and washed!” He went on: “No one has had as many trials as I.” Finally, he wrote, he had found a good hole. He wrote a few words to reassure his mother. By the end of the year, he would have several pounds of gold, but only after great hardships. He offered an observation typical of all miners, Americans and French alike: “What does it matter! I would prefer death rather than return to France like a poor, shame-faced fool! But my turn will come, and perhaps I shall return with honors, especially as I know how to appreciate and know other people!” As for the present, “I live and sleep there on the ground in the midst of snakes, Indians, and bears, with more safety than in any place in the world.” Next month, “I am going to try to find some safe way of getting a few ounces of gold to my mother.”24

The French Trade, Mine, and Reflect Six weeks later, Derbec wrote of continuing hard work. He had also held extended discussions with several French in the area along the Merced River. He concluded: “For us, the California of today is a real disappointment.” He recounted the story of four Frenchmen who, “discouraged and disgusted with the mines, are preparing to leave.” There are, at the moment, at least two hundred thousand miners, he wrote. The cost of provisions was high; poverty was widespread. Miners worked for subsistence. With the cost of food and limited information and methods, “it is impossible for this work to be very fruitful.” This reality must be made known in France. He advised those Frenchmen who insisted on coming to California “to hold back a sufficient amount of money to enable them to return to France; for they will soon see that, despite the splendor and wealth of the new Eldorado, the life one leads there is not worth the most modest existence under the skies of his homeland.”25 ERNEST DE MASSEY MINES AND REFLECTS

Ernest de Massey has also left an account of his own mining experiences. After several months in San Francisco, he decided to cast his lot with the miners in the placers. His choice was the mines on the Trinity River, a new mining site some two hundred miles north of San Francisco. After a hard voyage, de Massey, his nephew Alexandre Veron, and their laborer Pidaucet landed on a deserted shore, from where they began an overland trek to the Trinity mines. During this ten-day ordeal, they were lost most of the time. When de Massey and his companions straggled into the Trinity mines, exhausted and discouraged, he wrote of their condition: “Skins tanned, features drawn, beards uncut, feet almost bare, clothes in tatters, hats hardly recognizable, we looked more like rascals in disguise or famished brigands than honest and respectable citizens.” He continued of their new location and conditions: “But here where we are now; brute strength and luck count for more than education, clothes, or good looks.”26 The camp consisted of thirty or forty tents and shacks. There was a general merchandise store and a butcher. At this site, de Massey marked the end of his first year in California, and he characterized the anniversary as a very unsatisfactory one: “We were lost in the depths of a virgin forest without help of any kind, and exhausted after three weeks or more of steady walking, reconnoitering, and enduring every kind of privation.” On the placer “Big Bar” on the Trinity River, de Massey and his companions confronted the life of a miner. This was what he had come so far to embrace; it was “what is in store for me.” The labor was hard and repetitive, but the constant element of chance kept interest high. A good



California miner washed one hundred pans a day, with returns of twenty-five cents to twenty-five dollars. He concluded: “This is a hard life. However, it is the one that appeals to men of strong and independent character.”27 Unable to buy or rent a cradle, de Massey was forced to work for two Irish miners. His wages were four dollars a day and food. He had never worked for someone before, and he found it extremely hard to make the adjustment. “So in a year, you see I have descended all the rungs of the social ladder which I am now trying to climb up again.” In his situation, “if you are out of funds, you have no choice but to go to work as a day laborer.” With food at three dollars and his wage of four dollars, de Massey thought his employers broke even for his labor. By his own account, “the work was extremely irksome. I had to fill, carry, and empty three hundred buckets of sand. I made one hundred and fifty trips up and down a path as hard to descend as it was to climb—a distance of seven kilometers in all—carrying a weight of fifteen kilograms in each hand. It was all under a boiling sun! In addition, we were badly treated, badly fed, and hardly housed at night.” Next, he went to work for three Americans. “These Yankees out here are boorish in the extreme. They have a sinister look and are absolutely uncommunicative. Hard workers themselves, they believe in making those under them labor. Also they are very strong physically.”28 When de Massey finally had his claim and cradle and mined for himself, other issues appeared to distract and perplex him. His unhappy cousin, Alexandre Veron, had made de Massey the object of all his grievances. “His pride wounded, his character embittered and negligent, he blamed me as the cause of all his misfortunes, past, present, and future.” De Massey regretted his decision to bring Alexandre on the voyage in search for gold, but family loyalty prevailed. Alexandre was related in a world in which family counted for everything. De Massey feared that severing his connections with his cousin would expose him to criticism at home, so he indulged Alexandre’s behavior. Finally, he reached the breaking point and divided his resources into two equal parts; Alexandre took one and left the camp. Throughout his physical and personal trials—and they were severe—de Massey never forgot his responsibilities to his family. He wrote: “For my part my personal sacrifices will seem small, indeed, and I shall be well satisfied if I can only save the family reputation and fortune.” The fortune seemed distant indeed. “But out here in this wild, uncivilized country, closer to poverty than a fortune and surrounded by strangers who are coldly indifferent to what becomes of me, I am no longer justified in building castles in Spain or even card houses.” At the same time, “an inner voice, a voice of pride and duty, steadily urges me on and on, but in moments of discouragement, I ask myself whether the game is worth the candle. The situation seems intolerable.”29

The French Trade, Mine, and Reflect After two months of steady work for marginal returns, de Massey decided to return to San Francisco. As he left Big Bar, he thought back on his experiences there: “I have done everything in my power to succeed. I have willingly stooped to any kind of work, no matter how fatiguing, but I am now convinced that a miner’s life is practical only for men who are accustomed from childhood to the hardest manual labor and that only by extraordinary good luck is it possible to take out a fortune within a few weeks or months.”30 De Massey started out for the coast, with a view to returning to San Francisco. “I carried my entire fortune along with me consisting of a large fund of philosophy, some energy, a gun, ammunition, a good blanket, some biscuits, and about sixty dollars.” He eventually reached Trinity City on the coast. “Full of hope, courage, and vision it was from here that we started the 25th of last April.” He booked passage for San Francisco. He wrote his thoughts on departing: “On Wednesday, August 15, 1850, I left behind the inhospitable river where I had almost died of hunger, thirst, cold, fatigue, and discouragement, and poorer than ever embarked on the brig that was just sailing, to face, no doubt, more trials and tribulations.”31 De Massey’s experiences reflected several different dimensions of the French in the mining camps. On the distant site on the Trinity River, far from the camps in the northern and southern mines, surrounded by an infinite landscape of forests, streams, and mountain ranges, he and his companions were lost much of the time. Amid the other challenges, he was continually confronted by his own commitment to his family at a cost to his own plans and ambitions. Still, he always remained loyal to his irresponsible cousin. When he boarded the boat to return to San Francisco, de Massey counted himself rich in experience and poorer in almost every other respect. LÉOPOLD ANSART DU FIESNET PURSUES HIS “FORTUNE”

Over the eight months from November 1851 to July 1852, Léopold Ansart du Fiesnet wrote a series of letters to his brother, Edmond, detailing his many diverse and generally unsuccessful financial affairs and his continuing determination to make a fortune in California, and he included a series of requests for financial assistance. In the first of these, dated November 25, 1851, Léopold began his recitation by describing his recent wounding in a duel. It was an affair of honor with a Frenchman. The police presence was “so feeble” in his community of some sixty French, English, Americans, Irish, and Spanish that everyone went about armed. The basic weapon was the revolver with six shots. As for the confrontation, “I was able to put down my adversary,” although apparently not



California without suffering a flesh wound. His conclusion to the affair of honor: “But don’t be anxious; it is not serious.” His business affairs he described as “entangled.” He was owed money in Sonora; he had a business (with a partner) that he would like to liquidate, “but I am at a loss to do it at the moment.” Elsewhere, he had a vast tract of land, where he hoped, with “several French, to establish a ranch.” He had another tract where he mined with enough success to give him “a little gold this winter.” In spite of his wound, he had “the courage of a 22-year-old.”32 As for life in California, “one does not long remain a child in a country like this one.” To the contrary, this country “is a life of freedom and wealth and also deep misery within two days.” “After weeks of misery,” he had made money; he had spent it. “If I had in France the money that I spent here in what one calls a drunken bout, [I could have lived] very pleasantly for three months.” As an example, the last time he and his friends visited the town of Murphy, they ordered and ate a rum omelet (fifteen eggs!) at a cost of F 250! He closed with a request that his brother take wreaths on his behalf to the grave site of their parents. His letter suggested the wide range of entrepreneurial activities in which he was engaged. Whether the net effect was to increase his brother’s confidence in his affairs was open to question.33 Léopold’s next letter, four months later, carried the news that he would shortly leave for Mexico in order to recover “some capital” owed him. The wound he had suffered in the duel had reopened, and his bills for doctors and medicine had exceeded 400 piastres. In order to make the trip, he had drawn on his brother for F 1,000. He was leaving California “without regrets, having tried all possible ways to make a fortune.” Perhaps he would return again in a few years, when the country was less dangerous (when “bullets are less frequent”) and “when the country will be organized.” As for California, “today you have some money and tomorrow you are in misery.” As for the subject of the letter, “I count on your generosity for the note.”34 In mid-June, Léopold wrote again, this time in a more pessimistic vein. He was still in California. A creditor carried a letter to Paris, with another note for F 1,000, drawn on Edmond. Léopold offered detailed instructions for the financial arrangements. If Edmond did not have the funds readily available, he could mortgage property. Léopold advised Edmond that he would “profit by borrowing the money that I ask you to send me.” His money was invested at 5 or 6 percent a month, and he had all the necessary “guarantees.” Léopold had a first mortgage on the ranch, which was valued at 10,000 piastres. Within a year, Léopold expected to double his capital. In order to execute this scheme, he needed F 6,000. Accordingly, he authorized Edmond to sell “whatever is convenient.”

The French Trade, Mine, and Reflect He needed to raise the sum immediately; he already had the draft of a banker, payable on November 1. He closed with a reminder: “A good brother is a rare thing, and one is happy to have one.” His next letter, three weeks later, directed his brother to “sell what is necessary.” Once again, he closed with the ringing declaration of confidence in his brother, “his honesty, his good sense, and his good heart.”35 Two years of silence followed. Léopold apparently needed no additional advances on the estate of his parents. Edmond had no need to solicit such inquiries. The relationships among the family members (now reduced by the death of the younger sister in 1852) remained frozen in place. Léopold remained a real but shadowy presence in the family, one of those absent members who had followed the route of the rush to gold. FRENCH OBSERVERS DESCRIBE FRENCH COMMUNITIES AND PROSPECTS

Information about the French in California emerged from a variety of sources. To begin with, there were many participants who described their daily experiences in the goldfields in letters to family and friends. Some of these made their way into print. France had a group of professional journalists who wrote about California and the French participation in the gold rush for French newspapers and periodicals. In addition to Étienne Derbec, several of these were well-known names, such as Patrice Dillon (French consul), Alexandre Achard, Martial Chevalier, and Benjamin Delessert (four who wrote regularly for the Revue des Deux Mondes); Edmond Texier (a commentator on French life over three decades and a wide range of places); and finally, Alexandre Dumas, father and son, who wrote popular accounts of the French in California. These observers analyzed the experiences of the French against those of the Americans. They also commented on the implications of the French immigrants in the gold rush for individuals, families, and the French nation. It was a complex series of connections, and they wrote about them for some five years. These observers found French gold camps of varied character. Alexandre Achard described the intersection of mining and politics in the French gold camps. Whatever its name, Achard wrote, Murphy Camp was a French camp. The first half of his account described the camp as a refuge of the disinherited revolutionaries of 1848. So the early sections of this account were not about mining; they were about politics. Achard detailed a world in which the principles of the uprisings of 1848 were still alive in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, seven thousand feet above sea level and twelve thousand miles from



California France. The views of these miners were as radical and their principles as intense as if the men and women on the barricades in June 1848 had won! Achard wrote not of digging and washing during the day but of the songs and political harangues of the evening. “Camp Murphy is almost exclusively inhabited by the French, all the insurgents of June, deserters from ships, or habitual criminals. . . . These men exiled from their country have conserved in all their savage violence the political passions that made them run to the barricades in 1848.”36 Achard described “the conversations on the events that brought about their emigration, interminable and noisy, discussions on the deep principles of socialism, aspirations and tirades in favor of the universal and democratic republic.” He continued: “Sunday above all and Monday are reserved for politics; the small clubs in the open air are improvised in the interior of the camp, and the harangues on the crimes of the aristocracy are only interrupted by the Marseillaise, the Chant des Girondins, and the Chant du Départ. If I had been able to forget a little of those republican hymns which for so long were kept alive in the streets of Paris, the echoes from the mountains of California have recalled them for me. They celebrated news of the terrible insurrections in Paris, the retiring of the army, and the triumph of socialism as the countryside rises.” He concluded: “This race of insurgents . . . their rancor insatiable and their violent desire for vengeance, this undisciplined and savage race is still worth more than the American race that peoples the neighboring placers.”37 As for mining, Achard continued, even though the population of miners was already large, there were still places for thousands. Every ravine, every brook, every river has sand and gravel in its bed. Those who come to try their luck and fortune should be aware of “the indefatigable activity and avidity without parallel . . . of the Anglo-Americans.” Still, adventurers had come from all over the world. “In due course,” he concluded, “this first generation of diggers will be succeeded by a population of workers parallel to that vigorous race that has flung the first and strong foundations of the American Republic.”38 Étienne Derbec offered a contrasting view. As for the accounts of violence and adventurers who robbed and killed, left their neighbors to die without aid, stripped them after death, leaving bodies to be devoured by hungry wolves, he wrote, all those stories were false. “I wish to emphasize this strongly: the moral condition of the country is admirable, a hundred times more than admirable in every respect. There is no selfishness, only the most generous devotion.” As for stories of theft, “There is not the smallest crime, not the smallest offense to repress; and yet the tents are open, and the wooden huts have no doors and are empty during the working hours; there is gold in all of them, a little or a great

The French Trade, Mine, and Reflect deal, but there is some, and no one tries to steal it. All the miners in the placer know one another, associate with each other, and they get together in the evening around a roaring fire.” Finally, “as for sanitary conditions, they are comparable to the state of morals. Not a single man has yet died of illness at Agua Frio.” Derbec had returned to a theme that would be developed by other French observers—namely, that in spite of the outward chaos and hurly-burly of the gold rush, this competition for gold was framed by a set of clear (although often unstated and certainly unwritten) rules.39 Whatever his views on the search for a stable society, Derbec offered the sobering observation that “the hope of making a quick fortune, or even almost one, has rapidly vanished; and those of us who, on the way to California, were not going to be satisfied with fifty, sixty to one hundred thousand francs and in the delirium of their fever asked for millions, are now reduced to desiring enough to live on while they await their lucky strike.” He continued: “If some of my compatriots should be tempted, despite what I have said, to seek their fortune in California,” they should come with their eyes open. The fantasies of a quick fortune had vanished, replaced by the reality of continuous hard work for uncertain returns.40 Beyond the issues of profit and loss and the ongoing accounts of the hardships of the mines, there arose another question—namely, the impact of these influences on the individuals who lived for months and even years surrounded by them. How did such individuals respond, adjust, wear down, maintain a sense of sanity and the world as understood by ordinary people far from the gold rush country? These were questions important to their families and friends. They were not easy to answer. Perhaps few wanted to explore them. Yet a few observers and participants in the mining camps sought to describe the world in these terms. The French settled into this different world with varied responses. On the one side lay an open-ended world with new values or no values, without the structures of government and law to which they were accustomed in their personal and business lives, without the accustomed support of their families. In the city (or almost city) of San Francisco and in the placers, they clustered in communities united by language and commonalities. In the city and towns, they dealt with economic uncertainty bordering on a lottery. In the placers, they found the same uncertainty mixed with great physical hardships. Like others in the goldfields, they depended on support from their friends and working partners. On another side, the French Forty-Niners found the Americans everywhere, at least everywhere money could be made. And straight ahead or perhaps at an angle, they saw opportunities for profit. These opportu-



California nities ranged from a fertile and productive claim in the placers to the many commercial opportunities in urban places. The latter included a trade in commodities, especially food and wine; restaurants and food preparation; the theater and other forms of entertainment; and female employment in gambling parlors and houses of prostitution. In this hurly-burly of life in California and the goldfields, the largest part of the French Argonauts kept their eyes fixed on France, waiting for news from home, assessing their economic prospects, and wondering when to return.




The most important early French observer in the California goldfields was the consul, Jacques Moerenhout. One of his first observations described the differences between the responses of the Americans and the Californians regarding the discovery of gold. That the Americans hurried toward the rumored goldfields and the Californians displayed little haste, he wrote, showed “the great difference that there is between the characters of the two races, the AngloAmerican and the Spanish descendants of the continent.” He continued: The former [the Anglo-American], quick to decide, with almost nomadic habits, and dominated by a single passion, that of enriching himself, as in the present case abandons home and interests or disposes of them as he can, and taking only the bare necessities, leaves with wives [sic] and children for an unknown place where he and his family will be exposed to a thousand privations and sufferings, but where he hopes to find wherewithal to satisfy his ambitions, change his social position and assist in the execution of his projects for the future. The Californian, on the other hand, calm in the midst of the general excitement, continues his even train of life, awaits further news, and though he be poor and in need, still seems quite undecided whether he, too, really should go to gather a little of this gold which he desires as much as anyone and which it makes him jealous and angry to see fall into the hands of foreigners. But despite this apathy and the charm which this careless and vagabond life, which they nearly all lead, seems to have for them, it is probable that when they see the gold in circulation they will likewise bestir themselves.1



California Whenever the French gave serious consideration to the exploitation of the natural resources of California, the Americans were at the center of any analysis. California was a recent imperial American acquisition by war with Mexico. Indeed, the treaty of cession had been signed in early February 1848, soon after the first gold discoveries but before they were widely known. The Americans were advantaged by proximity, although they were still separated by half a continent from the gold-bearing streams. The Americans were numerous. And most important, they had behind them two centuries of experience in expansion and exploitation of natural resources. This expansion and exploitation had heretofore been directed to the acquisition and occupation of agricultural lands. Now they would be brought to bear in the search for precious minerals. After three generations of independence, many French commentators thought they understood the character of the American nation and its citizens. Several American qualities they found admirable. Onto a continent of almost unparalleled natural riches, the Americans had grafted a spirit of endless adventure, mobility, enterprise, energy, and ambition. Indeed, at mid-century, Americans wandered across a vast benign landscape, which they exploited to the fullest. They were accustomed to making their own rules and to minimal interference by government at any level. These attitudes were reflected in their ongoing exploitation of the public lands and their indifference to federal rules and regulations. They were also reflected in their attitudes toward Indian peoples, whom they regarded with contempt for their failure to develop the lands or hostility for resisting the Anglo-American advance. That Indian peoples had solemn treaties with the federal government that guaranteed them certain rights and specific living spaces meant little or nothing to American pioneer families on the ground or to their representatives in Congress. These qualities were nicely captured in an analysis in a Dunkerque paper. The editor began: “What energy the certitude has given to the spirit of adventure that characterizes to such a high degree the population of the United States.” He observed that neither age, nor ties to family, nor a position already achieved had stopped or even slowed the rush of Americans to California. This immigration included citizens at all stages in life: “The worker, the young man at the beginning of his career, the man already established, equally alert to attempt a fortune, and owing to the resplendent mirage of the Sacramento, the trip to California . . . seems today the most simple thing in the world.” The editor concluded that this immigration would give “an immense impulse” to the growth of California. In the end, “as an indirect consequence, a new era has opened for the United States, an era of easy wealth and of limitless property.”2

French Argonauts and the Americans It was characteristic of the Americans that in the fall of 1848, when rumors of gold spread, they immediately left the coastal settlements in the eastern half of the continent and headed west to the site of the discoveries. This impulse to motion, as the Journal de Rouen continued, “is the genius of the nation!” Americans had been flocking to new economic opportunities for two hundred years. What an admirable country! After all, such opportunities were the object of the voyage—by sea or overland—to California. The Americans would immediately gravitate toward the heart of potential wealth.3 Some French commentators offered strong praise for the Americans in their expansion and the growth over the last thirty years. Part of this development lay in the genius of the American union, which “offers the most marvelous example of power that can be acquired through human activity.” Part lay in the creation of a form of government that allowed individuals a wide range of independence and freedom from supervision or control. An important dimension of this freedom was referred to as “the salutary example of the American union, in adopting the policy of non-intervention . . . unless its interests are directly engaged.”4 These national qualities would immediately be brought to bear on California. The American acquisition of California was simply a continuation of the three generations of expansion since independence. America opened the decade of the 1840s as a nation rapidly settling the eastern half of the continent. It was actively engaged in ongoing disputes about the futures of Texas in the southwest and the Oregon Country in the Pacific northwest. The decade ended with the United States in command of the continent, Texas annexed, and the Oregon Country acquired by diplomacy. War against Mexico assured the acquisition of the southwest, with the great harbors of the Pacific Coast. Now the discovery of gold in California had driven a large exclamation point to the close of this decade of expansion. These were the people and this was the nation that the French must now confront on the distant shores of the Pacific. Contact would take place at several points: on the quays, in the harbors, in the customs houses, on the streets of San Francisco and other towns, along the byways of the interior and upland valleys of California, and, last but not least, in the gold camps and the placers themselves. Everywhere, French people and French companies must come to terms with the presence of the Americans, their ambitions, their endless entrepreneurial energy, and their expanding imperial ambitions. This recitation of growth had a familiar outline—namely, that of replacing a backward people with a progressive one. Such an account was familiar to everyone who knew of the expansion of European empires that was already



California under way. One writer noted, “By one of those admirable secrets that suddenly comes to modify and to regulate the destinies of nations, Providence has wished that this country, with unexploited riches and lost while it was in the hands of the indolent Mexicans, pass suddenly into those of the hard-working and indefatigable Yankees. . . . The same day when the Anglo-Saxon race takes a step on this old Spanish possession, a stream of gold, the wealth of which one knows neither the depth nor the limits, will be the first fruit of this conquest. There it is!” The returns from the goldfields would pay the cost of the war against Mexico a thousand times. As for the conquered territories, the United States would go on to settle and exploit these new lands as it has done with equal rapidity “to the forests and prairies of Illinois and Indiana.” The writer concluded: “So here is an ardent population, active, adventurous, which runs to all parts; colonies of immigrants already cover the placers, spread over the valley of San Francisco with tents, camps, and forts that will quickly become villages, towns, and cities; already the enterprising Americans have traced out the streets of the new city of San Francisco and begun several houses, established a hotel, a school, a chapel, and a bank will not be delayed in rising from the earth.” In short, the Americans were a force to be reckoned with. And what a force!5 Not only were the Americans dominant by their physical presence, but also this authority would continue and change character in the coming years. Alexandre Achard wrote of the two cycles of American settlement. Miners represented the first. But, he continued, after all the ravines have been excavated, “this population of adventurers will be succeeded by a population of workers parallel to that vigorous race that has thrown out the first and strongest foundations of the American republic.” Thus, California would in due course repeat the settlement cycles seen in the eastern half of the continent.6 The genius of the Americans as pioneers and entrepreneurs, widely acknowledged by the French, did not extend to their tolerance of foreigners. Rooted in part in the two years of xenophobic propaganda generated by the war against Mexico and by saturation in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the Americans soon reacted to the press of competition in the goldfields. The initial targets were Chilean merchants and Mexican miners. The Mexicans were among the first arrivals in the placers, and, accordingly, possessed some of the best claims in the southern mines. Beginning in the summer of 1849, they were subjected to harsh treatment with a view to expulsion. According to one account, “in Sacramento, the Americans have armed and threatened to expel foreigners by force.”7 As the news of violence against foreigners spread, the reputation of the Americans as exploiters and colonizers took on new dimensions. By the end of the year, some French commentators would call the Americans “a terrible

French Argonauts and the Americans people.” Another contemporary wrote, “These Americans are terrible men, everything considered. They chase foreigners to death; they pillage them, they hunt them down, they kill them to remain masters of the country by the act, as they are by the right of conquest.” The author of a letter from San Francisco cited chapter and verse to support such strong words. Even beyond the issue of violence, the question of the Americans in disputes over rich mining claims reflected outrageous favoritism.8 THE AMERICANS IN PANAMA

The French first encountered the Americans in Panama. A letter from Chagres, dated March 25, 1849, described the arrival of swarms of Americans headed to California. Already in the spring of 1849, there were some fourteen hundred passengers awaiting transportation. The account concluded: “Those who cannot find transportation return to New York.” The French Argonauts, of course, did not have that option.9 The French in Panama found themselves in competition with the Americans for goods, accommodations, and space on ships going north to California. A letter from Emmanuel d’Oliveira, dated Panama, May 14, 1849, described this hot, crowded, tropical world in these terms: “Chagres is encumbered by an unheard of number of Americans who are all, like me, on the way to California. Transport is scarce; one must pay ten to a dozen times the rate.” He continued: “At the moment of our debarkation, Gorgona has been invaded by the Americans, who live entirely in tents. They are armed to the teeth.” Their arms included carbines, pistols, rifles, swords, and knives of every kind. The account affirmed that the Americans “are invariably faithful to the traditions of their mother country. They do not waste an hour of time.” They seemed like the reincarnation of the armed bands of Pizarro and Cortes “for the conquest of the new world.” Thus, they formed a striking contrast to the peaceful travelers from Europe. “But [although] this attitude, this bright look, the strong and determined look of these adventurous pioneers have something of seizing the moment at first, one sees very quickly that they have no other interest than to procure without delay the honest means to get passage to San Francisco.”10 Madame de Saint-Amant characterized the Americans in Panama as a kind of alien species. These Americans, she wrote, “are armed to the teeth like brigands in melodramas. They have an air of marching off to war.” At the same time, she was struck with the respectful attitude of Americans toward women. Amid the confusion and hurly-burly of that transient outpost, she felt safe. “Our sex is here under a special protection,” she wrote to her husband.11



California Alexandre Achard, traveling in 1850, had a similar encounter with Americans in Panama. On March 5, he left Panama for San Francisco, aboard the California with some five hundred Americans. He described his fellow passengers as “lying indifferently on the bridge or in the hold of the ship, dressed in loosely fitting red jackets and hats of great grey felt. Almost all of them pass their days in smoking; some in conversing—in small numbers—all gaming. Not one of them speaks French; some speak Spanish; several understand German. A great silence reigns among these groups. Our five hundred passengers are, for the most part, tall, lean, vigorous and endowed with a constitution of iron; almost all are destined to work in the extraction of gold in the placers; some will attempt their fortunes in San Francisco; many make their way to a place in California only thinking of gambling, and it seems that gambling houses are not lacking in this country.”12 THE AMERICANS IN THE GOLD CAMPS

The first full mining season was 1849, and by all reports, it was a tranquil one. The endless mining sites provided space for the growing numbers. Patrice Dillon, the French consul, wrote in October 1849 of the early cordial relations between the Americans and the French in the mining camps. “The most perfect tranquility reigns in the mines. The French, the American, the English, work side by side, without their rising among them the slightest difficulty.” A pick or a spade in a claim indicated that the claim was the property of others. On seeing this sign, miners would pass on their way and search for a place still unoccupied. They respected the rights first acquired by others.13 Dillon also conjured up visions of the common past between France and America. When friction between the Americans and the French surfaced, a few wanted to resort to violence, but they were shouted down by a large majority. “Why, cries an American orator, would we fight against the French? Their fathers have been the friends of our fathers. They have fought together for the same cause, that of the independence of our country, and against our common enemy, the English. Rochambeau was French; Lafayette also; they count yet among the heroes of our history, and their names hold place, in the memory of all true Americans, from that of Washington.” The French would have a place of honor at the celebration of Independence Day. They would unite around the same table and fraternize loudly. “From this moment, the French and the Americans are living in the mines in perfect understanding.” Dillon had often encountered Americans in the solitude of the forests, where they had shaken hands and exchanged hearty greetings. They were always happy at the arrival of

French Argonauts and the Americans their “great ally, as they still call the French.” Dillon added a paean to the noble character of the Americans of the West: “This fraction [is] simple of heart, but faithful and forceful like noble people.” And if the Americans are sometimes hostile toward the French, it is because the great voice of the West has forgotten to speak out.14 This cordiality did not last, at least not to the same degree. As the number of miners grew and the size of claims diminished, friction in the mining camps grew in like proportion. To the extent that mining was a competitive enterprise—and most miners thought it was and becoming more so—the Americans acted wherever possible to enhance their own prospects, and if so doing diminished the prospects of others, so be it. Individually, Americans sometimes were partners and friends; they aided those sick and disabled and sought to emphasize the human aspect of the endless search for gold. Collectively, Americans acted out the principles of Manifest Destiny, which had guided the recent expansion that had produced a continental nation. They saw themselves as uniquely favored by Divine Providence and by their own initiative in seizing lands, resources, and the opportunities for their exploitation. They looked down on other peoples, especially non-English-speaking ones. Foremost among these groups were American Indians and Mexicans. These were inferior peoples who did not know how to use the natural gifts given to them. The first targets of the Americans in the goldfields were the Spanish speakers—namely, the Mexicans, Peruvians, and Chileans. Tension between them was increased by proximity and numbers. Mexicans gravitated north to the mining country in response to the rumors of gold discoveries in the summer of 1848. Peruvians and Chileans were equally well established in San Francisco, where they were early merchants and traders. This proximity and their success— in towns and in the camps—drove a degree of envy that carried over into xenophobia. The United States was, after all, a nation emerging from a war against Mexico. Two years of war were not a good context for cooperation or even proper conduct in places where great wealth seemed to be at stake.15 Americans were also, after two hundred years of expansion to the west, strongly committed to informal and spontaneous systems of government and law. These were associated with the need to meet informally and to take necessary steps to establish a form of government to preserve order. Such informal but powerful institutional forms, emerging in the placers as “mining districts,” were dominated by Americans, who grafted onto them their needs and wishes. So the first claimants established mining districts. They laid down the rules (remarkably similar from camp to camp) by which a site might be exploited. These rules were designed to define the “claim” and to create a mechanism to



California resolve disputes. They were part of a long frontier tradition, earlier used to promote defense against Indian attacks and to protect land claims. But these rules could also be changed by a majority vote of the claim holders. As a minority and a non-English-speaking minority, the French became all too aware of these institutions and how they might be victimized by them.16 The local usage of the mining district often worked against foreigners. The French were no exception, and they were often attractive targets, as they had good claims. In response, the French congregated in French camps. Here they found mutual support and language solidarity. In this respect, they were like the Mexicans, except they were not the enemies in a recent war. The Mexicans, the first targets of the Americans, had the option of going home. Other foreign nationals, especially the French, did not have that option. The French fell back to their status as a newly created republic (the only one in Europe) and their long-standing friendship for the United States (especially during the American Revolution), and they also appealed to their consul. Alexandre Achard wrote in the most uncomplimentary way about how the Americans banded together against foreign miners. “Nothing can give a just idea of the character and the customs of the men, the dregs of the American population; drunkenness is the least of their faults. The placers they occupy are a theater of assassinations without numbers, which threaten to become daily.” He cited examples in which drunks wandered through the streets and cafés, menacing, striking, injuring, and finally shooting at random. He went on: “All the Americans from birth make common cause and support one another. Whoever resists one of these bandits has all of them against him.”17 Charles de Lambertie’s account captured the force of the Americans moving against the Mexicans. “Nothing is as transient as the population of the placers,” he wrote. “Today they are here; tomorrow they are no longer. One evening, the Mexicans had disappeared. And with them, a certain gaiety passed. Perhaps they were harassed by the Americans. For whatever reasons, their guitars and violins are now gone. There only remained the Americans, who are, in general, the most famous boors that I have seen. They are far from having the affability and politeness of the peoples who speak the Spanish language.” De Lambertie quoted from an Englishman: “One cannot expect an agreeable conversation from the Americans. They are badly behaved and are unable to say two words without articulating a swear word. They do not have a single culture of the mind, and you will never see them with a book in hand. I cannot endure these men.” As the numbers of Americans increased, so did their aggressive and violent behavior. “It was difficult to meet up with more brutality and egoism than in a place where there were great numbers of them.”18

French Argonauts and the Americans However, it was more than a matter of bad manners. In disputes, especially over mining sites, the Americans used local law and custom to their advantage. Victimized by a series of openly biased decisions, de Lambertie decided to quit the mines forthwith. What infuriated de Lambertie as much as the open favoritism was the lack of protest on the part of the Americans. He wrote, “There was not a single protest on the part of the . . . Americans who were witnesses; they laughed, on the contrary, a silly laugh; it was that which showed me that what had passed was not only individual but a question of nationality which mattered.”19 THE EMERGING AMERICAN EMPIRE

In another theme of French commentators, the striking feature of American behavior was the expansionist quality to it. The Americans were in the process of creating an empire. However they might disguise their expansion under the umbrella of the spread of political democracy and economic opportunity, theirs was an imperial force by any name. With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848 and the simultaneous announcement of gold in California, the expansionist dimension of the American nation was unveiled for all to see. French observers saw it all too clearly. The editor of the Journal des Débats wrote, “The state of anarchy that one finds in California has not prevented that vigorous race which is seizing it, no more than the rigors of the last winter, to continue to exploit the riches buried by nature in the soil of this marvelous country.”20 Another commentator, Benjamin Delessert, offered a brief history of American expansion. He began with Upper California and the arrival of John Sutter and his grandiose ambitions. Delessert wrote that the competition to control California among the Russians, the British, and the Americans had ended with a decisive victory for the Americans: “The youngest and the most adventurous of the three nations is today its mistress.” He went on to describe the great future influence of the Americans in these terms: “If the reports that we have on this country are confirmed, the colonization of this rich country by a race also as intelligent and entrepreneurial as the Anglo-Saxon race can hardly avoid having a great influence on the future destiny of the world and on our commerce. Without any doubt, the Americans will exploit with their usual vigor the buried riches in this country, which conceals so much treasure.”21 California was only a part, albeit a rich and important part, of the American possessions seized within the last few years. Delessert continued: “What an imposing and extraordinary spectacle is given to us in the constant and rapid



California progress of this powerful America, which, each year, further extends her embrace.” First, it was Texas, conquered from Mexico, and then a large part of northern Mexico was added to America’s national domain. “What are the limits of this always bullying ambition? Where will this continuous need to extend stop? Mistress of five hundred leagues of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, today California is joined to Oregon; this power will never retreat but will continue on without doubt to found a new empire on shores still unknown. What an immense future is reserved for the nation which commands the Pacific Ocean!” He concluded: “There is a new world to exploit, to civilize, [and] to enrich, and while old Europe debates and wears itself out in sterile struggles against a barbarism which one wishes to restore, the genius American marches by grand steps to the peaceful conquest of this new world.”22 Thus, the Americans rushing to California in search of gold were only one dimension—albeit an important one—of America’s growing imperial expansion. The extraordinary talents of Americans as explorers and settlers had carried them to the shores of the Pacific. Now they paused to dig gold in California. But even as they dug, carried, and washed, the eyes of some were fixed westward across the Pacific. CONFLICT IN THE GOLDFIELDS

From the opening of the California gold rush, mining had been a competitive enterprise. In the first full mining season of 1849, this sense of competition was diluted by the many gold-bearing streams and the small number of miners. It appeared with the growing number of miners and the inevitable exhaustion of many of the first mining sites. As the numbers of miners grew—from 50,000 at the close of 1849 to 100,000 at the close of 1850 to 125,000 at the close of 1851—and the average return from a day’s labor in the placers fell, so the sense of competition increased.23 The air of competition led to a growing proprietary sense on the part of Americans that rich gold mines on American soil should belong to Americans. As noted, the immediate targets were foreigners, often non-English speakers. The Chileans and the Peruvians, with a strong commercial presence, were the first targets. The Mexicans soon followed. Talk early began to circulate about the official policy of the American government toward foreign miners. The issue was an important one that captured the attention of every group of foreign miners, becoming the subject of both rumor and innuendo. That government officials and their messages often changed only added to the confusion.24

French Argonauts and the Americans The California gold rush presented an old theme with new variations. The old theme was the search for and exploitation of natural resources. This had been the focal point of Anglo-American settlement since the opening of the seventeenth century. Now there were changes. To begin with, gold was infinitely more valuable than any commodity harvested in the previous seventy-five years. Added to this factor was the sense that the search for gold in California was intensely competitive, that gold was present in limited sites, and that the placers might soon be exhausted (as some sites were already played out). As a result of rising numbers, mining claims were reduced in size. This rush of miners and shrinking size of the mining claims enhanced the sense of competition. Into this scene charged with wealth and competition came prospective miners from all over the world. The meeting of large numbers of American Forty-Niners, nurtured in the doctrines of Manifest Destiny, with prospective foreign miners inevitably produced tensions and sometimes confrontation and violence. The first physical encounters took place in Panama, heightened by the competition for scarce berths on vessels traveling from Panama to San Francisco. Already there were rumors of foreign miners in possession of rich claims that should have been the prize of Americans. The first response of an American official to these perceived injustices came in the form of a pronouncement by General Persifor Smith, on his way to California to take command of the American Army. In January 1849, while awaiting passage in Panama, Smith wrote a letter that seemed to give official sanction to the barring of foreigners from the goldfields. The letter read, in part: “As nothing can be more unjust and immeasurable than for persons not citizens of the United States . . . to dig the gold found in California, on lands belonging to the American Government, and as such conduct is in direct violation of the laws, it will be my duty immediately on arrival there, to put these laws in force to prevent any infraction there.”25 This new policy of access to the goldfields seemed to reverse the findings and recommendations of Colonel Richard Mason, who had accepted the presence in the goldfields of numbers of native Californians and Mexican miners from Sonora. Rumors of Smith’s letter and its contents soon spread to San Francisco and to South America and Europe. A few French newspapers reported the news, citing it as a reason to discourage emigration toward the goldfields.26 THE FIRST SKIRMISHES

The French were among the first group of foreign miners in the northern mines, where they established some of the most productive camps. Here as elsewhere, they were intensely loyal to their own mining communities. French



California language was a defining element here, so the French in the placers joined in communities of French-language speakers. They were uninterested in learning English and generally indifferent to their neighbors, except in common hostility toward Indian peoples. This French strength was also their vulnerability. For their clannishness marked them as a people apart, alien sojourners who had come to harvest wealth and then immediately return home with their gold. A degree of friction between the Americans and the French was always a characteristic of the early camps, where they lived in proximity to one another. With the growing competition over sites and claims, it was inevitable that this friction would intensify. This escalation was the more inevitable because the French were not passive in the face of American aggression. They regarded themselves as strong in numbers and independent in outlook. Furthermore, from the beginning, they were armed. Indeed, most observers noted that they were as well armed as the Americans, who were walking arsenals in the gold camps. The French often stood their ground. Although their strength in communities and numbers gave them a reputation for independence, such a posture also gave them a reputation as foreigners who were in violation of American and local laws. In the long run, it was a hazardous position, for it made them vulnerable to those who preached a call for law and order in the mining camps. One final quality intensified the potential for confrontation—namely, the French misunderstanding and ignorance of American frontier traditions. From the opening of permanent English settlements on this continent, vast landscapes and relatively few numbers of Europeans had meant a slow and uncertain spread of legal institutions. The tendency of remote English settlements to make their own rules intensified with the establishment of an independent American nation. What emerged here was a powerful belief in the importance of individuals in fashioning local institutions and laws. Such a belief was based in part on principle and in part on necessity. To the extent that the American Revolution had been a rebellion against a central authority—and many believed that it was—the successful outcome of the revolution confirmed the view of the importance of the individual and local sovereignty at the expense of a central authority. The adoption of the new constitution in 1789 with its new, national government diluted this local influence. Still, the rapid movement of American pioneer families to the West led to settlements beyond the reach of established institutions of government and law. Thus, by necessity on these distant landscapes frontier peoples in the interior continued to make and enforce their own rules.27 The French (and other foreign nationals) in the California goldfields initially found these procedures mysterious and soon discriminatory. A meeting of the

French Argonauts and the Americans claimants in a mining district (each claim holder had a vote) adopted rules and changed them. Thus, rules in force this week could be changed next week. Majority vote ruled. This was a process that placed system and order ahead of justice and equity. If the majority of American claim holders convened a meeting and voted to bar foreigners from the diggings, they were so barred. There was no recourse, except occasional appeal to the local official (the alcalde), who was almost always an American. The French accused the Americans of supporting one another in the most outrageous way. The news of the confrontations in the California goldfields spread from Paris to the more distant areas of France. An account from Bordeaux described “a sad and deplorable series of events.” It continued: “The collisions in the mines and the prospect of the most serious conflicts are forming the principal character. This is above all in the districts of Sonora, Tuolumne, and San Joaquin, which have been the sites of the main agitations. At Sonora especially, one can believe a veritable war in the streets of the town.” The main antagonists in the conflict were Mexicans and Americans. The accidental discharge of a firearm had led to a riot.28 The most important manifestation of this continuing friction for the French was a quarrel at Camp Murphy. Alexandre Achard had described the radical strain running through the camp. In his eyes, it was a camp filled with unrepentant exiles from the barricades of the June 1848 uprising. This hard edge probably served the French miners well in their confrontations with the Americans. The Americans, newly arrived from Oregon, resolved to expel from the mines all non-English speakers. The French in the camp now manned a new set of barricades. After a tense confrontation in which the French gave no ground, the Americans retired. It was one of the rare occasions in which they failed to impose their collective will on a camp of predominantly foreign miners. Achard now analyzed what he called “the fight at Camp Murphy” with a view to accounting for the success of his countrymen. He wrote: “That which has provided up to this time the security of the French residents at Camp Murphy is their superior numbers. They are armed as well as the Americans.” In his view, however, the Americans would return, and the fight for the camp would have to be repeated. He continued: “But with regard to the fierce exchanges between the French and the Americans, to the resolutions that circulate, to the thousand rumors being spread, it is evident that an explosion will burst out sooner or later.” Accordingly, the French slept with their arms. Sentinels were posted. “At the first signal all the foreigners would rise up en masse and run to the fight.”29



California A letter from Étienne Derbec, published in the Journal des Débats, also had reference to this rising tension: “In a country where law is still hardly established, where every nation in the world has many representatives, each one has felt the need to join with his own people, near those who speak the same language as he and who have the same interests.” Some eight to ten thousand French miners were clustered along the banks of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus Rivers, “where they have discovered some very important gold deposits. This situation has earned them the jealousy of the Americans, who, claiming to be absolute masters of the land and its resources, tried to drive them out.” Derbec continued: “A combat, a veritable battle, is reported to have resulted in which many are said to have lost their lives on both sides; however, the military victory supposedly went to our compatriots.” Even this victory “may bring about some lamentable consequences for our countrymen. Will the government of the Republic intervene and protect them? We desire it more than we dare hope.”30 The reports of casualties were exaggerated, but such accounts fed a fear of the dominant Americans and their self-serving institutions. It also reaffirmed the sense that only a resort to numbers and arms would enable the French to defend their rightful claims against the imperious Americans. THE TAX ON FOREIGN MINERS

This long-standing hostility against foreign miners in the California goldfields simmered below the surface. It reflected jealousy that good mines were in the hands of non-English speakers, mixed with a characteristic American egocentrism enlarged by the doctrines of Manifest Destiny and the recent war against Mexico. The unofficial campaigns against the non-English-speaking groups received official sanction when on April 13, 1850, the California legislature passed a foreign miners’ tax. The tax was twenty dollars a month on all foreign miners, to be collected by revenue agents of the state, and it reflected the intention of American miners to use the power of a popularly elected legislature to restrict competition.31 Public (as opposed to legislative) debate over the tax continued after its passage. A letter to the Sonora Herald noted that foreigners immediately objected to the sudden imposition of “a heavy tax” without warning. Their response was “a repugnance, mingled with strongly incensed feelings.” The question of international law was immediately raised. Did the United States not have “treaties of reciprocity with France?” The answer surely was yes. If so, it followed that “the act passed by the last legislature was illegal, unjust, abortive, and extremely prejudicial to the best interests of the state.” As for the tax itself,

French Argonauts and the Americans foreign miners accepted the idea of “a reasonable tax,” for a tax with its accompanying license “would protect them from outrage and indignity.” Such “a reasonable tax” might be three to four dollars a month.32 Another letter at about the same time focused on the reactions of the French. The initial response from the French community was quiet. In this account, “a large body of Frenchmen under arms encamped near the town yesterday and met in a deputation. They had received word from men badly disposed that the French inhabitants were in danger of their lives, and they armed themselves to assist their countrymen. Upon discovering the falsity of the report, they peaceably dispersed. Do not believe any of the numerous reports flying about the country. I will keep you posted up in regard to facts, if any occur of importance.” This letter reflected, among other things, the role of rumor as the two sides eyed each other. The Americans seemed driven to uphold the law; the French seemed driven by indignation.33 A third communication reflected on the economic condition of the foreigners. An important reason for the objections to the tax, the author began, was that most of the foreign miners in the country were newly arrived and simply did not have the money to pay. Under these circumstances, they were inclined to resist. Alternatively, some of them left. The Mexicans had already departed in large numbers. The leaders of the resistance to the tax “were a body of two or three hundred Frenchmen, who, I am informed, have left for the mountains in search of new diggings. Since quiet has been restored, many of the foreigners have paid the tax and gone to work. Others are paying it by installments.”34 The debate over the tax continued at the local level. Among the sharpest critics were the commercial interests of the towns that outfitted the miners. To these merchants, national identification was of far less importance than a continuing demand for food, tools, and services. In the late summer, the Sonora Herald opened its columns to canvass the question. Governor Peter Burnett strongly defended the law (and his decision to sign it). In a letter to the Herald, he laid out his arguments. “The true cause of the many complaints against, and opposition to, our laws,” he began, “is to be found in the temporary and mixed character of our population.” He continued by noting that thousands of foreign miners had come to California in search of gold. They had come to exhaust the California placers and, at the same time, to take their bonanzas back to their own country. The governor continued that the government of California must put an end to this tide of immigration and parallel loss of precious minerals. The tax was a step in this direction. Furthermore, the rate “is not unduly oppressive.” The law, by its terms, establishes a distinction among foreign miners. On



California the one side, “the idle, profligate, and extravagant portion of the foreign miners could not have paid the tax, and would not . . . while the energetic, industrious, and persevering portion would have remained and been able to pay.” It was true, he concluded, that only some two to three thousand licenses had been sold, but he anticipated greater sales in the coming months.35 The Herald’s editorial response treated the governor with respect but pronounced his logic in error. Its editor continued: “The slopes and ravines of our placers are deserted by the hard working population which formerly filled the air with the music of industry.” As a result of the tax, formerly thriving settlements were “in the state of prostration and ruin. Traders are standing with folded arms. Merchants with empty exchequers.” The answer was to reduce the tax rate to one dollar a month. Like so many other correspondents, the Herald affirmed its support for the principle of the tax but objected to the high rate.36 Already there were suggestions of modifications in the tax and the form of its collection. In late August, a collector declared that he would accept twenty dollars in payment for a license that would run until the end of the year, or four months. Furthermore, he was “instructed to protect all who comply with this requisition, and to punish all others who are violators of the law.” Thus, for foreign miners under siege, this tax and the accompanying license gave them legal rights to hold and work claims in the placers. The Herald noted that the miners rejoiced. As for the local merchants, with “so moderate a tax . . . we shall shortly again be on the high road to fortune.”37 The introduction of the tax against foreign miners raised the larger issue of taxes against citizens in new settlements without established institutions. So what did the taxes pay for? Who was enriched from them? Transient peoples in newly settled areas objected to taxes of every sort. In this sense, they expressed a kind of indirect support for opposition to the tax on foreign miners. Meeting in August 1850, for example, the Grand Jury of Tuolumne County noted local resistance to the revenue laws. The county collector complained that collections were hindered by a universal public sentiment opposed to the laws. The grand jury concluded, “The system of licenses adopted here has many defects.” It also noted “the inclination of Americans to tolerate, encourage, and practice the vices and institutions of foreigners.”38 Although it was vigorously debated, strongly protested, and often honored in the breach, the tax against foreign miners was still an official weapon that could be used against particular groups on especially attractive sites. The first targets seemed to have been Mexican miners and Mexican camps. In response to its passage, most Mexican miners returned to Mexico. They had long fought a series of undeclared wars to protect their interests in the southern mines. The

French Argonauts and the Americans intrusion of the state into the war was a decisive change in the balance of power. But other groups also felt the impress of the tax. Among these, any non-Englishspeaking group was an immediately recognizable target. The responses to the tax included compliance, resistance, evasion, and flight. Perhaps with the emigration of large numbers of Mexican miners out of the southern mines, some legislators may have felt the tax had done its job. After all, it was not a revenue-raising measure. It was designed to punish or, alternatively, to favor the American miners.39 The French were upset. They initially argued that this levy was contrary to international law, for the Americans resident in France were not subject to any such special impost. California officials brushed off this argument as unworthy of serious consideration. Yet early efforts to collect the tax were sporadic. In October 1850, the tax collectors descended on the French settlements in the San Joaquin Valley. Many if not most in the French settlements could not afford to pay the tax, and they resisted the revenue officers. A number of these Frenchmen were veterans of the revolutionary uprisings of 1848, and these heroes of the Paris barricades did not fear a sheriff or other revenue officials from a distant state authority. And aside from the issue of the legitimacy of the tax, there were ongoing questions about its collection. The State of California presumably sent official representatives into the mining camps to collect the tax. The foreigners subject to the tax were understandably suspicious of this mechanism. They wondered whether monies paid to these scruffy-looking individuals would ever reach the treasury in Sacramento.40 At the request of the governor of California, the French consul, Patrice Dillon, went to the valley in order to attempt a compromise. At the same time, Dillon made great efforts to show the injustice of the tax to the governor. He argued that the tax had the effect of alarming all honest and moral foreign miners, while, at the same time, it did not frighten in the slightest those who could sustain themselves by fraud, without paying the tax, in a country where there was no recognized police force. M. Dillon immediately asked M. Lombard, the vice-consul, to make a trip to the French mining camps to calm the French opposition to the new law. Lombard’s report focused on the issue of the tax. He began, “I wish to speak of the tax imposed on foreign miners, and of all the violence for which it served as a pretext.” The violence and threats of violence were even more serious than the tax itself. He continued: “This abuse of power on the part of certain officials (the ‘alcaldes’); these illegal contributions collected by certain swindlers, who claim to be agents of the United States Government; in short, this violence, which is not at all justifiable: all these facts are almost nil today.” Such illegal



California and outrageous acts “have become rarer and rarer today.” And they were often dealt with on the spot by American authorities, to Lombard’s satisfaction.41 There was, however, a response to the tax that revolved around the virtues of compliance. This was the position of Charles de Lambertie. Before laying out his argument, he began with a description of the placer at Mokelumne and the crowds of gold hunters who had come to exploit it. He then continued: “Another great subject of annoyance and of hindrance was the payment of the tax on the miners, which was more than twenty-five dollars a month, as one had already established, and that all the foreigners had, with perseverance, refused to pay, because it was exorbitant and at the same time harassment, because the Americans were exempt.”42 Lambertie’s argument reflected the practical miner at work. Prolonged opposition to the tax or even debate about the tax took up time and resources that should be spent working the claim. So the smart thing for the ambitious French miner was to pay the tax and get to work. Furthermore, there was another side. If the French miner (or any other foreign individual) paid the tax, he should be permitted to mine without the endless harassment to which the Americans routinely subjected foreigners. In other words, the tax was a license that conferred certain rights on the holder. De Lambertie paid the tax. He was unhappy about the tax, but he was outraged by the behavior of Americans toward foreigners who had paid the tax. In their harassment of foreign miners, the Americans seemed to make no distinction between those who had paid the tax and those who ignored the law.43 In March 1851, Governor John McDougall voided the tax. The legislature imposed a new levy of three dollars a month. Most foreigners subject to the tax paid it. The most important influences in the easing of the tax seemed to be the storekeepers and the merchants, always powerful at election time, who had complained about the decline in their business.44 The new tax represented more than simply a new number, significant as that was for foreign miners. It identified a new target. Just as the original tax seemed directed against Mexican miners, the second was aimed at the Chinese. Unlike the tax issue with Mexicans (departed for Mexico) or the European non-English speakers, the collection procedures against the Chinese involved neither discussions nor negotiations. The tax collectors simply moved into a Chinese camp, made a head count of the miners, and seized enough property to pay the estimated tax.45 The observations of two Americans captured very different views of foreign miners and their claims. On the one side, we have the prickly views of a practical miner. Lucius Fairchild, who later became governor of Wisconsin,

French Argonauts and the Americans reflected a hostile view. From his camp in the placers, he wrote, “It’s a shame that our government will allow themselves to be run over by the off scourings of all God’s creation who are taking the bread out of the American miners mouths, or the Gold which is the same. Both the Americans and the naturalized foreigners are greatly dissatisfied about it. I think that all foreigners who had declared their intentions previous to the admission of this state are all who should be allowed to dig a dollar and I hope Congress will pass such a law.”46 In an unusual distinction, Fairchild noted the difference between itinerant foreign miners and those who had been naturalized. Perhaps the large foreign-born population in his native Wisconsin made him sensitive to the difference. On the other side, Israel Lord noted the contradictions between the tax on foreign miners and previous responses to immigrants. He wrote in his journal, “It is strange that Americans are not willing to give foreigners an equal chance, when there is so much labor required to secure the uncertain gains which fall to the lot of the laborer here. One would be led to think, by the talk of some, that gold can be picked up anywhere without any trouble, and belong to themselves exclusively; that they had dropped or deposited it to be reclaimed when they deemed most convenient. I, for one, contend that they have the same right to dig for gold here, as in the older States for iron, wheat, or potatoes.”47 Whatever the previous precedents, many American miners intended to make a distinction between potatoes and gold. The growth of “mining districts” and discriminatory practices that culminated in the enactment of the foreign miners’ tax intensified the isolation and clannish nature of the French mining communities. The French saw their solidarity as their only defense against the discriminatory behavior of the AngloSaxons. Accordingly, they came together in armed groups wherever possible, for mining and for living. Whatever the amount of the levy, its presence conveyed the sense that foreign miners had fewer rights or more fragile rights than Americans in the international bazaar known as the California gold rush. The tax and the response to it were the subject of much commentary, serious and even humorous. It is striking, however, that the tax generated no visual images on the part of caricaturists or humor magazines. Perhaps it was considered too touchy a subject in a panorama of topics caricatured for readers on a regular basis.48 THE CONFRONTATION AT MOKELUMNE HILL

The major confrontation between the Americans and the French took place in April 1851 at the gold diggings on Mokelumne Hill. This was one of the most



California celebrated of the southern mines, renowned for its richness and its French origins. After it was first mined in 1849, the successful French miners departed and the Americans moved in to less successful operations. Then, in 1851, a second French group found another rich deposit nearby, soon known as French Hill. The news produced a rush of miners to the site and the inevitable squabbles over the rich claims. From this point, the friction between the two groups escalated.49 The Americans decided to expel foreigners from Mokelumne and posted a decree with this demand on many trees. Charles de Lambertie responded that many Americans opposed the resolution: “They understand that such base egoism and these arbitrary acts are not of an honorable nature, in the world, for the American nation; and the merchants see here reduced sales.”50 De Lambertie continued: “The day chosen for our expulsion, I went to work as I ordinarily did, and about ten o’clock [I] saw a troop of Americans approaching the place where I worked.” They gathered at the house of the alcalde. A large number of men from de Lambertie’s camp also attended. A president was chosen. He made a long speech, which argued that foreigners should be expelled. The alcalde presided over the debate. In the vote, “those for expulsion went to the left, those against, to the right. Almost everyone went to the right, to the disappointment of the others. So we stayed!” At the same time, someone wrote to San Francisco to ask for a tax collector. He came, and de Lambertie and other French miners paid the twenty dollars demanded for a year.51 The escalation and confrontation between the French and the Americans had three principal sources. The first was the acknowledged richness of the claims, mixed with the dramatic increase in numbers. “Some placers yielded gold abundantly: one, two, sometimes three pounds per day,” wrote Étienne Derbec in his account. “Such discoveries are so rare that the news quickly spread to the neighboring camps, where it excited the greed of the miners.52 The second source was the pride and prickly nature of each group. In reflecting on the aftermath of the clash a year earlier at Camp Murphy, Ernest de Massey wrote the following in June 1850: “We have also heard that at Camp Murphy, in the mines south of here, the French to the number of five or six hundred and the Americans, some twelve or fifteen hundred, have had trouble, declared war, and as a result of some disagreement are fighting. We understand that the conflict [was] threatening to assume the proportion of a civil war until the Governor of California and the French Consul, Mr. Dillon, stepped in and curbed the disorder. The bitter feeling, however, still runs high.” De Massey observed that such a confrontation might be expected, for “anyone who knows

French Argonauts and the Americans the quick temper, pride, and aggressiveness of the two nationalities as reflected in these particular individuals can without injustice readily imagine that both sides must have been equally guilty. This is what made the attempt at reconciliation progress so smoothly.”53 Finally, to these influences should be added the ethnocentric and proprietary attitudes of the Americans. De Lambertie characterized them as the egoism and arbitrary behavior of the North Americans. The government permitted foreigners to work in the mines for a tax, he wrote, “and a handful of egotistical men, because they feel like the largest number, have the audacity to discuss if they ought to run them out.”54 De Lambertie’s attitude was understandable and even correct in his assumption that a license should permit the foreign miner to work undisturbed. But he failed to adjust his views to a decade of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, a successful war against Mexico, and the establishment of the continental American empire. In an increasingly competitive mining world, with more miners and claims reduced in size, Americans would respond with what they regarded as justifiable national solidarity.55 The conflict at Mokelumne Hill flowed out of a series of ongoing confrontations marked by rich claims. To this basic cause should be added the confusion that surrounded the differences in languages that gave rise to endless rumor and misunderstanding. The triggering incident was a quarrel between the French and the Irish. In late April 1851, a former officer of the French marines (or so it was related) found and exploited a particularly rich claim at Les Fourcades (or Mokelumne Hill, as it was known to the Americans). A quarrel took place with Irish miners. French friends appeared, and the disagreement became violent. Shots were exchanged, and two Frenchmen and three Irish miners were wounded. A fourth Irishman was killed. The French retired to a nearby French camp, where they rallied all French miners to their cause and raised the tricolor. By the next day, they had as many as 250 men under arms. They talked in grandiose terms of retaking Les Fourcades, which they felt was theirs by right of discovery and usage. The Americans also called for reinforcements, and they soon had some 500–600 men under arms. The Americans called on the French to disarm and leave within twelve hours. The French were not disposed to retire; they felt themselves in the right and sufficiently numerous and well armed to make a stand. There may also have been a substantial degree of lingering resentment over the casual aggressive and bullying attitude of some Americans, so recently in evidence by the harassment of the Mexicans. That the Americans became so aggressively involved in a quarrel that began between French and Irish miners suggests that this was simply an excuse to settle longstanding disagreements, and the more so over mines acknowledged to be rich.



California The local French consular agent sent an emergency message to Consul Dillon in San Francisco, urging him to come with American officials to resolve the dispute. Dillon arrived on May 3, with Thomas Butler King, the president of the California Senate and a prominent political figure in California. Dillon and King assembled miners from both sides in a large tent and heard the accounts and complaints. Dillon talked to the alcalde, and the two sides agreed to move back and unload their weapons. It was also agreed that the French were to be restored to ownership of their claims. This was a crucial outcome for the French. That the Americans agreed to it suggests that the American claims to these placers were weak under the usual rules established for a mining district. Within a few hours of the agreement, Dillon and King received word of the great fire in San Francisco, and they immediately departed Mokelumne Hill for that city. The fight for Mokelumne Hill was over. It had involved the mobilization of hundreds of men on each side and an exchange of volleys of shots. In the end, there were few casualties, which probably made a compromise easier.56 The immediate accounts in the French press had a different tone. The first and most important of these was a letter from Étienne Derbec. He wrote: “A deplorable fight took place last week in the Mokelumne placer, at the Les Fourcades site, between some Frenchmen and some miners of other nations. The rich placers of that site had been for some time exclusively occupied by our countrymen who discovered it. Some placers yielded gold abundantly. . . . A good number of [miners] established themselves above and below the rich plateau, but in spite of their grand expectations, their digging produced little or nothing. Accordingly, they resolved to seize mining sites whose output was more abundant and installed themselves there early in the morning. Then the struggle began, each miner wanting to keep the precious earth which had already cost him so much labor. Our nationals were beaten with stones in their holes. At that moment, one of them, instead of going to demand justice from the alcalde, committed the grave impudence of using firearms. His adversary fell stone dead.” Derbec continued his account: “That mishap was exploited and gave the fight a character and proportions which it would not have had otherwise.” The loudest cries came from these vagabonds from every country who usurp the name of Americans, of which they are unworthy, then carried their dead man through the surrounding camps, crying vengeance and succeeded only too well in presenting this deed to the Americans as a quarrel between nations, whereas there was actually only a partial collision, and, as a matter of fact, the right was entirely on the side of the French, who were violently attacked and, so to speak, on their

French Argonauts and the Americans own territory. Deceived by these false reports, the Americans sent messengers in all directions. There followed an almost general taking up of arms, and five or six hundred of them came to assault our nationals with gunshot. The French then found themselves under the necessity of defending their lives, and replied with shot. But being so much less numerous (they were scarcely sixty), poorly armed, lacking munitions, and caught unprepared, they were forced to abandon the place and withdraw into an enclosed space (corral), where they fortified themselves.57

The situation had become very serious, Derbec continued, because in an armed confrontation, the French were far fewer in number. The town of Stockton was in an uproar, and all business there was suspended. At this crucial point, Derbec wrote, “the matter came to the attention of the French Consul at San Francisco. M. Dillon immediately sent an express messenger to the government at San Jose, asking them to join their efforts to his, in order to end this conflict, and he dispatched at the same time some messengers to the interior bearing some messages which stopped hostilities.” Dillon went to the site of the confrontation, where he mediated with great skill and dignity. Derbec concluded: “The prompt intervention of our consul in that unfortunate affair prevented great misfortune. His moderation, his distinguished reasoning, the esteem which he enjoys in San Francisco on all levels of society, combined with his profound knowledge of the language and customs of the country in which he resides, allow me to affirm that the honor of representing France could not be entrusted to more dignified hands. He was about to leave for the mines, the scene of the conflict, when he received news to the good effect which his messages had produced on the Americans; they had put an end to the quarrel.”58 The peaceful closure of an episode that began with such a threat of largescale violence should not obscure the collateral damages. Derbec noted in his account, among other things, that wandering bands looted and burned the tents of the French miners during their absence. The Americans also took over some of the rich French claims. An American miner from Maine, William Hanson, wrote to his wife of the war with the French. As a result of the siege, the French retired and left some rich claims. Hanson and others immediately seized them.59 The American response to the conflict at Mokelumne Hill was astonishingly low key. The Alta California offered an understated account. It described the “wave of anxiety from a brush,” a term that seemed to describe a serious confrontation but not one that threatened to become lethal. The editor later called it “a very great excitement.” Once again, the emphasis was on posturing



California rather than actual physical conflict.60 The French were more upset, probably in response to Derbec’s account. In reply to its publication, the Constitutionnel referred to “the deplorable confrontation.”61 Among the Americans and even the French involved, the issue of the confrontation at Mokelumne Hill was almost immediately forgotten with the news of the great fire in San Francisco.




The exception to the general discrimination of Americans against foreign miners, especially the non-English-speaking ones, was a military unit sent by the French government to the California goldfields. It was an unlikely story, with its origins on the barricades of the “June Days” of 1848, when the reinforced military units of the government overpowered the uprising on the Paris streets. In executing this triumph, the government called upon a wide range of volunteers who came forward to assist in suppressing the uprising. The presence of these volunteers was especially significant because of the failure of elements of the regular army to support the king and his government in the earlier demonstrations of February 1848. One of the most important of these volunteer units was the Garde Mobile. Then came the question of paying these units. The debate over the cost took place in an atmosphere of increasing concern about the veterans of the Garde Mobile wandering the byways of the countryside and the streets of Paris in search of employment. The government’s solution was to offer former members of the Garde Mobile a one-way passage to California. With surprising speed, given the layers of bureaucracy in executing any decision, representatives of the government chartered a ship and screened the applicants, and the vessel departed in the spring of 1850, arriving in San Francisco in November. Given the reports of Alexandre Achard of the strong presence of insurgents from the rebellious faubourgs of Paris in the mining camps, especially Camp Murphy, the prospect of the arrival of veterans of the force that had subdued the barricades was intriguing. Were the clashes of June 1848 to be resumed in the mining camps of California? The government and its



California representatives are silent on this point, although one can sense the palpable sigh of relief as the veterans leave the shores of France. In any case, on the arrival of the veterans, representatives of the French government were responsible for transporting them to the mines and supplying them with food, tools, arms, and tents. Whatever happened in the goldfields became the responsibility of some other government.1 The emigrants of this group embarked at Toulon on May 25, 1850, on the corvette Capricieuse for Valparaiso, where they were transferred to the corvette Sérieuse. Numbering some 131 men, they were then brought to San Francisco, where they landed November 23, 1850. This foreign military force disembarked with military precision, formed up on the pier, and marched into San Francisco in uniform. There, they received a warm welcome. The customs officials exempted them from all formalities, and the state gave them a dispensation from paying the tax imposed on all foreign miners. The mayor and the authorities in the town, accompanied by the French consul, paid a visit to the captain of the Sérieuse, who had prepared “a welcoming reception in their honor.”2 The experiences of the Garde Mobile on American soil represented a notable exception to the general hardships of French immigrants on arriving under the auspices of the California companies. This was the first expression of sympathy by the city to a foreign ship of war; this was also the first time that a ship anchored in the harbor had not lost a single member of the crew to desertion. Five days after the arrival of the Sérieuse, the first detachment of eighty-two members of the Garde Mobile left for Mokelumne Hill. They were soon followed by another, composed of twenty men. The rest remained in San Francisco. On the march to the goldfields they were led by a bugler. Throughout the march and on arrival, they presented a strong military appearance. American miners first suspected hostile intentions, read one account, but they were soon reassured.3 The first notices of the arrival of the Garde Mobile in the French press appeared in late January 1851. The Moniteur Universel reported the debarkation: “The San Francisco authorities suspended all the usual formalities surrounding the arrival of foreign ships.” It continued: “The sympathy of the authorities echoed in the whole population.” After brief ceremonies, they boarded the steamboat Stelztron for the trip to the mines. “The Americans who lined the streets . . . seem to have been remarkably accepting, even enthusiastic about the presence of armed men in uniform marching through San Francisco.” It is true, the contingent did not stay in town; it left immediately for the mines. And when they arrived in the mines, the collectors of the foreign miners’ tax suspended the law for the newly arrived veterans.4

The Last French Argonauts The most complete account appeared in the Journal du Havre. Its report began with the arrival of the Garde Mobile. These emigrants were transported to California at the expense of the government by their own wish “in order to increase the number of workers in California.” These passengers disembarked without difficulty, for the formalities of visitors and the verifications prescribed by the regulations had been suspended in their case. The article continued: “The authorities of the city have, on their part, shown a real sympathy for these new immigrants, a sympathy which has found an echo in the entire population.” As for the preparation, “Nothing has been lacking for the Garde Mobile, either during the long voyage from France or during their arrival. They are also strong witnesses to the paternal care of the French government.” In recognition of their official status, as reflected by the sponsorship of the French consul, “the privilege of a worker in the mines has followed the example of American citizens, without the payment of any fee. This very generous measure has greatly assisted the first attempts of this emigration.”5 A letter from San Francisco published in the Constitutionnel told the same story. The account began by describing the arrival of 150 veterans of the Garde Mobile on the Sérieuse. The letter continued: “It is a fine corps of men, armed and in uniform. Fifty of them have been conveyed to Stockton at the expense of the French government [and] have gone to the southern mines. Their manner is in every respect inoffensive and their excellent conduct has made a favorable impression, and, like all French immigrants, they have been well received. On arrival, their baggage was lost. A subscription was immediately opened for their benefit. The French consul has done excellent work. He has given them money. This is an assistance which greatly smoothes their way.” By contrast, most of the other French immigrants felt horribly poor and neglected: “They are rejected on all sides because they do not speak English.” Clearly the citizens of San Francisco were prepared to make an exception for the French-speaking Garde Mobile.6 The California gold rush and the actions and reactions of participants were generally predictable but sometimes surprising. One of the surprising dimensions was the generally warm response of the Americans at every level to the arrival of the Garde Mobile. Here was a foreign military force, uniformed and armed, landing on American soil, forming up, and marching off in military formation. Yet the Americans on the streets cheered them, and the newspaper editors spoke of them in the highest terms. Perhaps in the midst of a confused and chaotic series of events known as the gold rush, the arrival of a disciplined group (albeit under arms) was something to be celebrated. After all, this was no mob. Their parade under arms in San Francisco may well have appealed to the citizenry, who liked parades and military discipline.7



California Whatever the response of American officials, some individual citizens, especially those in the goldfields, did not share in the welcome. The future governor of Wisconsin, Lucius Fairchild, was one of those dissenters. In a letter home, he wrote, “There are eight thousand French in the mines who were sent here by the French government to work here, they were the Guard de Noble of Paris [sic]and for their services were sent here at the expense of the government.” As for himself and other miners, “the Americans did not like it and in Mokelumne Co. they have given them (the French) notice to leave or fight. They are all well armed and live and travel in military style having their officers Music Flags etc. with them.” Fairchild was outraged at the warm welcome offered by the local government. Whatever their military pretensions, in the mines these new arrivals were simply competitors. Their presence intensified the simmering tension between American and foreign miners.8 THE ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE LOTTERY SHIPS

For six months, the Lottery of the Golden Ingots transfixed the French nation. The drawing of the winning ticket represented the close of that dramatic series of events for most people. The lottery itself, however, was a prelude to a further connection between France and California in the form of the emigrants who would be transported to the new El Dorado at government expense. Over eighteen months, as noted, seventeen ships with their human cargoes made the tedious voyages from Le Havre to San Francisco. Like everything else connected with the gold rush, these debarkations, voyages, and arrivals had their own stories and variations. First among the arrangements came the issue of choosing a company to carry the “lottery emigrants” to California. On July 23, 1851, the transportation contract was awarded to the firm of Victor Marzieu and Company of Le Havre. The company had offered to transport the lingotiers (as the lottery emigrants were called) to San Francisco for the price of F 795 each. Under the terms of contract, the emigrants would be carried on French ships of at least four hundred tons, with a baggage allowance of one hundred pounds per passenger. They would be treated as second-class passengers. Among their benefits, they were guaranteed fresh bread, to replace the usual biscuits, and tinned rather than salted beef. Each ship would have a doctor.9 The arrangements for the transportation of the lottery emigrants specified a degree of control appropriate to an operation sponsored by the French government. Those selected for emigration were subdivided according to category. Families would go on one ship, military men on another, single men on a third.

The Last French Argonauts The passengers of each vessel were divided into companies of thirty-two, and each company was subdivided into four squads of eight. This structure provided a kind of chain of command for communication and control. Each ship included an expedition chief and four assistants. In case of trouble, the captain of the ship could put into nearby ports and hand troublemakers to the French consul or a French warship. On arrival in California, each emigrant would receive fifteen days of food; a mattress and blankets (used on the voyage); a linen shirt, pants, a workman’s smock, a sailor’s hat and coat, a pair of shoes; and a pick, shovel, ax, hammer, and chisel. As part of his support, the consul, M. Dillon, gave each lingotier money, originally twenty dollars, later reduced to three dollars as funds provided by the government dried up.10 The enterprise raised once again the issue of the government support of a venture to send French people to a non-French destination. The Courrier du Havre noted that for the considerable cost involved, the government should send the emigrants to a French place. Its sister journal, the Journal du Havre, observed that some Paris newspapers remained opposed to sending people at government expense to California to face uncertainty and hardship. The Journal crafted a lengthy reply to make the point that given the amount of gold moving from California through Chagres to New York, “it is evident that an active and robust worker possesses a great chance of finding an occupation that is lasting and well paid.” It is true, the Journal continued, that the French emigrants would undergo serious privations, and they would be forced to do hard manual labor. Even the nobility (“counts and marquises”) should know that one could acquire a fortune in this country only at the price of hard labor.11 Charivari harshly criticized what it described as this enforced emigration to California. The minister responsible for this philanthropic gesture of sending “these five thousand poor devils” twelve thousand miles from their country would be sending them to a place where they would confront hunger, for they lacked that most important ingredient for arriving in San Francisco: money. It seems clear that within a year, Charivari continued, the French government would be obliged to undertake a new lottery with a capital of F 6 million to raise the funds necessary to bring this five thousand home. The second lottery would be even more philanthropic than the first! Charivari returned to an often-cited corrective about California and its gold—namely, the difference between fantasy and reality. California had assumed a fantasy quality in France, buoyed by the flood of advertisements with the claims of the California companies. Charivari wanted to introduce the reality of a world of hard work and even penury. And why not? These were individuals chosen at random to fulfill the



California several purposes of the lottery. The categories for selection did not mention the resources of physical strength that would be useful (even necessary) in confronting the challenges of gold rush California.12 Another dimension of the issue soon appeared—namely, the suggestion that the transportation of five thousand French citizens might be viewed as an imperial thrust in the national interest. Argued the Mémorial Bordelais, “What should the French government do to establish its political and commercial preponderance there? Evidently, it should favor emigration by all means, to multiply the French element in California by the largest number possible. We have now to be thankful to the Minister of the Interior for his having understood this necessity.” The editorial continued: “Surrounded by a [French] government of a solicitude which accompanies the emigrants as far as California after their arrival, this measure cannot help but have fecund results.”13 By the time of the drawing, some prominent newspapers had accepted the California destination as offering advantages to the emigrants and an opportunity to enhance the French presence in this part of the world. As for the future prospects of California, French newspapers and commentators should stop discouraging French immigration on the belief that the California prosperity would vanish. Instead, “eh bien! We affirm that the real prosperity of California has not yet begun. She has still only the germs of future grandeur.”14 THE SELECTION OF THE LOTTERY EMIGRANTS

Whatever may have been the intent of the framers of the bill to authorize the lottery, the law itself specified that any French citizen could petition to be transported free to California. Many citizens did so. That the requests were addressed to the prefect of the Paris police suggested the degree of involvement on the part of officials charged with maintaining “order,” a key word in postrevolutionary France. In a letter dated Montmartre, October 9, 1850, M. Courtin made the case for his free transportation to California. He began with an extended account of his many and varied services to the French nation. He had volunteered in 1830 and served seven years in the ranks of the 26th regiment. Subsequently he had worked on the fortifications at Soissons, and in 1845, he was admitted with the rank of junior officer into the Bureau of Warehouses with a salary of F 900 a year. In 1848, he was named a sub-lieutenant in the National Guard. In this capacity, “I took an active part in the combat for the defense of order in the dreadful June days; the 23rd on the streets of the Faubourg Poissonnaire, on the

The Last French Argonauts hill of the Rue Richer, I dashed off several volleys of fire, at the head of my detachment mounted the first barricade, and we seized some insurgents. I took them as prisoners.” Courtin’s petition continued: “We advanced to the second barricade on the Rue Bellefond, tremendous because of its height and the number of defenders, [and] we experienced there a murderous battle which lasted more than a half hour, during which we lost 82 men more dead than wounded; it finally fell into our possession, and I took prisoner Captain Robert of the chapel Le Pennisel, who commanded there almost six hundred insurgents.”15 Courtin added that in spite of his heroic actions on the dangerous barricades, he received no advancement. Indeed, in spite of all his efforts, he found himself in a precarious financial position. At this point, he approached one of the California companies then so conspicuous by their presence, but he was deceived by that company. Unfortunately, he had already tendered his resignation in order to depart. The minister of war had given him F 200 to assist in his passage. So he now appealed to the prefect of the Paris police to accept him as one of the five thousand for free passage, given his skills in public works and geology. These talents would ensure him the means of existence in San Francisco. So ended the first appeal of M. Courtin. A second appeal was dated from the Mazas Prison, January 23, 1851. In this follow-up account, he referred to supporting letters that would be submitted on his behalf by a general and an architect testifying to his skills. He was confined in prison, he continued, “for an affair in which I was charged with having struck my wife in a fit of jealousy.”16 Other petitions for passage under the lottery act were briefer. M. St. Louvent described his circumstances in stark terms: “Without fortune and without employment, I beg you to grant for me and my wife a free passage to California. And I agree to place myself, without any restriction, under the discipline of the ship which transports me as well as under the orders of the head of the expedition in charge of directing the convoy of emigrants on board.”17 M. Noquez sought free passage in order that he might find “the means of existence.” M. Arsène Buisson, junior officer in the 2ème régiment de Marine, living in Paris, “without employment and without fortune,” pleaded for a free passage to California.18 Various officials wrote on behalf of petitioners. M. Michelin asked special consideration in the case of a M. Carraguet and his wife, and he urged that Madame Carraguet be added to the next convoy for California. Carraguet, he wrote, “was a brave man” who had served as a junior officer in the Zephir corps in Algeria. After his return to France, Carraguet had been employed as an agent



California by the central bureau of police in Marseille. For the past five months, he had been without work. He asked to have this recommendation added to his previous four requests for the same destination. Michelin continued: as Carraguet was “active and intelligent, I beg that he be named chief of the escort.”19 Several letters of recommendation passed through M. Henrieq. One request to him asked for special consideration for Mme. D’Eu, “my fellow countrywoman, and the wife of one of my formers comrades in arms, who goes to rejoin her husband in California.” De Montort from the Ministry of the Interior wrote to the prefect “to recommend in a special manner Monsieur the Count de la Villatelle, “who has lost all his fortune and is today in the greatest misery. He would like to depart for California with a free passage, having no other resources.”20 Léon Faucher, the minister of the interior, used his influence on behalf of a different kind of emigrant group. A wide range of appeals crossed his desk. Among them, the Papal Nuncio had written to ask if it would be possible for the bishop of Vancouver and his party to travel to North America on one of the lottery ships with a free passage under funds provided by the Lottery of the Gold Ingots. “M. Demers, the Bishop of Vancouver, is French in origin, as is a medical doctor who is with him, both born in French Canada. His party is composed of six missionaries; three are French, two are Belgian, and the sixth a Hollander, and finally two lay people, who are French. This is a total of ten, the prelate included.” The prelate raised a legal question. Could funds from the Lottery of the Golden Ingots be used for a destination different from that for which the lottery had been established and authorized? But might it be possible to offer free transportation to California for the Vancouver mission if the shipowner used the services of the six priests on the voyage and the doctor also offered his professional services on the voyage? Minister Faucher asked the prefect of police to examine this request and report the results of his inquiries to him as soon as possible.21 There were more personal requests. One petitioner pressed the case of a family with five members. Living on the Rue Bourbon Villeneuve, the family included M. Chartray, 39, an unemployed servant; Mme. Chartray, his wife, 32, a milliner; two children, Denis Marie Louisa, 8, and Denis Henri Raoul, 9; and M. Viaud Diogene, hairdresser, 21, a cousin of Mme. Chartrey. What gave the case an added force was that Mme. Chartray’s father, M. Rouchard, had been in California for three years, and at his invitation, the family wished to be reunited. And their passage should be paid by the funds of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots.22

The Last French Argonauts The petitions and the lists of emigrants focused on individuals and families, accompanied by whatever supporting documents the petitioner could generate. On one level, this procedure involved a thousand personal decisions. For those accepted, the decision had a permanent quality to it. The individual or family was to embark on a voyage almost halfway around the world on a one-way passage. The chances of returning were small. On the next level, the bureaucratic challenges were daunting. This was a government-sponsored emigration. It would eventually involve some 4,100 French people, including men, women, and children. The paperwork was challenging, as evidenced by the boxes of documents that survive. Careful lists had to be made of the emigrants, ship by ship. The information included their residence, place of birth, occupation, age, and employment. Then came the task of moving these dispersed individuals and families in the proper order to the port of Le Havre and staging them for an ocean voyage of some five months. Once arrived in the port city, there were other details. Baggage had to be labeled and sorted. The prospective emigrants then had to read the rules of the ship governing their passage, and each had to affix a signature that testified to the acceptance of these rules. The procedures specified, “The rules are established to maintain order, cleanliness, and a regularity of service. Each Passenger, after reading the rules, commits himself tacitly to conform to these point by point.” The rations, part of the bid contract, were described in detail. The foodstuffs that were specified included biscuits or fresh bread, rum or Tafia, table wine, coffee, sugar, salt beef, salt bacon, dried vegetables, rice, and cheese.23 How might we characterize the selection process? Petitions aside, the prefect of police was the dominant figure. The political dimension was a strong influence. Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant wrote that the Lottery of the Golden Ingots “had for its principal purpose to purge French political life of a great number of frères et amis who were an embarrassment when they were not a danger.”24 Apparently the need to send a number of undesirables, criminal and political, was a widely understood dimension of the process. Another impression persists—namely, that, gold and sunlight aside, one of the great attractions of California was its distance. If the urge or opportunity to return varied by distance, those sent to California were much less likely to reappear in France than those conveyed to Algeria.25 Saint-Amant quoted with approval from the Moniteur Universel: “The French emigration was composed of strongly heterogeneous elements. There were, among the passengers on the lottery ships, some good and brave workers, some dignified and honest tradesmen; there was also a notable contingent of highly skilled drunkards and some individuals habituated to count above all on



California Providence [rather] than on their arms to provide their daily subsistence. The real workers started out well, persevering and succeeding. The ex-orators from the clubs of Paris, the drunks and idlers, faithful to their old instincts, hold forth if they succeed in finding an audience.” By contrast, Saint-Amant characterized the French population in San Francisco in the most favorable terms: “an intelligent French bourgeoisie, moral, and which continues to develop; some strong houses of French banks and consignment operations, as well as a large number of small workshops equally French.” He continued: “There does not exist any point in the outside world which contains at the same time a French population as rich and respected, and a French population also garish and slovenly as in San Francisco.”26 The arrival of the lingotiers would introduce a new element into the French population. The lists in the ship’s manifests suggest a broad base of French working-class trades. Among those listed on the first ship, for example, were seamstress, coffeehouse keeper, baker, linen maid, sailor, carpenter, cook, and washerwoman. Among the many occupations, the most common were tailors, farmers, bakers, and domestics. It is informative that the letters of recommendation and the correspondence among officials did not refer to occupations. Apparently they were a minor consideration. THE VOYAGES OF THE LOTTERY SHIPS

The emigrants of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots fell into three broad groups: first, elements of the Garde Mobile and some members of the Garde Républicaine; second, criminals, dissidents, and political prisoners of various kinds; finally, a group chosen for their poverty, their connections, and their petitions, more along the lines of the original purpose of the lottery than the first two categories. Officials grouped the ships’ passengers under these same headings. Presumably the organizing principle was not to mix the military emigrants with families. Issues of behavior and accommodation would be central here. The first of the so-called lottery ships, the Malouin, departed from Le Havre on October 11, 1851. It was a convoy of single men. The voyage was long—more than seven months—often with bad weather. In many respects, the passage was a chaotic one. This condition probably reflected both the character of the emigrants and the trial-and-error nature of the exercise. Certainly this first departure was a test case in planning and administrative arrangements. The officers of the ship had great difficulty in maintaining order. As a result, the captain disembarked sixty-one men in Rio on charges of conspiring against him and his authority. Among those detained were eight squad chiefs or subchiefs.27

The Last French Argonauts In a letter from Rio de Janeiro addressed to the minister, M. de Lisle, a diplomat from the embassy, described the chaos on the ship. The vessel’s 146 passengers, he began, “form the first convoy of the emigrants of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots.” In view of the “undiscipline of the passengers,” the captain thought it “imprudent” to continue the voyage. Indeed, he believed there had been a plot against the security of the ship. De Lisle moved “with haste to consult with the commander of the brig Chasseur, which by coincidence was in the harbor.” They devised a series of measures to “restore tranquility” on board the Malouin. The principal leaders of the uprisings were disembarked and confined on the Chasseur. De Lisle was convinced that this action had been necessary to prevent “an imminent collision,” and he emphasized the serious nature of these encounters, which led him to act “so rigorously.”28 By contrast, the voyage of the second vessel, the Alphonse-Nicolas Cézard, was a great success. Indeed, it was a model of planning and execution. The voyage was rapid (122 days), and the captain, M. Le Bozek, turned out to be an ideal leader for such a challenging task. He combined the necessary skills of an excellent ship’s commander with those of a shrewd negotiator between the sometimes turbulent passengers and the ship’s authority. He solved the issue of clandestine alcohol on the voyage (which led to endless behavior problems) by the simple expedient of offering to sober passengers on landing in San Francisco a monetary sum equal to what they would have received for selling their daily alcohol ration. This policy did not end the periodic bouts of drunkenness on the voyage, but it certainly reduced them. His technical skills on handling his ship were also of the highest order. Although departing Le Havre two weeks after the first ship, the Cézard arrived in San Francisco two months earlier. His experiences—he also commanded the same vessel for the seventeenth and last voyage of the lottery ships—confirm the crucial role played by the ship’s captain in the transportation of the lingotiers.29 During the voyages of the seventeen ships, each of which lasted from approximately five to seven months, significant health dangers appeared. Seasickness was universal, and there were also cases of dysentery. An outbreak of yellow fever on two ships killed forty-one passengers. The passengers and their clothing were often described as dirty. Drunkenness was a serious problem. Throughout a voyage, there was much drinking and a number of recorded drunken brawls. Dillon wrote that the disturbances associated with the arriving lingotiers were most often related to drunkenness.30 There was also often throughout the voyages a continuing tension and sometimes conflict between the officers and men of the military organizations and



California the ship’s command. At sea, the authority of the ship’s captain was absolute. At the same time, the emigrants accustomed to a military command structure deferred to their own leaders and were often reluctant to take directions from naval officers. This division was enhanced by the difficult conditions of a long sea voyage, mixed with bad weather, boredom, and alcohol. The common quality among this large group of French emigrants was poverty. Even the veterans of the military forces were reduced in circumstances. This condition explains their willingness to accept the government’s offer to transport them halfway around the world. Perhaps in the end, it was the continuing flow of publicity about California and gold that made the choice California rather than a French possession closer to home. Given the endless opportunities associated with the new El Dorado, who could refuse free passage? The answer was not four thousand people desperate for new beginnings for a variety of reasons. Beyond their fragile economic condition lay other characteristics. Among the lottery emigrants, seven in eight were men. Whether diverted from the customary lifecycle by the collapse of the rural economy in the 1840s, the economic upheavals associated with the revolution of February 1848, or the changing fortunes of a military career (in the case of the veterans), they found themselves agreeable to the government’s offer of a free passage to the now accepted golden land of California. There were some men and women condemned before 1848 for crimes against property. Also there were those incarcerated for more serious crimes: abandoning children, producing counterfeit money, carrying illegal arms, and fraud of various kinds.31 The secretary general of the Prefecture of Police wrote to Patrice Dillon, the French consul, to defend the principle and operation of the enterprise. He observed: “We have felt that this immigration would only be useful and moral if it included families.” He noted that the emigrants were “carefully chosen volunteers.” It was true, he continued, that many were former members of the Garde Mobile. Indeed, family groups and women were in a distinct minority. And among the selected emigrants were some political suspects, criminals, and common thugs. A leader of the fifth ship wrote it was common knowledge that “this expedition included dangerous men that the police wanted to get rid of.”32 EUSTACHE AND HENRI MATHET AND THE VOYAGE OF THE MAGELLAN

In 1850, driven by the same economic misery that afflicted so many of those connected with the hemp industry, Eustache Mathet, his wife, Catherine, and his son, Henri, left Fresnay and journeyed to Paris, where he hoped to find

The Last French Argonauts employment. Like so many others who made the same pilgrimage with the same hope, he failed, wandering the streets of Paris unemployed. On July 30, 1851, after a series of illnesses, Catherine died, leaving him a widower. Now propelled by poverty and the endless public celebration of the fabulous gold discoveries in North America (the newspapers called it “la ruée vers l’or californien”), he petitioned for free passage to the new El Dorado under the auspices of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. His request approved, he made plans to depart. He would be accompanied by his son, Henri, age sixteen. The two joined four thousand others who hoped for a reversal of their blighted economic circumstances. In this respect the lottery was perhaps the final manifestation of the hopes, expectations, and optimism created by the revolution of 1848, with its promises of reform and expanded opportunities, few of which had come to pass.33 Eustache wrote to his older brother and sister of their decision. They would go to San Francisco free (aux frais) under the sponsorship of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. His long sojourn in Paris had come to nothing, and he no longer had any hope of success there. In preparation for their departure, he and Henri had sold everything in the household except clothes and bedding. The sixtyfour francs they received would provide them with a nest egg on landing in San Francisco. At the very least, they hoped to have sufficient good fortune in California to pay their debts and find themselves in a better position than they presently enjoyed. Unfortunately, while they waited for their ship, they had to expend a portion of their scarce capital to eat. If the delay continued much longer, he wrote, they would arrive in San Francisco without a cent. Like so many others, Eustache was both excited and unnerved by the prospect of the long voyage and the El Dorado at its end: “Henri and I depart in a state of wonder.” He closed, “We embrace you with all our hearts, and I am always your devoted brother.”34 At the same time, Henri wrote of their plans to his aunt and uncle in Fresnay. In six or seven days, they would leave for San Francisco, the principal city in California. The voyage would last as much as six months. Whatever the hardships at sea and the uncertainties on landing, they needed to try something different to raise their prospects. The die was cast: “In the end, for us, it’s victory or death.” They took heart from “two good recommendations,” and “with such letters, it was not possible that they would not succeed.” One was from a teacher, the second from a former army captain connected with their uncle Alexandre. Henri had called on Madame la Contesse de Beaumont, who offered advice but no more substantive support. He asked his uncle and aunt to write to him in Le Havre. He closed, “Your ever devoted nephew.”35



California On July 23, 1852, Eustache and Henri joined some three hundred other single emigrants under the lingotier banner on the quay in Le Havre. From all parts of France and representing a wide range of occupations, they were united in their desire to change their lives for the better, to put behind them the penury and hardships of the past, to find new lives and hopes in the land of promise, also known as California. On the quay, they gathered with their meager baggage, and standing next to them were relatives who had come to see them off on what must have seemed like a voyage to the end of the world. Among the contrasts in the waiting line, a grandfather of fifty-five with a gray beard and next to him, his grandson, age eight. Both were part of the lingotier migration.36 The official Contrôle Nominatif began the bureaucratic routine of identifying this group of single men and preparing their embarkation. There were 267 single men in Mathet’s group. They were numbered and listed with family name, first name, place of birth, and occupation.37 The vessel Magellan had tied up at the quay, just arrived from the naval yards at Bordeaux. As soon as they boarded the vessel, the lingotiers found themselves subject to the rules of the ship and its captain. Conditions were spartan; the promised beds were really hammocks. The rules of the ship were spelled out in detail. The passengers would rise at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 10 p.m. The organizing principle, as noted above, would be the group of thirty-two, subdivided into squads of eight. Designated leaders would apportion duties on a rotating basis. The menu was described in these terms: breakfast was coffee and a ration of brandy; lunch was soup, a serving of meat or fish on Friday; dinner included wine and biscuits at discretion. The bread ration would be distributed three times a week.38 Eustache and Henri had embarked on a voyage that would last more than five months. As for others since the first ship had headed from a French port to San Francisco, boredom loomed large. The monotony of shipboard life was relieved by the sightings of other ships and the varied bird and aquatic life. The lingotiers gambled: for money; for clothes; for a ration of coffee, wine, brandy, or bread. Some organized lotteries. A few of the educated created courses for the interested. Those who made the voyage agreed, in retrospect, that the climate conditions (over which no one had control) defined both the progress of the ship and the comfort of the passengers.39 After 111 days at sea, the lookout sighted the port of Valparaiso. A flood of local officials descended on the ship: health officers, customs officials, naval officers with friendly salutes, and finally, a swarm of merchants selling things. After the usual bureaucratic delay, the Magellan tied up at the quay, and the next day, the crew and the lingotiers went ashore. After almost four months at

The Last French Argonauts sea, the emigrants to the land of gold were ecstatic to be on land and dazzled by the city of Valparaiso. There were women everywhere on the streets, elegant, gracious, and friendly. They fascinated the 267 chaste single men after four months at sea. For all of Valparaiso’s bright sunlight and stylish ladies, a military presence dominated what seemed like a colonial town in its segregated neighborhoods, ruled by brutal force, widespread prostitution, and an exploitation of the poor. Valparaiso was only a port of call, and the Magellan and its human cargo of single men departed after three days.40 Heading north, the Magellan was on the last leg of its long voyage. Excitement rose as San Francisco drew closer. The passage across the Tropic of Cancer brought insufferable heat and tropical rains. Christmas was celebrated with a double ration of wine and meat stew. On January 1, 1853, a passenger died. The captain presided over a brief ceremony and burial at sea. After 170 days en route, the Magellan entered San Francisco harbor, made its way among the hundreds of ships, and cast anchor. Soon thereafter, Eustache and Henri disembarked into the frantic world of gold rush California.41 THE DEBARKATION OF THE LINGOTIERS

The first of the seventeen lottery ships arrived in San Francisco on February 28, 1852; the last, fifteen months later, on May 15, 1853. When the news of the proposed arrival of a large number of immigrants sponsored by the French government reached the Committee of Vigilance in San Francisco, the committee sent a delegation to the French consulate to make inquiries. The consul, Patrice Dillon, wrote a letter to the committee stating that the French government was sponsoring the emigration of some 4,000–5,000 laborers. Dillon assured the committee that there were no criminals among the prospective immigrants. He affirmed “that the French government would not send nor sanction the emigration of felons or convicted persons, and that government agents had examined each prospective emigrant as to character before embarkation.” Dillon agreed to register and examine the papers of each emigrant arriving in California. The Committee of Vigilance was satisfied. The Alta California pronounced the future arrivals “all respectable.”42 Upon the landing of the emigrants in San Francisco, the focus of responsibility shifted from the ships’ commanders to the French consul. As noted in chapter 9, some 4,016 emigrants left Paris under the auspices of the lottery. That 3,293 landed in San Francisco showed that many had disembarked at intermediate stops. The large number also indicated the dimensions of Dillon’s charge. A lottery ship arrived every month between February 1852 and March 1853.



California Dillon’s labors extended through an annual mining cycle and well into the following year. He had endless challenges with the arrival of the emigrants. “There were many French companies connected with the California gold rush, but it [the group of lingotiers] was by far the most sizable; it had official patronage, and was the only company among them that succeeded in actually landing large numbers of emigrants on the shores of California.” Dillon worked ceaselessly on their behalf, perhaps because of their official status.43 The new arrivals lacked food and lodging. To remedy the situation, Dillon provided short-term assistance for many and chartered a ship to move a substantial number to the mines in the interior. He got the French merchants to form the French Benevolence Society to assist the needy in moving to the Feather and Yuba Rivers diggings and to Marysville. At Dillon’s direction, his representative H. Arnard twice visited the French mining camps and reported his findings to Dillon. He asked for the establishment of a French vice-consul in Marysville with the observation, “God was too high and Dillon was too far away.”44 French miners needed official assistance closer than San Francisco. The largest group of lottery emigrants arrived between November 1852 and March 1853. It was the rainy season. San Francisco was a sea of mud. It was no easy task for Dillon to find housing for some two hundred new arrivals every month. Caught between the high expectations and continuous demands of the arrivals and the harsh conditions on the ground, Dillon was further distressed by the end of the subsidies (however modest) provided by the French government to assist the new arrivals. Dillon sought assistance across the range of his wide acquaintances, including periodic notices in the Alta California. These called the attention of the public to the new French emigrants and touted their skills as gardeners, farmworkers, wine growers, and in the many professions.45 These new emigrants who went to the goldfields faced great difficulties, both external and internal. When they landed, they were often suffering from disease, drunkenness, or injuries from fighting among themselves. Ashore, they sometimes faced harsh weather, and there were food shortages in the winter rainy season. In the summer of 1852, three men died of heat exhaustion on the way to the mines. Once arrived at the mining sites, they found the best claims were already taken. By the mining season of 1852, the placers were crowded. Friction was inevitable, increased by the high expectations of those who had traveled so far to reach them. In assessing the lottery emigrants and their experiences, Dillon sought a balance. “Although these immigrants are hardly the elite, I am convinced they will eventually do well for themselves and for the country,” he wrote.

The Last French Argonauts “At the mines, the French from the Lottery ships were not long in honorably emulating and imitating the tireless perseverance of the Americans working beside them. Those who did not adjust to life in the mines found a thousand occupations in the cities.” He added, “Although their sobriety left something to be desired, especially at the beginning, it is impossible not to recognize the moral change that has taken place in them.” The remarkable part of this observation was the recognition that this was a large and varied group that needed some sort of moral reformation. Presumably the sunshine and clear air of California, mixed with the hard labor of the placers, had performed the necessary transformation.46 Daniel Lévy’s analysis, written in 1884, concluded that the “Society of the Golden Ingot” was by far the most important of the many schemes to transport French people to California. Aside from the number who went to the mines with their passage paid, Lévy noted that a certain number found employment in San Francisco as servants, at one hundred dollars a month, and in the valleys as farm laborers at four dollars a day. A small number of these sponsored emigrants were troublesome, and they inspired uneasiness on the part of the American authorities. Count Raousset-Boulbon later recruited elements of this group for his filibustering expedition to Sonora.47 Lévy cited a document from one of the lottery immigrants. He wrote that the conventional wisdom characterized the lottery immigrants as a group of criminals or revolutionaries. In truth, the writer continued, these French people were from everywhere and represented a wide panoply of occupations; in a word, all had an occupation or a profession. Dillon went with them to Marysville, and he paid for lodging and food on the way. They encountered a generous hotelier, who welcomed them with “take the bottle and help yourself.” The lingotiers slept outside. Their host prepared a nice morning meal. The account also praised the generosity of a Canadian storekeeper named Paradis, who gave them credit. He was “a kind man.” On the way to their destination, the emigrants found it necessary to cross a river. As they lacked money to pay their passage on the ferry, they left some of their tools with the boatman.48 The exotic nature of the lottery emigration, driven by the national mania occasioned by the lottery and the heavily publicized news surrounding the final drawing, obscured the importance and practical results of this movement of human cargo from France to California. Some 3,300 people landed in San Francisco over a fifteen-month period, moved by a national lottery into the maelstrom of gold rush California. They arrived at a time when the results for individuals in the goldfields were already in decline. The pressure of numbers continued to rise in the face of emigration from the eastern United States,



California China, Mexico, and elsewhere around the world. That the lingotiers were supported and assisted by the French consul was a tribute to a sense of continuing responsibility by the French government. Whatever succor they received was surely greater than that given to associate workers by the failed California companies. The arrival of the lingotiers wrote a dramatic coda to the French emigration that had begun in the fall of 1849.

Part Five


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THE FRENCH ARGONAUTS RETURN TO FRANCE The Close of the California Adventure

The large numbers of French Argonauts who came to California in response to the gold discoveries reflected varied groups—members of several California companies and local companies; independent voyagers; veterans of the Garde Mobile; and lingotiers. Few of these remained in California. Indeed, after a wide range of experiences and mixed success and failure, most of them returned to France. From the moment of landing in San Francisco—whether transported by one of the California companies or independently—French gold seekers exhibited many variations in their responses to California and the gold camps. Some returned to France as soon as they could amass the resources for the trip. Others tried the placers and remained there for one or more seasons. A third group worked in the placers and then left the mining sites and migrated into the camps, towns, and city of San Francisco, sometimes in response to the seasonal closing of the mines, sometimes in response to discouragement and fatigue, sometimes in response to a perceived greater economic opportunity. Whatever the cycle of return to France, early or late, the returning French Argonauts were not greeted by the cheering crowds on the docks that had sent them on their way. A modest celebration in the family, the village, or the Paris neighborhood sufficed. In the experience in and correspondence from California, most first-person accounts pay little attention to the return. Arsène Grosjean, who wrote at length about his voyage to California and his adventures in the mining camps with his various partners and the donkey Trompette, concluded his account with a single brief paragraph: “The first of August 1851 I embarked on board ‘Le Moise’ going to Peru. I visited Peru and Chili. I landed in France the 10th of October 1851.” Thus ended an adventure



France in gold rush California that spanned eighteen months, the last four months in one paragraph.1 The stories of returning to France reflected the wide variety of participants and their experiences. There was the case of an entrepreneur with a fortune of F 100,000 who went to California to increase his fortune tenfold. According to his own account, he survived astonishing prices, mining with “brigands and convicts, pistols and swords, [and] savage Indians,” along with other “obstacles of nature and the vices of civilization,” to return with his grandiose plans unsatisfied. “If I had carried cargoes of liquors and tools, I would have brought back many hundreds of thousands of francs.” Instead, he invested F 100,000 in mining, and he returned a little less rich than when he departed, with his health damaged by several bouts of illness.2 The friends from the village of Bruley had their own stories of their final months in the great California adventure. These final months began with two new arrivals, Clément and Louis Bouvée, who came some five months after the first wave. A third newcomer, Firmin Gillet, almost immediately drowned in a mountain stream. Jean Migot wrote of the water danger that “one . . . needed to be a good sailor in order not to be pulled under by the current of the swift streams.” On the river named North Fork, on which they worked, he continued, four countrymen from the department of Meurthe drowned in the same small boat. Five weeks later, some Americans recovered Gillert’s body. Migot wrote: “We rendered him last duties due a friend and compatriot.” He summarized the year with reference to the high prices of food and the increasing skepticism of the “advantages so much praised of a fairy El Dorado.”3 As 1852 opened, Migot wrote a letter summarizing his ten months in California. He concluded his impressions and his experiences with these words: “I am very pleased with California, for it is the best country in the world. I do not know when I will return, perhaps in a year, perhaps ten years. As long as I find gold, I am well pleased. I do not hope to make a fortune, but I hope, in some time, to have enough to live comfortably in France on my rents.” He was less enthusiastic about the prospects of new emigrants. “I would not encourage anyone to come to California, for I assume that those who make nothing here are more numerous than those who make something.”4 Jean Migot’s last letter was dated February 16, 1852. He had left the mines. Perhaps the work was too hard; perhaps also he wished to turn to good account the money that he had already made. He and his compatriot Justin Demange became “ranchers” in Miraposa. That is, they had a farm in a California valley, including a dwelling house and expansive meadows for grazing. On his death the next year, he had an estate estimated at $3,000–4,000.5

The French Argonauts Return to France The final accounting for the friends from Bruley showed a sobering net result. Among the dozen emigrants who made the voyage from Bruley, six found only misery and death in California. Three had a modest success; three others returned to the village with only “lost illusions.” As it turned out, the issue of profit and loss was not the only quality of the California adventure. The participants always had a special, honored place in the history of the village: “They always held, in the eyes of the younger generations, a certain prestige for having dared to undertake the dangerous expedition.”6 The same harsh results accompanied other Lorrainers who came to gold rush California. The year 1851 produced a series of “personal disasters.” A letter from Jules Munier-Pugin to his nephew Auguste Mathieu, student at the Lycée de Nancy, conveyed news of the death of “our poor Édouard.” The letter continued: “He succumbed to privations, to exhaustion far from France, far from one’s family. His long silence is now fully explained. One no longer knows what has become of Victor. Perhaps he is also dead. My God, spare our family this new disaster!” A later letter confirmed that Victor had been present at Édouard’s death, dug his grave, and buried him in the desert.7 In a letter from Nancy, Auguste Mathieu wrote to his brother Gabriel: “Uncle Victor has returned. He has spent a day in Nancy. He has come there to melt down his gold and then [go] to Paris in order to assay and sell it.” He had a little more than four hundred grams, which, refined, made F 12,000. “Gadel has returned with him, but he is gravely ill with the fever which has not left him since Panama.” He concluded: “Uncle Victor and he have been held to ransom on the voyage by the ship captains, who regard the Californians as mines to exploit. They had to pay 1,000 francs for their passage, but the ship, badly managed, ran aground, and they had to take another for a new sum of 600 francs.” Auguste Mathieu wrote a final letter from Nancy to Gabriel. Victor was dead. He never recovered from Édouard’s death, for which he thought himself partly responsible, for he was the one who decided to go to America. During his absence, his parents, who hoped to become comfortable on his return, were distressed by heavy setbacks. He himself, far from being able to return to France to enjoy a fortune amassed with difficulty, was forced “to work with his hands.” His conclusion spoke of the steep price paid by one French family for the California expedition: “The sad adventure ended in the death of two gold seekers and the ruin of three.”8 Léopold Ansart du Fiesnet returned to France in 1854. He had been gone almost four years. He met with his brother Edmond in Edmond’s residence at 45, Rue Bonaparte in Paris. The family account called it “the return of the prodigal child.” Léopold apparently returned with no fortune. He and his brother must have talked long into the night about his adventures in California,



France and sometime surely there intruded the subject of an accounting. Throughout Léopold’s stay in California, Edmond had underwritten a number of requests for money. Many of these seemed to be in pursuit of ambitious but quixotic plans that returned few of the expected dividends. The brothers’ financial relationship was complicated by the death of both parents, freeing a portion of the family estate for Léopold’s requests. The family was undergoing a period of financial strain, occasioned by the loss of F 100,000 on the stock exchange. Lands, a house, and even furniture had to be sold to make good the losses. In October 1857, Léopold left Normandy for Poitou, where his grandparents had an important agricultural holding. His grandfather made him a grant, “like California,” and the new pioneer constructed a chalet. He resisted the named “California” and instead called his new home “Ansart.”9 In finding a time when the departures represented a decline of the French presence in California, we might consider the spring of 1853. This time marks the arrival of the last of the lingotiers. At about this time, the number of departing French Argonauts rose, and in parallel, the number of arrivals from France began to fall. The year 1854 marked a flood of departures. To the usual hazards of violence; campaigns to exterminate Indian peoples; and discrimination against Mexicans, South Americans, and Chinese should be added continuing hardships (and occasional discrimination) in the mines. Large numbers of French now departed. Most returned to France, but a sizable contingent moved to French communities elsewhere in California, especially San Jose and Los Angeles, or to the nations of South America. To these destinations should be added the final great filibustering expeditions of French origin and leadership headed into Mexico.10 THE ARGONAUTS RETURN TO A DIFFERENT FRANCE

The returning French Argonauts found a France, if not new, surely different. The years 1850 and 1851 brought great changes to the French nation, gradually at first and with an abrupt rush at the close of 1851. Over these two years, the strength and vitality of the republic had gradually eroded. That it did so was a combination of internal divisions; errors in judgment; and the emergence of a spirited, effective, and well-financed opposition. The party of “order” capitalized on the divisions within the republicans and the continuing economic hardships, especially in the countryside and small villages. The benchmarks of these changes were the first elections of the spring of 1848, which brought to the National Assembly an enlarged presence of the parties of “order” and a reduced republican representation (if more radical in outlook); the June Days with

The French Argonauts Return to France violence, deaths, and prisoners that were tried in the courts over the next six months; the promulgation of the constitution in the autumn, which preserved the expansion of the electorate; and the presidential election of December 10, in which the expanded franchise elected Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. The new president of the republic soon embarked on a series of national tours to enhance his public image. He also moved to create an air of stability that would assist in the revival of the economy. In these efforts, he was assisted by the gradual recovery of the agricultural sector in the form of better harvests and the continuing expansion of the railroad system. In politics, he received an unexpected gift in the form of the ill-advised takeover of the National Assembly by demonstrators in June 1849. President Louis Napoléon Bonaparte transformed this spontaneous exercise into a domestic rebellion, and in response, leading republicans (notably Alexandre Ledru-Rollin) fled into exile and press censorship tightened. Next, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte embarked on a long campaign to force the National Assembly to modify the constitution to permit him to run for president again. He failed. His proposed change received a majority but not the necessary two-thirds. His response was a carefully planned and brilliantly executed coup d’état in December 1851. In the aftermath of his seizure of power, opposition members in the National Assembly were arrested or driven into exile. Indeed, one of the themes of the next twenty years was the ongoing campaign to amnesty these exiled individuals and permit them to return to France. A popular referendum ratified Bonaparte’s seizure of power. Those in favor of the plebiscite that granted him extraordinary powers: 7,437,107 (92 percent); those against: 645,211 (8 percent).11 Like the results of his first election, it was another overwhelming mandate. At the same time all of these changes swirled across the French landscape, it is useful to remember that France remained a rural nation, close to the land, the vitality of its life played out in hundreds of small villages. Here, the cycles of life continued very much as they had been for centuries. The differences were reflected in the economic recovery of agriculture, the decline of epidemics (especially cholera), and accordingly a loss of interest in emigration. When French workers in the countryside contemplated leaving their homes in search of economic advantage, they thought of emigration to the cities. In its production of goods, France remained a nation of small workshops and craftsmen, as opposed to large-scale mass-produced goods. Finally, when we consider political changes, we should bear in mind that for the largest proportion of French families, life went on as it had for generations, except that life for most was better than it had been the previous decade.



France The coup of December 1851 and the subsequent popular referendum of January 1852 coincided with important changes in the nature of the French presence in California. The long-deferred drawing in the famous Lottery of the Golden Ingots took place in November 1851, and this final explosion of public interest was followed by the regular departure of the ships with the lottery emigrants. The new French presence in California would be represented by the lingotiers. The departure of the French Argonauts from California accelerated with the close of the mining season in November 1852. This was a moment when autumn rains began and the miners came down from the mountains, and it was a time when many Argonauts made the decision to return home. The messages from the mining season of 1852 were harsh. The mines were increasingly competitive. Foreign miners were more and more unwelcome. Mining was the hardest kind of physical labor with increasingly marginal returns. Injury and illness remained constant companions in mining camps and the smaller mining companies. THE FRENCH ARGONAUTS WHO STAYED

A sizable group of French people stayed in California. They fell into two groups. The first and most readily identifiable were the new lingotier immigrants. They were generally poor, disoriented, and heavily dependent on the assistance of the consul, M. Dillon. Most of them gradually came to terms with the challenges of California, alternately assisted and pressed by Dillon. He was sympathetic to their plight and, at the same time, anxious to wean them from dependence on him and the government he represented.12 Eustache and Henri Mathet, two among the more than 3,200 lingotiers, stayed. They shared common experiences with many who came under the auspices of the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. On first landing, like other poor arrivals, they lived in tents. When they had scraped together a nest egg, they went to the mines. In an early letter to their mother and grandmother, they described their lives and enumerated the necessary possessions of the mining camps: a dog and two guns. Over their many years in California, they worked at a wide range of occupations.13 Like so many others, Eustache and Henri Mathet were shadowy figures in the rush to gold. They rarely wrote. Their families sometimes received word of them from neighbors and friends. In 1859, a French Argonaut from a small village near Fresnay encountered Henri in a San Francisco saloon, and he related this meeting in a letter to his family. He described Henri, then

The French Argonauts Return to France twenty-two, as handsome, charming, with the appearance of being well-off, and employed in the office of an Irishman, who had an important business in food.14 In 1860, Eustache Mathet returned to France. He moved in with his brother François. Now fifty years old, Eustache was in a peaceful, early retirement. He commanded invitations everywhere based on his wide range of stories about his sojourn in California. His easy life, smooth talk, and local celebrity irritated his brother François, who continued to think of him as idle and feckless.15 Two years later, his son Henri also reappeared. Although less extrovert in his behavior, Henri also presented himself as the embodiment of the lore of the American West. In six months, he was widely known as “the Sheriff.” Eventually, after some four years, Henri took a position as a shop assistant. All the eligible women of Fresnay regarded him as the most attractive and interesting man around. After five years of indecision, Henri married Rosalie, the eldest of three sisters from a prominent family. The bride was twenty-six. The marriage contract was a detailed account of the property of the two parties. The total capital of F 3,500, now a part of the public record, seemed modest for a California adventurer who had presumably returned with a golden nest egg.16 Henri and Rosalie established a delicatessen. The Épicerie Mathet opened its doors in 1881. It was enormously successful. Influential friends, superior service, and an upscale product established its high reputation. Over the decade of la belle époque, it benefited from a stable franc and a happy location in a quiet region of France. Some two hundred kilometers from Paris, it was far removed from the agitations, instabilities, and scandals of the Third Republic. Henri Mathet abandoned the rustic pursuits of fishing and the bicycle for the orchestra and the theater. The affairs of Henri and Rosalie prospered, along with their five children. In the summary of his chronicler, “it was as if the émigré of the ‘Magellan’ had never existed.” With no successor in sight, Henri and Rosalie sold the business and retired to a large home in town. They were a local symbol of success and modernity. Henri died in 1916, at the age of seventy-one. Rosalie survived him for twenty-five years.17 After the departure of the returning Argonauts to France (and other destinations) in 1854, as many as seven thousand remained in the French community in San Francisco. Most of them were residents of long standing (by California standards!) and well connected in the fabric of the city. If they had not assimilated into the dominant Anglo-American presence (especially in their not having learned English), they had learned how to maneuver in and around it. They established a number of institutions, including a hospital and a library. Certainly they considered themselves totally separate from the new arrivals that



France had come under the auspices of the lottery, with whom they had no connection and little sympathy. Of course, it is also true that this second group would return to a new France more congenial to its talents than the late republic. Still, some of them stayed in California.18 The varied experiences of those who stayed may be traced through different individuals in their varied treks across gold rush California. In the fall of 1850, Ernest de Massey settled in San Francisco. He had ended his wanderings, which had carried him over much of California’s landscape in his search for some rapid economic advantage. He also gave up his long-considered scheme to pursue a grazing venture in the valleys. Over six months, de Massey created a place for himself in San Francisco and in the French community by piecing together several strands of economic opportunity. In January 1851, he described himself as an editor, for he contributed a daily column in French for the Public Balance, as the newspapers searched for French subscribers and French advertisers; he was a commission merchant, a businessman dealing in furniture and commodities, and, in his own words, “one of the busiest in California.” He bought at the daily auctions in San Francisco and sold his purchases on the open market. He clearly understood how to use and profit from the new ways of doing business in gold rush San Francisco. He had also become an important source of information for newly arrived French people. In 1852, his brother Ormond de Massey joined him in San Francisco. Ernest de Massey remained for five years. Later a book dealer, in the city directory of 1856, he appeared as a partner in finance. He returned to his home in Passavant in 1857. He left a lasting legacy in his detailed letters to his family.19 Jean Frédéric Chauvin spent seventeen hard years of exile in pursuit of his California dream. He summed up the mining experience to his mother: “work, heat, thirst, [and] brawling” in the camps. In testimony to his unhappiness and isolation, he never spoke of others. He traded his occasional wealth for bread. One day, in complete poverty and hunger, he killed his dog for food, but he could not touch the meal he had prepared.20 Chauvin’s mother said of him, “Adventurous but not an adventurer, unlucky by nature, Frédéric was a dreamer, a hunter of gold without gold.” He spent some of his later years abroad in Mexico. At the end of seventeen years, after his hacienda in Mexico burned down, he came home to France. In 1866, he settled in Chaniers, his Charente village, where he received his part of the family inheritance. With these funds, he then bought a landed property near Gua. It contained forty hectares (about one hundred acres) and was called La Brissonnerie.21 Chauvin’s landed estate bordered the property belonging to Jacques Germain. In 1870, Jean Frédéric Chauvin married Honorine Germain,

The French Argonauts Return to France Jacques’s twenty-four-year-old daughter. On the occasion of the marriage of his eldest daughter, Jacques Germain rose to express his anger at her union to “an adventurer who had only known, in America, bears.” Clearly a seeker of gold who returned after many years without gold was not an attractive spouse for a respectable family. The echoes of the gold rush continued to reverberate within French domestic life.22 Jean-Nicolas Perlot was among those who stayed. Perlot had the full range of the California gold rush experiences. He spent part of a season in the placers near Merced, but he was also among the first to leave in response to the rumors of rich strikes elsewhere. He and his partners made the trek to Bear Valley, where they worked a claim for modest returns until driven out by the rainy season. They survived the winter by hunting rabbits, but they were often hungry. Perlot and his partners returned to work a profitable claim near Coultersville. As a result of this success (ten dollars a day each), his partners left to pursue opportunities elsewhere. One of the interesting features of his return to Mariposa was a reunion with his companions from one of the California companies, Fortune. Eighteen former members of the company showed up. Perlot summarized their stories thus: “They had found gold, and they had spent it; they had been hungry; they had slept in the bushes two, three, and sometimes six months in a row, without undressing, whether for lack of a bed or from fear of the Indians, who had more chance against an undressed man. At the final reckoning, no one had yet made a fortune, but all were still hoping to reach it.” Perlot described the eighteen as among the lucky ones. Of the forty-five who had debarked at Monterey, thirty-one were still alive. Three had died of natural causes; Indians had killed two. Two others had died in firearms accidents, two had drowned crossing rivers, and two others had perished of hardship over the winter.23 In the summer of 1854, Perlot and a group of miners from France and Germany journeyed to the south fork of the Merced River, where they mined with members of the Yosemite Indian tribe. His friendship for Indians was a noteworthy exception to the behavior of most miners. Later, Perlot and his dog were lost in the sierra for fourteen days, the last two of which he (and the dog) had nothing to eat. Perlot mined for three years on the fringes of the California goldfields, venturing into the Yosemite and Tuolumne Valleys. While Perlot was at work on the construction of a flume, his partner went into town and returned with a letter. It was the first letter Perlot had received from his family in five years. He was overcome with emotion. In the long interval of silence, his two brothers had married and so given up earlier plans to join him in California.24



France After mining with some success (and much back-breaking labor) in 1857, Perlot returned to Sonora and thence to San Francisco, where he contemplated his future. After much discussion, he and his partner, Margraff, took the steamer to Oregon, where they intended to continue mining for gold. On landing in Portland, they were shocked to hear that the mines were 450 miles away (they had thought 50). They searched for employment in the countryside of great forests. Perlot worked as a woodcutter and then as a hunter. Finally, he returned to Portland, where he established a new occupation in the new city: professional gardener. He became known as “the French Gardener” in Portland. For well-to-do homeowners, he cleared parts of their vacant lots and laid out a garden with beds, paths, and trees. He spent his evenings poring over books on horticulture. As news of his skills spread by word of mouth, his business grew. The arrival of his brother and his family persuaded him to make a permanent transition from gold miner to town dweller. When his friends and former shipmates passed through Portland and looked him up, he became aware that after a decade in America, they were still transients, men without a place of residence or family. In spite of the periodic flooding of the Willamette River and the occasional cold winter that froze his stock, Perlot prospered. Over ten years, he made a permanent place for himself in the Portland community.25 The common denominator that united so many of these accounts was the urban setting. Urban places, especially San Francisco, Sacramento, Stockton, and even Portland, became the centers of economic opportunity. There, the French Argonauts engaged in a wide variety of economic enterprises, from bakeries and coffee houses to banks. For some of the Argonauts, California would be a final resting place. Albert Bénard de Russailh died in San Francisco on July 15, 1852. He was buried two days later. With resignation and longing, he had once posed the question: “France! God only knows if I will ever return to her.” The answer is that he would not.26 THE LINGERING LEGAL CASES

Those who returned to France found there the lingering vestiges of the great excitement associated with “California” and “gold.” The most prominent public images associated with the gold mania were the endless ads for the California companies. They appeared in papers across France, from Dieppe and Le Havre to Paris and Marseille, from Bordeaux and La Rochelle to Strasbourg. As the California companies proliferated to more than eighty, they represented a mixture of idealism, local pride, entrepreneurial ambition, and fraud. Accordingly,

The French Argonauts Return to France it was inevitable that as some of the companies failed, they would become the subjects of legal action. After all, stock in these companies had been sold to the public under the guise of the most outrageous promises. Not even the best and most honorably run companies could make good on such guarantees. Those who were less scrupulous almost invited recourse to the courts. This response was not long in appearing. At almost the same moment that the founding of new companies and their plentiful advertising campaigns reached a steady roar, the courts received the first legal actions against the old companies.27 By July 1849, a scant six months after they had first advertised to the public, the California companies were in the courts. The first case involved the Société Nationale, whose ads had filled many columns of newspapers in the first months of 1849. The story of the efforts of the Société Nationale to organize the transport of associate workers to California identified many of the major problems that would confront the California companies. That this company appeared in court so soon was unusual; the issues that became the matters of litigation would be all too common. The company intended to transport associate workers to California for the communal harvest of gold, to import diverse merchandise, and to return to France with the gold harvested and profits from the other enterprises. Pursuant to these objectives, M. Abounze, the director of the Société Nationale, sought to charter a ship to carry workers and merchandise to California. To assist him in the search, he engaged a M. Monnet, a shipowner from Le Havre. M. Monnet approached M. Tinel, the owner of the three-masted Suffren, with the proposal to place his ship at the disposition of the company. M. Tinel accepted the proposition. But six weeks passed without the Société Nationale signing the formal articles of agreement. M. Tinel now went to Paris himself to meet with the directors of the society and to sign the charter arrangement. The directors set the departure date for April 9, 1849. They visited the Suffren at anchor in Le Havre and found the vessel perfectly appropriate for their enterprise. But money to charter the ship was another issue. The company had a capital fixed at F 400,000 (80,000 shares at 5 francs each). But only F 135,000 had been paid, and M. Tinel refused to become a shareholder (or investor) for some F 155,000, or the remainder of the sum necessary to charter the ship. Instead, he made arrangements to charter the Suffren to another group for a voyage to California. Soon thereafter, a notice appeared in newspapers: “The shipowner of the three-masted ‘Suffren’ has withdrawn his ship from the agreement with the Société Nationale de la Californie, and it is no longer a party to the charter with the businesses undersigned.” The court found M. Abounze guilty of fraud, fined him 50 francs, and ordered the suppression of the incriminating notices. On the issue of the civil



France suit, the court fined Abounze F 1,500 in civil damages, ordered the publication of the judgment in three papers, and further sentenced Abounze to pay costs and to three months of confinement.28 That the California companies were the subject of so many suits was a tribute to the large number of companies and their extravagant promises. It also reflected the legal system itself. These legal proceedings were slow, burdened as they were by the crowded court system and the cut-and-thrust of lawyers. Still, there was an inexorable force about the French legal system, a sense of glacial but inevitable reckoning. As complaints increased about the California companies, the court dockets soon listed cases involving them. Most of these cases involved charges of fraud. It was a compelling spectacle: the inflated promises of the companies balanced against the willing participation on the part of a public eager to believe the promises. In their judgments, the courts were unsentimental.29 Cases appeared in the courts even as the second generation of California companies advertised their wares before a gullible public (at least in part). Among the first new cases were the proceedings against the Compagnie Parisienne. The charge was fraud by the managers, Blanchard and Hereford. After hearing the arguments, the court ordered the seizure of the company’s books and papers. Legal actions continued through the fall of 1850. One of the cases concerned the sanitary conditions on the ships of the Compagnie La France. The court alluded to the French laws “on this important question almost entirely neglected by the government up to this time.” It noted that both Great Britain and the United States had “more rigorous laws” with respect to shipowners who wish to transport passengers.30 In considering the case against Pactole, the judges noted that a number of California companies had already been convicted of fraud in the courts. “Today it is Pactole which is the subject of the lawsuit. The company had given rise to a flood of fraudulent transactions and criminal speculations.” The court sentenced five company officials to prison terms.31 There were several other cases in the public eye. One of the most remarkable concerned a man named Deterville, a former sidewalk singer on the Boulevard des Champs-Élysées. According to the court, Deterville left this “precarious position” to establish a newspaper with the title L’Aurifère. He then “passed himself off as a veteran high-level employee of the bank of Delamarre and Company.” His newspaper proposed an investment scheme to capture attention even at the heights of “gold fever.” For an investment of F 200–300, Deterville promised that all the investors would be engaged in his company (as opposed to the minimum investment of F 1,000 in the other companies). Each

The French Argonauts Return to France share of stock at 5 francs would reap 150 francs in dividends. Further, the purchase of a single share would give the purchaser a free ticket in the great Lottery of the Golden Ingots, with the first prize of F 400,000. Deterville’s prospectus continued: “The transportation of passengers would be made free by ship to Panama, and from Panama to San Francisco by muleback. Arriving in San Francisco, each worker would be fed [and] receive tools with the assurance of making 500 francs a week.” In the words of the court: “It was fabulous! It was incredible!” His prospectus was vague on details, claiming that his system was a “secret” that could not be divulged without compromising the rights of the shareholders. “A flood of workers of all occupations became engaged and invested funds in the company.” Deterville promised, without the slightest hesitation, dividends of F 500 net profit a week. The confidence of the poor investors was so great that many sold their personal property in order to raise the F 200–300 that Deterville required. The court concluded: “The result of this confidence has been the disappearance of the strongbox with the director. The police have been unsuccessful in finding him.” It was a case study of early fraud of the most egregious kind. The court condemned Deterville to five years in prison.32 The most dramatic development in the legal travails of the California companies was the fall of the Californienne. Long a symbol of the California companies, with its heavy advertising; the widely reported public departures of its ships with associate workers; its promised (and long-deferred) dividends; and the public presence of its founder and principal director, M. Hochgesangt, the Californienne was soon the target of quiet legal suits. That is, they were quiet in the sense that they never received publicity comparable to the public displays of the company. In late 1850, the authorities descended on the Rue de Trévise, the seat of the company, to arrest the director and to carry off the registers and the furniture. It was only the beginning of a legal accountability that would stretch for several years. The legal case against the company and M. Hochgesangt received almost as much publicity as the sailings of the company. In describing the fall of the company, some newspapers found consolation that M. Hochgesangt was a Belgian (not French!) adventurer. His lifestyle was described as one of “an incredible opulence.” Found guilty, he was fined F 3,000 and sentenced to five years in prison.33 In later cases, the court considered charges of fraud against a Lyon bank. It concluded that the case was instructive “in showing that Paris does not possess exclusive monopoly to these frauds.” These schemes were driven, the court continued, by the lure of the land of promise and the possession of precious metal, “which is called the gold of California.”34 Soon thereafter, the court of



France appeals considered the case of the Sacramento company. The charge was swindling. At issue was a machine that the company used to promote investment in its ventures. In the course of the legal proceedings, one of the machines was exhibited to the audience in the courtroom. In spite of the machine, or perhaps because of it, the defendants were all found guilty.35 Another case of California companies before the Court of Appeals involved “a very serious affair” of two companies: Économie and Constructeur.36 The proceedings against the former led to the conviction of two men, Bion and Clavelle-Doisy. Both were fined and sentenced to prison, Bion for two years, Clavelle for six months. In summarizing this roll call of legal cases, the Gazette des Tribunaux concluded that “California is often a land of deceptions; the many letters written from San Francisco, which the newspapers have already published, sufficiently attest to this.” It continued: “Many of these companies have already seen their management condemned for fraud.”37 The court cases involved only a small group of California companies. Among the more than eighty companies, the mindset of the promoters varied across a wide spectrum, along with their schemes. Some were sincere; others were dishonest. All companies shared two tasks: convince investors of the soundness of their enterprise; convince prospective emigrants to cast their lot with this company. What united all companies was the enormous opportunity for profits. As stock sold in response to the articles about California in the press, supplemented by the heavy advertising of the companies themselves, the first calls on company funds were the salaries of the managers and directors. These groups also had shares in the company. In a marketplace without any oversight, the chances for misuse and fraud were everywhere. By the time the public reaction against the companies had run its course, the heads of ten companies had fled the country; another committed suicide. There were eight amiable liquidations, with the concurrence of the law and the stockholders. As for the numbers of associate workers conveyed to California, the final numbers added up to somewhere between 600 and 1,000. Of the companies most heavily associated with transporting workers, the Californienne sent some 360 and the others much smaller numbers.38 The capitalization numbers trumpeted by the California companies in their initial offerings reached into the hundreds of millions of francs. Only a small portion of these sums ever reached the counting houses. The most successful in this respect was the Californienne, with F 1,112,000; the Compagnie Française et Américaine de San Francisco had F 525,000; eight others had lesser amounts. The total was probably less than F 5 million, or about $1 million. These heavily advertising and poorly performing companies

The French Argonauts Return to France (from the perspective of the investors) may have affected the attitude of French investors toward the United States.39 The historian René Rémond observed that all the noise of their grandiose claims did not spare the companies from the same ignominious end. The last act was “played out in court.” Their collective public failures were an indictment simultaneously of the inflation of California gold, mixed with the ignorance and often bad faith of the promoters, juxtaposed against the continuing gullibility of the French investment public. Promoters and investors alike supported investment schemes without knowing anything about the California landscape or conditions in the goldfields. These fragile fairytales were floating to the public on the strength of the words “gold” and “California.” And the public responded.40 In retrospect, it is not surprising that so many of the California companies ended up in the courts. What is astonishing is that their fantasies with outlandish numbers survived so long. That they did so was a tribute to the magic words “gold” and “California” and the subsequent triumph of hope over rational analysis. As the first police report covering the years 1848–1850 concluded, the companies offered no guarantees of anything. What they presented were dramatic promises paired with the astonishing news of California riches. Sheets of advertising trumpeted the virtues of these financial opportunities. Eventually, the realities of the California companies would meet the impatient expectations of shareholders. The larger number would be played out in the courts.41 In his summing up of the California companies, Pierre-Charles de SaintAmant began with the observation that news of California gold arrived in France in the throes of “a disastrous revolution.” The response was rapid. Aside from the emigration of some thirty thousand of her citizens, there was also a price to be paid in the widespread proliferation of the California companies, a phenomenon that he found almost as astonishing as the emigration. In the experiences with the California companies, he wrote, all participants were losers. Shareholders and emigrants alike were both “shamefully exploited.” The first lost money; the second were transported into a world of hard work. Those most responsible for these failed dreams and promises were the officers of the California companies. They lacked the requisite information about California to begin their operations; they lacked the financial means to continue their operations. On the other side, among those enrolled, “the largest part of them was persuaded that it was enough to set foot on the golden lands and to deign to bend down to fill their pockets.” In short, “their illusions were complete.” Still, after a hard introduction, a substantial number had profited from the experience. These successes did not compensate for the losses and deceptions visited



France upon many of the emigrants. Saint-Amant concluded: “Thus, in the beginning, the development, and the fall of all the pompous companies of Paris,” there was much irresponsible behavior on all sides.42 The return of the French Argonauts to France was accompanied by a long public silence. The attention of the nation and its newspaper and journal editors lay elsewhere. The imperial court of Napoléon III was taking shape, and the splendor of its trappings was a wonder to behold. Behind the scenes, the individual returns provoked a lively response. Within families, there were emotional reunions. There were also financial accountings. In pursuit of the California dream, an adventure for wealth designed to benefit the entire family, monies had been borrowed, properties mortgaged, and relationships between siblings and generations changed. Many heads bent over the ledger sheets. What had been borrowed? From whom? Who had taken funds from the estate to make the trip? On the other side, what were the returns? What had the Argonaut sent home? What had he brought home? As the numbers added up, an accounting emerged. The accounting affected individual members; it surely reflected changing dynamics within the family. Then, too, there remained the question of the standing of the family within the community or village. How had the California adventure, so widely publicized at the time of departure and the periodic letters from that exotic land, affected the family’s economic and social standing? Thus, the final accounting of the California adventure might take weeks or even months. And the results might look different within and outside of the family. Finally, what of those family members who had stayed in California? Numbers had done so. How did their relationships with the family change? As they often married and had families in this distant land, so their presence receded from the kitchen and the fields and assumed a different form in letters and family genealogies. These families had the brother, the uncle, the cousin en Amérique. These would be the permanent changes wrought by the rush to gold.



The French came to California in surprisingly large numbers. They came to the goldfields; they settled in camps, in towns, and in the city of San Francisco. They were a significant presence in commercial life. They made important contributions in the emerging entertainment industry, especially music, theater, and prostitution. In the years that the French established themselves in the many different strands of life in California, the Golden State underwent astonishing changes. The population grew dramatically. The proportion of women and children increased, especially in the towns and the city of San Francisco. Although the mining counties remained heavily male, the rest of California was increasingly a place of families. Institutions developed in parallel to the rise in numbers, propelled by statehood and the appearance of forms of government and law. That Committees of Vigilance ruled San Francisco in 1851 and 1856 suggested that the transition to a stable society was still incomplete. Still, it was under way. The emerging imperial dimensions of the French and the gold rush involved a blending of three streams. The first was the enlarged interest of the French government in expansionist adventures, driven by the establishment of an empire and the crowning of an emperor with large ambitious for his new imperial domain. Next came the large numbers of French people in California, including most recently the 3,293 French emigrants arriving on the lottery ships. Finally, there were the ongoing activities of the Americans in Cuba, in Nicaragua, and in Panama, propelled in part by the search of Southerners for new slave territories, the lingering presence of the ideology of Manifest Destiny, and the creation of the continental American nation with the treaty of



France Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The California gold rush confirmed the pervasive sentiment of American exceptionalism—that is, America was a nation driven to greatness by Divine Providence and an insatiable drive to the West. IMPERIAL ECHOES OF THE GOLD RUSH

California, the recently acquired American Southwest, and northern Mexico were a swirling mélange of economic opportunities, shifting political alliances and fortunes, and violence against Indian peoples and native Californians. The gold rush cast a long shadow, for in reviving the fantasy of the El Dorados of Peru and Mexico, it captured the imaginations and organizational skills of a new generation of adventurers. The word “filibuster” was coming into vogue to describe an irregular military adventure often directed against Mexico and countries in Central America, and driving much of the interest in foreign adventure and conquest were the images of gold that emanated from California on a continuing basis. The French were major players in two of the most dramatic of these enterprises. Both reflected French planning and French leaders, they involved Frenchmen (many of them disappointed miners from the California goldfields), and they paralleled the rise and expansion of the new French imperial vision under Napoléon III. Throughout the unfolding of these various expeditions, the sense persisted that these independent leaders acted with a degree of French national interest in mind. Certainly, at one time or another, French officials were involved.1 There were two separate and distinct French ventures into Mexico. The first of these was associated with the quixotic leadership of Charles, the Marquis de Pindray. Pindray inherited wealth and quickly spent it. He campaigned in Algeria. His financial adventures in Paris led him to the courts, and rather than pursue the legal issues, he fled his native land and his debts. His new destination was America. He spent two years in Massachusetts, but the reports of California gold were much more to his liking. After a brief period in the placers, he left the hard work and quarrels of the mining camps for San Francisco, where he made a good living as a professional hunter.2 Even as he pursued several different opportunities in gold rush California, Pindray was captivated by the reports of great wealth in the gold and silver mines of Mexican Sonora. He came to see himself as the leader of an enterprise involving these mines, and he found the raw material for his plans all around him in the floating elements of a large French population. As noted, between 1849 and 1852, some thirty thousand French people (mostly but not exclusively

Long Echoes of the “Rush to Gold” men) came to California to seek their fortunes. In the mines, they found a degree of success, mixed with friction and much hard work. Others gravitated to the towns and the city of San Francisco, where some found prosperity in professions and services. However, a substantial group of these French exiles remained outside these modest successes. So there emerged a group of unemployed, frustrated, unhappy French Argonauts, ready volunteers for a filibustering expedition under French command. Pindray was a charismatic leader who offered guarantees of both glory and wealth. He preached that in the style of ancient raiding parties, they would burn their ships on landing. Victory or death was his cry! It was a stirring call to men who had labored in the mines, on the streets, or on the docks with few or no results. Pindray’s call to arms and wealth represented for many what the rush to gold in California should have been about, and for most French Argonauts, it was not.3 Pindray recruited his armed force ostensibly to serve the needs of the Mexican government for new settlers in the northern provinces. There were two issues here. First, the settlers would serve as a buffer against the Apache menace; second, none of the new settlers would be Americans. The Mexican government had vivid memories of what had happened in Texas. To his new armed force, Pindray offered the view that Mexico was ripe for revolution. The ship Cumberland sailed from San Francisco in November 1851 with 88 armed Frenchmen, and the force eventually totaled 150, most of the volunteers originally from Paris.4 Landing in Guaymas, Pindray’s troops were warmly welcomed by the local settlers as a form of military deliverance from the Apache menace. Whatever the Apache challenges and the attractions of the land, Pindray and his force of armed Frenchmen had come in search of a fortune in the abandoned Spanish gold and silver mines. Indeed, they had no intention of farming or waging war against any Indian group. As their views diverged, the Mexican government now turned against his infant settlement. With declining support, the colony began to disintegrate. At this point, on June 5, 1852, Pindray committed suicide, and the survivors returned to San Francisco.5 Pindray’s Mexican adventure attracted attention in the French press. One account noted, “This expedition goes into Mexico, to the land of the Apaches, a warlike and cruel people, in possession of gold mines and silver mines of fabulous richness. This expedition, if it succeeds, will open for our commerce an immense outlet.” But the proposed colony had a much greater national implication—namely, as a French place (as opposed to California as an American place) for French people. The press marked the anticipated success of the colony with the observation, “Then the French population of California,



France estimated reliably at 30,000, can leave immediately for this country, where communications will be easier.” Pindray’s mines would become the center of a large and permanent French colony.6 With Pindray’s death, the vision of a French colony in Mexico passed to Count Gaston Raousset-Boulbon. Pierre-Charles Saint-Amant described him as “another Frenchman disillusioned with California, as rich in entrepreneurial qualities [as Pindray].” Raousset-Boulbon would find his recruits among those discouraged in the placers, in the former members of the Garde Mobile, and, above all, in the newly transported emigrants from the Lottery of the Golden Ingots.7 Like Pindray, Raousset-Boulbon was a man with a career of multiple failures in France. In 1850, he took steerage passage to California, arriving on August 22, 1850. Initially, he mined without success; next, he worked on a boat on the Sacramento River. He also hunted and fished, and he bought and sold cattle. In a saloon, he met Pindray. Raousset-Boulbon embraced Pindray’s schemes for the colonization of Sonora, but when Pindray recruited a force of Frenchmen for his expedition, Raousset-Boulbon declined to join him. Perhaps he sensed that Pindray’s plans were underresourced or premature (both of which were probably true) or perhaps he wanted the position of leader and declined to place himself under Pindray’s command.8 With Pindray dead, Raousset-Boulbon now made his own plans for a settlement in Mexico. The French consul, Patrice Dillon, encouraged him, surely in part with the hope that such a venture would siphon off from Dillon’s charge a large number of fractious and troublesome individuals of French origin for whom Dillon felt a degree of official responsibility. With Dillon’s urging, Raousset-Boulbon visited Mexico, where he met Mexican officials and received a degree of support for a settlement that would develop the land and provide a buffer against the Apaches. His own focus was always on the rumored rich mines of Sonora.9 Raousset-Boulbon now returned to San Francisco, where he recruited some two hundred Frenchmen. He promised an expedition with wealth and glory. In his own words, “The die is now cast. If I succeed I can hope for fortune and fame. If I fail I shall at least end by a catastrophe worthy of me.” With the support of both Dillon and the French ambassador in Mexico City, he set sail for Guaymas.10 On arrival, local citizens welcomed Raousset-Boulbon and his company, but the Mexican officials were cool. There was much miscommunication in Sonora. His negotiations with Mexican officials over the terms of his grant dragged on to a stalemate.11 Last-minute attempts by General Blanco, in command of a Mexican force of 1,200, to avert a clash failed. In a confrontation

Long Echoes of the “Rush to Gold” with the Mexican Army, Raousset-Boulbon’s outnumbered forces won a victory against heavy odds. He seized the town of Hermasillo, but his victorious force was isolated and surrounded. At this moment, Raousset-Boulbon was taken ill with dysentery. In an honorable capitulation, he surrendered his force on November 4, 1852. The terms of the capitulation permitted the survivors to return to San Francisco.12 Raousset-Boulbon entered San Francisco in triumph. As soon as he disembarked, he began planning a second expedition to Sonora. It was a complicated undertaking that required all his personal charm and leadership ability. In view of the failure of the first enterprise, he found it difficult to raise money. The diplomatic issues of recruiting and mounting such an expedition from San Francisco were numerous. His attempts to reach some kind of accord with the Mexican government, this time in the person of Antonio López de Santa Anna, were inconclusive. In the end, Raousset-Boulbon pressed forward, determined to return to Sonora and force the Mexican government to honor his earlier land grants. Behind his call for the honoring of his contracts was his determination to seize control of the state of Sonora by force. If he could do so with the assistance of dissident elements, well and good; if not, he would proceed on his own.13 Raousset-Boulbon departed San Francisco the second time with a force of almost 400 armed men. At least 112 of them were lingotiers who had left the mines of Tuolumne County to rally to his standard.14 When Raousset-Boulbon and his force arrived in Sonora, they confronted a Mexican army under General José María Yenez, who had been sent with orders to thwart the former’s filibustering activities (for they were so regarded by the Mexican government). Yenez tried to find a way out of the impasse by permitting Raousset-Boulbon and his men to leave and return to San Francisco, but Raousset-Boulbon would not accept these conditions. In the end, armed clashes took place, with mounting casualties. Raousset-Boulbon became ill, and his military force collapsed. He surrendered with promise of good treatment for his men, and some 313 Frenchmen became prisoners of war. They were permitted to return to San Francisco (although some stayed on to become Mexican citizens and defend the northern frontier). Raousset-Boulbon was tried, convicted of treason, and shot on August 12, 1854. It was the last of the great filibustering enterprises that drew on the French population of California and San Francisco.15 The death of Count Raousset-Boulbon ended the first great French experiments in the search for an independent economic and political base in Mexico. Pindray and Raousset-Boulbon had the same objectives. They both found followers among the dissatisfied, idle, and disillusioned French participants in the gold rush. This element rushed to the standard of a French leader who



France promised economic advantage and adventure under the French flag. These failures left a degree of embarrassment in their wake, but officially the French government was not involved. In the 1860s, the French government would become involved in the most direct kind of way in Emperor Napoléon III’s attempt to place a member of Austria’s royal family on the throne of Mexico. Archduke Maximillian accepted the French offer, but the enterprise came to grief three years later. Emperor Maximillian, like Raousset-Boulbon, died in front of a Mexican firing squad. So ended the second French imperial design in a western hemisphere increasingly dominated by the United States.16 CALIFORNIA GOLD SURVIVES IN POPULAR FICTION

The California gold rush and the French connection to it echoed in French life through the publication of accounts of participants and fictional recreations. The latter continued to suggest that the images of California and gold would attract a French reading public. Among the leading practitioners were Alexandre Dumas (father) and Edmond Texier, to mention two of the most prolific and prominent. Like the court cases involving the California companies, the publication of major accounts in fiction lagged behind popular images. This was even true with respect to theatrical productions and panoramas, which depended on current subjects to draw in a popular audience on a weekly basis. Appear they did, however, if somewhat late. They came in several different forms. Among the most prominent were a children’s book and two book-length pieces by Alexandre Dumas (father), all published in the decade of the 1850s. First came the children’s book. Hippolyte Chavannes de la Giraudière’s Les Petits Voyageurs en Californie (1853) followed the adventures of M. Canton and his two sons, Vincent (14) and Arthur (12), on a voyage to California, life in San Francisco and the goldfields, and their return. In the words of the author, “M. Canton would provide the means for the expedition and God will bless the enterprise and the gentle sentiments of affection that unite the participants.”17 In the spring of 1849, according to the story, the father and two sons sailed from Le Havre to New York City, where they reserved places on a steamship going to Panama and from there, north to San Francisco. In the course of the adventurous crossing of the isthmus, M. Canton “lectures the [boys] on constancy and courage and patience.” And, first and foremost, they must always have “confidence in le bon Dieu.”18 When their father becomes ill on the hard journey across the isthmus, the boys assume command of the expedition. Vincent and Arthur are equal to the challenge and make the necessary arrangements.

Long Echoes of the “Rush to Gold” After a sixteen-day voyage, the steamship drops anchor in San Francisco Bay. There, the three newly arrived French Argonauts befriend an Englishman, M. James, who has already made one very profitable trip to the mines. He now proposes to spend three months on the banks of the Feather River, and he invites M. Canton and his sons to join him. M. Canton and the boys accept. M. James describes the scene at the placers, where a thousand miners scratch the soil of the earth and dig in the bed of the river: “It is a rage; it is a frenzy.” He also details how the American miners establish “a provisional government against a common enemy. The tribunals function with the rapidity of a war council. Thanks to this code, security reappeared as if by enchantment.”19 The combined party departs for Sutterville and from there to the mines on the Feather River. Before beginning work, “M. Canton and the boys pray to le Seigneur to bless their work.” They soon master the use of the cradle. “The three are called les Parisiens!” Their watchwords are “courage, activity, and energy.” After three profitable months on the Feather River, they return to San Francisco. M. Canton now divides his considerable wealth into three parts. He sends one part to Europe and another to repay his friend. He spends the rest to buy a tract of land near the Santa Cruz mission. The Cantons work for the next year in agriculture. Eventually, they make another expedition to the placers, where the results are as good as the first time. The account concludes, appropriately, with a visit to the missions.20 Among the fictional characters who returned to France was Cadet, the main character of J. B. J. Champagnac’s Le Jeune Voyageur. His reunion with his grandmother and friends provided both a happy and moral conclusion to his tale. Reestablished in the bosom of his extended family, he told them the dramatic story of his final months in the goldfields and his return home. He deferred his return in order to care for his ill friend, Jean le Suédois. Terminally ill, Jean leaves Cadet his strongbox as a token of friendship and gratitude for his faithfulness. The strongbox contains gold worth F 2 million. Cadet is stunned. He gives some money to his comrades from the goldfields and departs. His return voyage on a steamship from San Francisco to Le Havre is a disaster. A lightning strike sets fire to the vessel, the flames appear everywhere, and the passengers abandon ship. A French ship (Providence!) rescues the passengers and crew, but Cadet’s gold rests on the bottom of the ocean. One stroke of luck gave him a fortune; another took it away! La mère Jérôme (his grandmother) draws the appropriate conclusions: focus on the things in life that are more valuable than the treasures of California. Cadet agrees, but he regrets that he could not keep the promises he made to his Paris comrades, who respond that they are more than compensated by his safe return.21



France At this moment of mutual celebration and forgiveness, Cadet receives a letter from California, written by his friend Isaac Castola, a Jew. “You had business with a man like this?” interrogates la mère Jérôme. Yes, replies Cadet, and an honest man he is. Castola has heard of Cadet’s misfortune and returns to him the half million francs that Cadet left with Castola on his departure. He can claim the funds at a banking house in the Marais. Cadet’s fortunes are now reversed for a third time. He decides to keep a fifth of the monies for himself and la mère Jérôme. The rest will be given to “good works of charity” identified by M. le Curé. In this way, the gold is “purified.” The young men of the story, concluded the author, now married and established, “continue to march on the road of honor and virtue.”22 Among the finest representations of the gold discoveries in popular fiction were tales from France’s most popular writer. Alexandre Dumas (father) was the author; the first tale was Un Gil Blas en Californie. Dumas wrote this popular adventure in ten days—between July 11 and July 20, 1851—and rushed it into print in 1852 for a quick profit. What emerged was a travel and adventure story (in place of Dumas’s usual romance and drama) of a young Frenchman who enlisted in a company bound for the goldfields. There he has numerous adventures and returns, without a fortune, to France. He meets Dumas in 1851 at Montmorency, a holiday retreat of Parisians, and delivers his journal to Dumas, who tells the story based on the young man’s account.23 Dumas had never been to California. What he had read of the popular literature in print at the time is not certain, but the book might be seen as a summary of the popular literature and popular images at the time, most of them derived from newspaper accounts. His account and its commercial success reinforced the idea that “California” and “gold” remained two words that commanded an audience within France as late as 1852. Dumas recounted the story of the French gold seeker, presumably taken from his journal. It began: “I was twenty-four years old and out of work; throughout France the single topic of conservation at this time was the gold mines of California. On every street corner companies were being organized for the transportation of travelers. These monopolists made ruinous promises regarding what advantages they could offer. I was not rich enough to sit with idle hands, but I was young enough to spend a year or more in an attempt to amass a fortune. So I decided to risk 1,000 francs and my life—the only two things I had wholly at my disposal.”24 Our French Argonaut joined the Société Mutuelle, described as “one of the weakest of these organizations.” Each member contributed F 1,000 for food and

Long Echoes of the “Rush to Gold” passage. Under the terms of the agreement, they would work together and share profits. They would be lodged in wooden houses on arrival. A doctor and a pharmacist would attend them in case of illness or injury. They elected leaders who would rotate every three months. “This obviously was an extraordinary opportunity—at least on paper.” On the appointed day, our narrator sailed from Nantes with two comrades: M. Mirandole and M. Gauthier.25 The ship was the Cachalot. There were 150 passengers, including 15 women. A mass and a banquet for the Argonauts were celebrated on the eve of departure. The sailing was attended by an outpouring of good wishes by friends, relatives, and citizens of the town. His journal described “how sailors paraded through town with flags. The entire population had assembled to see us off.” As the ship slipped away from the quay, “handkerchiefs fluttered en masse from the docks,” and the passengers replied with their own flurry of white. The account concluded: “The women wept; the men perhaps wished they were women and could weep.”26 After a long voyage, the ship arrived in San Francisco. At this point, the narrator went to work as a porter on the docks. Of working in California, he wrote that doctors swept the streets and lawyers washed down the decks of vessels. “No one is ashamed of this, but shakes hands when meeting friends and laughs.” In short, “there is no menial task.” Of the services, the most essential were bakeries, then groceries (run by Americans), cafés chantants, or large cafes (the Café de Paris, Café des Avengules, and Café du Sauvage). The same songs were heard on the Champs-Élysées. Hotel proprietors were French: the Hôtel de la Lafayette, Hôtel Lafitte, Hôtel des Deux-Mondes.27 Our narrator left for the placers on May 1, 1850. After establishing a claim, he wrote of the mining operations at the site: “All the workers found gold, but it was only those who were organized in large groups that accomplished anything.” Thirty-three French miners from Paris and Bordeaux organized themselves to dam the river at Pine Pass. This required four months of the hardest work. “Just as they were about to reap the fruits of their sacrifice, 120 Americans who had been merely biding their time appeared and declared that they held Pine Pass.” The Frenchmen appealed for justice, but the alcalde, an American, sided with the Americans. The French responded by sabotaging the American efforts.28 Back in San Francisco, our narrator opened a wine shop. Although he prospered, he was wiped out by a fire. He then returned to France. Upon leaving the mines, he offered advice to those who would come after, emphasizing “the need for resources, good shelter, and temperate personal habits.” To this recitation, he added another conviction: “In addition to gold, there are 10, 20, even



France 100 ways to make a fortune in San Francisco, for while the former method appears fairly simple and easy, yet it is, on the contrary, the least reliable.”29 The narrator also described the life in San Francisco. After one lands, the past “is utterly ignored, and any social position held in the old world vanishes like so much mist, or, if it continues to adhere, merely tends to befog future prospects.” He continued: “When I returned to San Francisco, the first person I met on the docks was the son of a French nobleman, who had become a boatman. So I felt that I, whom the revolution of 1830 had deprived of hereditary rights, could stoop to accept a position as a waiter in one of the hotels.” He predicted: “The future source of wealth in California will be agriculture and commerce; the search for gold, like all manual labor, will nourish man, and that is all. That is why there is so much disillusionment in store for those who go out to San Francisco, so much discouragement among those who return. San Francisco, and by San Francisco is meant all of new California, is just emerging from this reign of chaos and is to the point of realizing the role for which she was born.”30 So ended Dumas’s first account. The most intriguing and complex of the fictional accounts of the gold rush and California was Alexander Dumas’s second work, Le Journal de Madame Giovanni. First published in Paris in 1856, it was a fictional account of a woman and her husband in gold rush California that offered observations on California and gold, on America and Americans, and the French responses. In her excellent introduction to her English translation of this story, Marguerite Wilbur wrote that Dumas’s interest in California reflected the heady mix of California and gold in Paris. “Paris, in his day, teemed with travelers bound for Western America. Parisian newspapers were filled with anecdotes of California . . . where the gold fields were rapidly making men rich beyond belief over night. From the year 1849 on, ship after ship sailed or steamed out of French ports crowded to capacity with zealous seekers of the mundane wealth to be picked from California gulches, river beds, and mountains. Diaries, letters, articles by gold seekers were constantly being published. Paris, in fact, was gripped by gold fever to a greater extent than any other cosmopolitan center in Europe.”31 For Dumas, this quixotic search for wealth in a distant land was ideally suited to his talents of description and historical context. He began by creating an excellent vehicle for his story in the person of an upper-class woman whose wealth and status in society gave her access to all the important places and persons of the day—“governors, kings, queens, consuls, and the presidents of the places where she had journeyed.”32 The Giovannis arrived in San Francisco

Long Echoes of the “Rush to Gold” harbor in February 1851. Within the great harbor, she counted six hundred ships, “an immense forest without leaves.” The dominant feature of the city was gold: “On all corners one only sees gold, and alone only hears the sound of gold; it is truly the [mother’s] milk of El Dorado.” The Giovannis had arrived with a hundred tons of merchandise. The costs for the voyage, thus far, added up to F 65,000. A speculator immediately offered them F 2 million for the cargo. Their captain said it was worth from three to four million landed, and they declined to sell.33 In San Francisco, they stayed with M. and Mme. Barry. Barry was a wealthy San Francisco wine merchant. When it was time for dinner, the Barrys ordered a steak delivered from a nearby restaurant. While they awaited the meal, the host and hostess searched for knives and forks. Why had the cook not made a dinner? Because there was no cook. Indeed, there were no servants. When one was hungry, one ate but did not occupy oneself with dinner in advance. The accommodations were basic, even primitive. Mme. Giovanni felt fleas climbing up her legs, and rats emerged from various corners. She concluded that Californians had other things to think about—namely, “they had to earn gold.” When she retired to bed, she found there were no beds. As for drapes and covers, the Barrys still needed to buy them. However, they had F 1 million in the house. She was depressed by the absence of “the most necessary objects.” So this was life in California, she cried. There is no other place to live, replied M. Barry. One is here in order to make a fortune as rapidly as possible and then to go elsewhere to be comfortable.34 Mme. Giovanni offered a long analysis of the Americans. In the astonishing growth of San Francisco, she wrote, it was not the hand of God but “the indefatigable American entrepreneur, who does not recognize obstacles and overturns immense difficulties on the road to rapid progress.” Any consideration of California and San Francisco began with the Americans. “The Americans are the fundamental stones of the edifice,” she wrote. “It is they above all who go to the mines.” Hard work is not a burden from which they shrink. They succeed more than any other nationals in the extraction of gold. In the city, they are the proprietors of all the important commerce. “They are bankers, agents, sellers of gold, and merchants of [gold] powder. . . . It is for them all the steamers come and go, all the trains, all the means of rapid locomotion.” The American never rests doing nothing. The proverb “Time is money” is American. The American is incessantly occupied with doing something. Above all else, she wrote, the American is “a worker.”35 Mme. Giovanni then offered a description of the work ethic of the American. She wrote, “The American never refuses, at whatever price is offered, a day of



France work. If he cannot obtain five dollars for the day, he will take four, three, two, one; it’s all the same! The Frenchman, to the contrary, refuses to work when one does not consent to give him the sum that he has set. The Frenchman thus risks not dining one day in three. The American thus dines, badly perhaps, but dines always. I have been witness ten times to scenes of this nature.” M. Giovanni offered a Frenchman a job for three dollars. He demanded five, then four. He turned his back and walked away, giving M. Giovanni “an impertinent look.” An American came forward and took the job at three: “If that is your price.” So the American took the job and did twice as much work for three dollars as the Frenchman would do for five.36 According to Mme. Giovanni, the French generally do not succeed in the mines. They quarrel with the Americans; they become discouraged by hardships. The Americans have always been the masters of this kind of work. The French, arriving in San Francisco, find a variety of work—jobs as gardeners, fishermen, hunters, messengers, porters, greengrocers, florists, small shopowners, and croupiers in the gambling houses. There is a California proverb: “There is no silly occupation. There are only silly people.”37 The largest group of recent arrivals from France, Mme. Giovanni continued, were the lingotiers, the immigrants who came through the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. When the confusion of their arrival began, it completely changed the face of things. The continuing labors of M. Dilllon were crucial here. For some, he found passage by packet boat to the mines; for others, he found comfortable boardinghouses. He received them when they arrived. He went with them when they departed. M. Giovanni’s speculations have been a disaster. He does Mme. Giovanni the honor to consult her about their financial situation. They must do something before returning to Europe. What shall we do, Jeanne? It’s simple, she replies. We buy furniture and curiosities, find a store, rent it, and open a boutique. M. Giovanni laughs at her plan. Instead, he decides to mount a commercial expedition into the mines with a load of merchandise: clothing, tools for miners, food, wine, and brandy—in short, supplies that are necessary for the companies in the different placers along the banks of the Yuba River. At the end of three weeks, he has merchandise to the value of $15,000–$20,000.38 April is the time fixed for departure. Mme. Giovanni insists on accompanying M. Giovanni. He agrees. He does not want us separated, she writes. The destination is Marysville. It is one of the depots for the provisions and the tools necessary in the mining camps. One hundred mules are necessary to move the merchandise. The express service employs only Americans, and they are armed to the teeth. The dangers are great. They are carrying a valuable cargo, and the

Long Echoes of the “Rush to Gold” route runs through a difficult landscape. There is a continuing danger of ambushes by Indians. As they cross the plains, a hidden assassin fires on the party. M. Giovanni is wounded. Mme. Giovanni takes him to the bank of the river with a serious wound in the shoulder. The camp burns. They sit on a rock, and the miners regard them with veritable despair, for the Giovannis were the saviors for many of them. “Ruined another time,” cries M. Giovanni. “California is a wretched country.”39 The miners, saying “it is necessary to render them this justice,” offer the Giovannis their services. They bring covers for both of them. She has only her nightgown and a shawl on her shoulders. However, in the middle of this concert of commiseration, she hears talk of “why doesn’t he also wish to sell his claim? It serves him right!”40 M. Giovanni suffers much from his wound in the shoulder. Finally, after boredom, fatigue, and hardships, the Giovannis return to San Francisco. From this catastrophe, they have rescued their lives. They have also saved some $15,000 (or F 75,000). She wants to return to the Sandwich Islands “to find a little repose from this abominable California.” They are delighted to leave California, where they have suffered “a long series of misfortunes.”41 The next day, November 1, 1853, the Giovannis boarded the small sailing vessel Lilly for the voyage. Mme. Giovanni counts eight passengers, including two Israelites. Four of the passengers are very ill with throat problems. They intend to winter in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). The cabins are terrible. The passage takes only fifteen days. They pass the days as agreeably as possible. A circle forms around her. They read French novels, and they talk of California and the Sandwich Islands. Her eyes seek out M. Giovanni, who has escaped the fire of the plateau and the bullets of the assassin. “I want to be sure that his hand is in mine and he is not far away. I never want us separated. It is as if we have been protected by Providence.”42 Dumas’s work is remarkable for the degree to which he had absorbed the details of life in gold rush California. Whether in the city, on the trail, or in the mining camps, he told a story that would entertain French readers steeped in the details of the “rush to gold.” Clearly the literary California gold rush outlasted the realities of the California mining camps. Mme. Giovanni’s descriptions of work patterns lead to the inevitable conclusion that the mines and the principal economic enterprises in the cities gradually come into the hands of the Americans. The French are left with the ownership and operation of smallscale enterprises, hotels, cafés, restaurants, and theaters that emphasize personal services rather than impersonal large-scale management. Mme. Giovanni’s



France accounts of the patterns of labor of the two groups provide ample support for this conclusion. However, Dumas’s fictional account is more than just a tour of gold rush California. It is a work of sophistication and insight dominated by a woman. Mme. Giovanni makes the important observations about this rough-and-ready world. There are descriptions of life designed to provide contrasts with the proper French upper-class world of comfort, servants, and deference. She describes the varied inhabitants of gold rush California, including not only the Americans but also other national groups. She writes in detail about the mistreatment of black Americans and Chinese. Her fictional account of a long visit to the French consul, M. Dillon, offers a picture of the range of French petitioners and their problems, as well as the special challenges of the lingotiers. Dumas was seemingly on top of the latest information about these dimensions of the French presence in San Francisco in late 1851. Mme. Giovanni dominates this story. She does so by the force of her presence, as well as through the power of her understanding of the people and the situations that she encounters. Throughout, her husband is a figure in the background, on stage for most of the scenes but rarely a character with important lines. When he solicits Mme. Giovanni’s advice on their financial condition, he ridicules her commonsense solution. Instead he mounts a large-scale expedition to the mining camps that turns into another financial disaster. That Mme. Giovanni loves him and is always concerned for his personal safely does not detract from her strength as the leading figure in this long and insightful story. In Mme. Giovanni, Dumas created the most important fictional character that emerged from the French “rush to gold.” That this character was a woman made the account all the more remarkable. JEAN-NICOLAS PERLOT AND THE CONTINUING ATTRACTION OF THE CALIFORNIA DREAM

Jean-Nicolas Perlot returned to his home in Belgium in the fall of 1867, some twenty-three years after he had left his native village. The village was the same, undisturbed by the passage of time; his immediate family was dramatically changed, dispersed or dead. He was warmly welcomed by his uncle and cousins, who brought him up to date on the family gossip and feuds. He set out to visit the relatives in town and the countryside: “The visits were made correctly, methodically, beginning with the most aged.” It was a series of full days, interspersed with the obligatory coffee and cake. Immersed in family disputes and questions of wills and beneficiaries, Perlot listened to complaints and rumors

Long Echoes of the “Rush to Gold” and tried to correct the endless misconceptions about America. When he completed his rounds of relatives near and far, he returned to find his village in an uproar. He described it: “Fourteen young men had resolved to expatriate themselves to go to tempt fortune beyond the seas and were preparing to accompany me [when I return] to America.” He continued of the repercussions: “Fourteen young men of parts, that meant as many young girls condemned for a long time, perhaps forever to celibacy: a veritable disaster in a village of twelve hundred inhabitants—and I was the cause of it.” But Perlot was only the immediate instrument. The cause was the twenty years of publicity surrounding the California gold discoveries, given a human face with the return of this local Argonaut. He was an exotic; more to the point, he was a success. His home in Portland—always described in conversation as “north of California”—seemed to promise a similar range of economic opportunities.43 When Perlot left (with a new bride) to return to Portland, the young men accompanied them. The ceremony was a repeat of a hundred such departures for California and America. “At five o’clock in the morning, the drum was beating the call to arms in the village, in order, said the crier, that everybody might be up to witness the departure of those who were going off to the other end of the world and to shake them by the hand for the last time; he was followed by a group of young men singing at the top of their lungs the Song of Departure (Chant du Départ) . . . .”44 It was a scene familiar to those who had come to the docks in Le Havre in 1849 and 1850 to wave to the eager French Argonauts in their rush to gold. EUSTACHE AND HENRI MATHET AND THE CONTINUING AURA OF THE CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE

Eustache and Henri Mathet embodied the mysteries—known and unknown—of the rush to gold. On their return, they came to represent the public face of the Wild West. They played their parts in a community drawn to their exotic stories. Eustache could bring forth a wide range of exotic characters—trappers, gold miners, Indians in fantastic dress, buffalo, cowboys, sheriffs, and Mormon polygamists. He could also expound on the landscapes, the great peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the California desert, the fertile, wellwatered valleys, and the immense forests, home to the venerable “sequoias.” It was a panorama of the American West to capture willing listeners from the village and even the countryside.45 Henri’s return two years later added to the accounts of the West, California, and the rush to gold. He played a leading role as a central character in his



France drama. At the age of twenty-four, he was slim, elegant, with a determined bearing, dressed in black, with a felt hat with a large brim, like those later found in the illustrations of the famous Buffalo Bill. Within six months, Henri had achieved a degree of local notoriety embodied in his nickname, “the Sheriff.” Although less extrovert than his father, the two of them rode the legends and mysteries of the “Wild West” to a high peak of local notoriety. Such poses and idle stories irritated the responsible François, but no matter.46 There remained another dimension of the return of the two veteran French Argonauts—namely, what had they brought back with them as a California nest egg? From their initial appearance, our two characters remained resolutely discreet on this subject. And the more discreet, the more the rumors. What about the debts? This was the immediate issue. Later, questions emerged about the substantial investment necessary for the Épicerie Mathet and for the imposing house on the Rue de la République. Father, son, and family remained determinedly unforthcoming on this item of great local interest. But to the end, their experiences and expectations suggested in the strongest terms that veterans of the rush to gold, especially those who had remained in California for eight and ten years respectively, had surely returned with a substantial dividend for the passage of their years there. This air of mystery and wealth survived the death of Henri (1916) and attached itself to his widow, Rosalie, for another quarter century. Thus, the legacies of the French participation in the California gold rush survived into the twentieth century.47



In 1848 on the eve of the gold discoveries in California, France was a nation of 35 million people. From among this national population, something on the order of 30,000 French citizens (as they were properly known after the Revolution of 1848) went to the California goldfields. Within the economy that developed to assist this emigration, a variety of individuals and companies benefited. These included ship captains, shipowners, and ship crews; purveyors of supplies for the voyages and in the goldfields; transportation facilities that moved the prospective Argonauts to the ports and then the docks; and hotels and boardinghouses along the way where the travelers stopped. Still, such economic activity, however diverse and lasting over some thirty months, involved only a small portion of working people in France. Among the various emigrants, a group of well-to-do individuals, including some representatives of the nobility, made the voyage, some driven by boredom and adventure, others by the need to replenish family fortunes lost through excesses or miscalculations. Those of modest means found a way to make the trip to California through negotiated financial arrangements with their families or neighbors. At the other end of the social and economic scale, the expedition, with its immediate and future costs, surely involved few working-class people, for representatives of this group could not afford to make the costly voyage to El Dorado. The exceptions were those with few or no resources who departed through the sponsored emigration of the Garde Mobile or the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. THE NEWS OF GOLD

The story of the California gold discoveries and their influence on French life began with a few news items in a world of numerous stories, domestic and 269


France foreign. The Constitutionnel, in reporting President James K. Polk’s address to Congress, noted the reference to the discovery of gold in California, recently acquired in the war against Mexico. Six days later, the Constitutionnel repeated the news of the gold discoveries, with the observation that American newspapers were preoccupied with a single issue: “It’s California!” The Siècle, the second large-circulation Paris daily, confined itself to the report of Polk’s speech. Outside Paris, notices were scattered. An extract from a letter written by a naval captain from the port of Mazatlan, dated October 26, 1848, appeared in the Mémorial Bordelais on December 28. He reported that the Mexican port was in “a frenzy of excitement.” The origin of this upsurge of feeling was the discovery of “a placer of gold” near the port of San Francisco. The Journal des Débats, a quasi-official publication, had its first notice of the California gold discoveries on January 11, 1849. It reported that in the eastern port cities in the United States “the fever of emigration for California continued unabated.”1 These notices of California gold joined other improbable items of news. Strange events from around the world made their way into the Paris dailies (and subsequently other newspapers across France), and many of them described incidents in America. Such reports had given knowledgeable French observers a healthy degree of skepticism concerning the American press. Furthermore, the focus of the French press, especially in Paris, was still on the recent presidential election. The many popular magazines and newspapers—several recently established with the abolition of press censorship in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848—helped to publicize the events in distant California. What followed in the aftermath of these first reports was the persistence of the rumors, gradually making the transition to acceptance. The emerging California companies and their grandiose promises provided endless subjects for cartoons and caricatures, as well as pages of advertising in newspapers across the nation. A generation later, a distant observer summarized the first heady days: “Extraordinary emotions agitated the old world when it received news in 1848 that Colonel Sutter and his Indians had discovered, in the valleys of California, some layers of gold almost just above ground. It was an electric spark that struck all the imaginations.”2 In those first weeks of January 1849, the magic words of “gold” and “California,” generally used in conjunction with one another, drove a growing mania that would fuel dreams of wealth and adventure. THE RESPONSES

The reaction of the French to the California gold discoveries went through several cycles. Initially, editors across the nation dismissed California as an

The Balance Sheet American creation. There were several kinds of skepticism. One of the most common reflected the sentiment that the very word “California” symbolized fraud and deception. The innumerable schemes launched in the name of gold rush California provided much to support this view. The humor magazine Charivari offered a summary: “America is a true country of deception and above all a California deception. It is a country that we should leave to the Americans, as one leaves razors to the English and macaroni to the Neapolitans.”3 New language reflected a rising interest. At first, editors and observers searched for images that would convey the power of the discoveries. There were several variations. “On all the walls of Paris, Brussels, and London shines out the headline gold mines, in red bold type.”4 Here was the declaration of fascination that had reached the most important European capital cities. Gradually, these dramatic descriptions achieved a degree of acceptance. The next stage appeared with the suggestion that French people should do more than post and read notices: they should make plans to go to California. “California! One has been occupied, for several months, with a country situated 8,000 leagues from France. From whence sounds the refrain. Ads for ships leaving for California are on the bottom of every newspaper.”5 Notices of departures for California had begun to appear in the newspapers. The French people—or at least a group of them—were in motion. Finally, California gold and the response to it seemed to suggest a promise that cut across class, age, and perhaps even gender lines in a nation well attuned to all these benchmarks in society. “Neither age, nor family, nor position will arrest the enthusiasts seduced by this picture of the new land of promise.” This account continued: “The worker, the young man at the beginning of his career, the man established, wish equally to attempt a fortune, and thanks to the splendid mirage of the Sacramento, the voyage to California is hardly considered a most serious undertaking, seems today something the most simple in the world.” News of departures for Monterey or San Francisco seemed like pleasure trips to Boston or Philadelphia.6 Here was a final piece to the puzzle of distance. Modern technology had placed this distant golden harvest within the reach of almost every French citizen. THE GOLDEN YEARS

As the direction of the nation seemed more uncertain and confused in the winter of 1848–1849, the news of gold rush California blossomed with possibilities. The score of new California companies filled newspapers across the nation



France with striking advertisements. “Gold” and “California” had become a part of the French language, and soon observers and editors of all political persuasions agreed on the presence of a new El Dorado half a world away. There followed some thirty months of rising emigration to California. In a nation of increasing political divisions, there were soon political interpretations of “gold” and “California.” Did the sudden emergence of this new El Dorado with its economic opportunities for all represent an extension of the promises of the new republic established in February 1848? After all, in the eyes of its creators and defenders, the new republic would represent a new dimension of opportunity for French people at all levels of society. Universal male suffrage offered the most dramatic statement, but close behind was the “right to work,” a statement that summed up the aspirations and expectations of so many French people in the hard and confusing year of 1848. California gold would have a worldwide reach, but much of the French response was specific rather than universal. France had endured—indeed was still in the throes of coming to terms with—widespread changes in agriculture and life on the land. In a nation still rural and centered in villages and the countryside, crops had been devastated by two years of drought and the collapse of agricultural prices. An instinctive response was a large-scale movement of agricultural workers into the cities. This economic upheaval in French life intersected the political upheavals of 1848. In a France divided by debates about the revolution and its meaning, and especially the recent spasm of violence in June, the news of California and the opportunities associated with it would invariably come together with some groups’ visions of a just and equitable society. In some ways, California emerged as the symbol of a universal opportunity for all strands of society, and such a vision was excoriated by others who saw the society of the gold rush country sink into depths of disorder and anarchy. The dramatic appearance of California gold in France called forth a series of significant questions. Consider, for example, the pressing issues of the entry of the United States into the ranks of world expansion and imperial ambitions. The rapid American occupation of California in response to the discovery of gold provoked questions about the future of the Pacific for the expansionist ambitions of European nations, including France and the French. These questions made regular appearances in the popular press. In the two and a half years that followed the first news of California gold, some thirty thousand French people (mostly but not exclusively male) responded to avarice, boredom, the thirst for adventure, blighted local prospects, and uncomfortable domestic situations, or variations on all of the above.

The Balance Sheet These various French Argonauts were pulled, pushed, drifted, or rushed to California. There, over some thirty months, they adjusted to the California riddle, the mixture of opportunity and danger, hard work and leisure, isolation and intense friendships, how to make one’s way in an alien culture with an alien language. These arriving French went to the emerging city of San Francisco, to the towns in the interior, to the villages, to the gold camps, and to all the places in between. Throughout, they were always surrounded by the Americans, whose continuing presence was their greatest challenge. The French presence in California may be characterized in a few broad strokes. For the most part, they lived in what we might call French communities and neighborhoods in San Francisco and other towns and in French-speaking camps in the placers. They did not learn English. From the time of their arrival, they seem to have given little thought to remaining in California, but instead, they always looked to France as the foundation of their identity, the source of their origin, and the place of their future. The existence of the French in California became a part of French life in France. Accounts from French Argonauts appeared in newspapers. Fictional narratives became part of the offerings of feuilletons in journals. Interspersed with accounts of violence and success, the French presence had assumed a sense of “normal” in the French use of the term. This continued presence was notably assisted by the emergence of a second generation of California companies. Between autumn 1849 and summer 1850, grandiose promises again blanketed the newspapers. Finally came the great Lottery of the Golden Ingots. The burst of publicity and the rising sense of expectations built around the large prizes and the many tickets, driven by the words “California” and “gold,” reached a crescendo in November 1851, with the widely publicized drawing. This burst of popular enthusiasm marked the high point of the French fascination with California in its first version. (There would be other, later ones in the twentieth century.) Almost immediately thereafter, the allure of the French for California began to decline. The departure of the lottery ships marked the cooling of an intense three-year love affair.7 THE CALIFORNIA DREAM FADES

The decline of the California excitement had its own epigrams. “It was scarcely three years ago that one heard that Peru had come to be rediscovered in a country a little bit unknown, that one called California.”8 These were the words of an account of the varied French activities in California. They serve as an introduction to California’s obscurity at the time, and the



France informed reader would be aware of how this obscurity had been succeeded by a national mania. Now, after three years, this fascination was drawing to a close. The close of the great French affaire (with the customary mixture of love and hate) with California and the gradual retrenchment of the French had their own internal benchmarks. The first was the drawing of the celebrated Lottery of the Golden Ingots on November 16, 1851. This dramatic three-hour event was the climax of the national fascination with this lottery, and the intensity of the national temperature fell rapidly thereafter. The first of the lottery ships sailed from Le Havre on October 11, 1851, followed by a steady stream at more or less monthly intervals until the last of the lottery ships departed in January 1853. The lottery ships represented a coda to the French and the gold rush. For these emigrants had departed with the expectation of staying in California and making a new life there for themselves and their families. Thus, the story of the French and California gold closed on a compulsory note—a group of emigrants sponsored by the government who left France as undesirable citizens or as victims of economic hardship. They arrived in California to begin their new lives with the prospect of permanent exile. Another mark of the transition was the coup d’état of December 1851, following closely on the drawing of the great lottery. Louis Napoléon Bonaparte had originally come to power in the presidential election of December 1848. Mandated under the new constitution of the new republic, the election was intended to showcase the new power of French citizens as they exercised their vote under the new universal (male) suffrage. Louis Napoléon Bonaparte’s unexpected triumph wrote an end to the uncertain year of 1848, among which the news of the gold discoveries was among the most dramatic. Three years later, in December 1851, he engineered a coup d’état, and the popular referendum of January 1852 wrote a decisive close to the experiment of the Second Republic. Finally, there appeared the filibustering expeditions, a dramatic expression of French disillusion with the promises of the gold rush, mixed with determination to succeed in other ventures with the same prize. The Marquis de Pindray and Count Gaston Raousset-Boulbon recruited portions of their armed forces from the unhappy and idle French Argonauts left over from the excitement and opportunities associated with the gold rush. As the dream of gold faded, it was replaced by a search for another great opportunity, this time in Mexico under French leadership. The Americans and California would not be part of this dream. It would be exclusively French, a quality remarked upon and embraced by its participants.9


The intrusion of California and gold into French life was, at the same time, the intrusion of America. On the eve of the gold discoveries, America had a vague and generally favorable image among French people who cared to notice. France had played a decisive role in the war to establish American independence, and this triumph was the sweeter because it dealt a sharp setback to the ancient English enemy. France still had vivid and unhappy memories of the loss of its continental empire in the aftermath of the war of 1756–1763. PierreCharles de Saint-Amant wrote of “the deplorable loss of Canada, sacrificed by the shameful treaty of 1763.”10 The French response was to support the rebellion of the American colonies in the form of loans, an army, and a navy. “Lafayette” became a household word in America, and his friendship with George Washington was a bedrock of relations between the two nations. After that moment of triumph in the second Treaty of Paris in 1783, France had its own revolution and wars. Finally concluded in 1815, there followed a prolonged period of postwar adjustment with periodic outbursts of protest, some of them violent. America filtered into the French consciousness through the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose celebrated account analyzed the Americans for that segment of the French population who bothered to read him. There were also various expeditions of exploration sent out as part of France’s steps to counter British expansion. One of these exercises, under the leadership of Eugène Duflot de Mofras, explored the California and Oregon coasts between 1840 and 1842. The gold discoveries now gave a new urgency to the questions of America, the Americans, and California. As one observer commented in 1851, France had contributed several thousand “children” of the republic to the California excitement; accordingly, it was time to find out where they were going and the sort of people and institutions they would encounter there. And the more so if these encounters would take place in an atmosphere of tension and friction, as was indeed likely.11 From the outset, French observers found Americans everywhere—in Panama, on the way to California, in the mines. They appeared in San Francisco as laborers, merchants, doctors, and lawyers; they appeared in the gold camps by the thousands, where they exercised control over local institutions. Yet these institutions, by French standards, were minimal, and the force of a central authority was marginal to the point of vanishing. Equally astonishing, the Americans seemed quite comfortable going their own way and filling in forms of law and a court system as needs arose.



France As for the Americans in the mines, they were physically strong, hard working, and never discouraged. They worked with a single-minded intensity. They rallied around to protect other Americans and their claims at the expense of foreigners, whatever the legal merits of the case might be. They were generally contemptuous of all foreigners, especially those who did not speak English. At the same time, they sometimes offered individual acts of kindness and generosity. Mining camps aside, as the French tried to understand the American character, their initial observations were a mix of the obvious and the surprising. One of the first attempts was a correspondent of the Moniteur Universel in the early days of the gold rush. He wrote: “The American character, necessarily destined to dominate in the center of this immigration, is one of particular and admirable exceptionalism.” The writer continued: whatever the hopes and fantasies that move the gold seekers, the American quickly returns to reality. He does not seem to know or to heed the rejections and perils that influence others. Perhaps this quality was “really the secret of the marvelous future of the Union.” The Americans quickly show “their activity, their intelligence, their industry, the national spirit, which has made for rapid prosperity in the United States.”12 This sense of the relentless quality of the American was summed up by the Belgian J. J. F. Haine, in his comment, “The word ‘impossible,’ according to Napoléon I, should not be in the dictionary. The Yankee carries this saying to its extreme. Go ahead is his rallying cry.”13 Another observer added, “The Americans also have a character that is never held back nor discouraged; if the mountains trouble them, they level the ground; if fire demolishes their houses, they build others around the corner.”14 Thus, the French confronted a wide array of challenges: uncertain commercial prospects, foreign laws, and, above all, the implacable character of their American competitors. On the far side of the emphasis on work and ambition lay the observations about the American attitudes toward women. Some journals commented on the gross and revolting behavior of many Americans contrasted to the very real politeness of Americans in their meetings and interactions with women and wives, “who, in their homes, are infinitely freer, more respected, and more materially happy than [their counterparts] in Europe.”15 The French agreed that the American respect for women was a universal principle of behavior in California. Across the spectrum of the gold rush, beginning in Panama, Americans would go out of their way to render assistance and provide protection. Two strands of analysis emerged over the first two years of the French presence in California. The first reflected the imposing and even intimidating physical presence of the Americans. This described the American capacity for endless hard labor, a quality perfectly suited to the mines. It also emphasized

The Balance Sheet the dogged determination of the Americans never to accept failure. The French found this endless optimism naïve, and yet they agreed that it, too, was admirably adopted for the mining exercise. Here, the lottery dimension of the return rewarded those who continued to labor without ceasing. In the second strand, the hostility of the Americans toward foreigners and their propensity to violence was unnerving. Both tendencies ran parallel to the absence of established institutions of law and a functioning court system. That the informal arrangements that developed favored the Americans angered the French. Yet such arrangements were only a continuation of an American tradition of intimate local government with its roots in the county court. Balanced against these dangers of violence and the presence of Americans as competitors were occasional acts of generosity. The Americans often came out of small communities where assistance to those in need was a shared quality. The Americans had established a set of unwritten rules of conduct. Patrice Dillon, the French consul, referred to them as the California Moral Code, “a code known and accepted by everyone.” In brief, under this code, crimes against persons—“in an affair of vengeance or in a quarrel”—were permitted to be settled by knife or gun. But, Dillon continued, “to touch another person’s property, that is the greatest of heinousness.” Such a crime would provoke an immediate response from the entire community or camp, as men would “in an instant come out of the tents and the neighboring houses and would chase the thief. Merchant, miner, ferryboat man, everyone would quit what he was doing in order to dash out in pursuit, for everyone was interested in preventing the theft, and there are neither gendarmes nor soldiers to stay on guard in the interests of the public.”16 Dillon went on to analyze with great insight the American attitude toward civil authority. He began with an allusion to the European acceptance of such authority. As for the Americans, the intervention of civil authority was a last resort. They preferred to deal with “social disorders” themselves, independent of the institutions of organized government. Dillon continued: it might be better for France to transfer a degree of political power to the French people “[so] that we learn to rely, like the Americans, more on ourselves and less on our government, to moderate and restrain the impetus toward the intervention of civil authority.” Thus, Dillon noted that the absence of a central authority—for example, a state government in California—did not disturb the Americans as it did the French. The Americans simply went about the business of making their own rules, as they had done in newly settled areas for three generations.17 Gustave Aimard wrote of the American character in his fictional accounts. In The Gold Seekers: A Tale of California, first published in 1854, he described



France the American skill in founding towns. He began with the statement, “No people equals the American in the art of founding towns.” He then went on to elaborate the technique repeated across a thousand miles of empty landscape: “In a few days, on the spot where a virgin forest full of mystery and shadow stood, they lay out streets, build houses, light gas; and in the midst of these streets and squares, created as if by enchantment, the forest trees are not yet dead and a few forgotten oaks flourish with a melancholy air. It is true that many of these towns, improvised for the exigencies of the moment, are frequently deserted as rapidly as they were built, for the North American is the true nomadic race.”18 There was another side to this story of enterprise and energy. Aimard continued: “The American has no home, that word so endearing to Europeans.” The American was a constant sojourner. His home was related to the temporary economic advantage to be found at that moment. When economic advantage appeared elsewhere, he would immediately pack up and leave. For a larger landholding or a more fertile farm site, he would desert his cabin and improvements, turn his back on the grave site of one or more members of the family, abandon neighbors and community, and travel west with his family in search of something larger and better. He was never confounded or intimidated by the challenge of a new landscape.19 Consider these qualities in relation to the California gold rush. When the stories of wealth in California appeared, the Americans made ready to seize the opportunity, as they had long seized natural resources for their own benefit. But, in this case, they were joined by Europeans: “The birds of prey . . . in Europe, rush with a loud cry toward that unknown land, where they fancied they should find in a few days all the joys with which they had been gorged, and which they hoped this time to satisfy.” At the end of this fantasy of wealth lay backbreaking labor. “Unfortunately, in California, as elsewhere, the first condition of acquiring wealth is incessant, permanent, and regular labor.” This was a quality at which the Americans excelled, and the Europeans would have to follow suit (however reluctantly) if they hoped to compete in the goldfields.20 The Americans had their defenders. The Constitutionnel offered a perceptive observation on the California gold rush, using the emerging Australian gold discoveries as a point of comparison. “The search for gold has cast the foundation of civilization in California,” the paper commented. Contrast this foundation with the recent news from Australia. In California, the early gold seekers built towns and then a city; in Australia, they emptied out the city of Melbourne and built nothing. Many of the California Argonauts stayed to become colonizers; the Australians left as soon as they had a strike. Thus, the Americans were colonizers in the best sense of the word. The Australians were itinerant scavengers.21

The Balance Sheet Over some three years, French observers made inroads on coming to terms with the American character. When all was said, and there was much to be said, most of them concluded that the conditions found in gold rush California were well matched to the qualities brought by the Americans. Those characteristics of energy, ambition, and a highly developed work ethic were brought to bear with the capacity of Americans to create institutions to maximize and protect their advantages. These blending circumstances, the French concluded, were not always fair or just, but they were inevitable. It was well for the French to learn to adjust or retire. THE FRENCH ASSESS THE FRENCH CHARACTER

Almost everywhere, the French character could be juxtaposed against the American. Martial Chevalier pursued this theme in a long article in the Revue des Deux Mondes. Published in mid-1852, it was an analysis of the French experience in California set against the context of the French character. In order to succeed in California, he wrote, the French Argonauts needed to be able and willing to compete with the Americans. If they competed, many opportunities for success lay everywhere. “The emigrant who possesses some of the qualities necessary to wrestle with the American, that is, the spirit of business united to great ability and a rare prudence, is certain to find in California something to occupy his activity. For him, the stay in the cities and the points of commerce will be much more advantageous than the nomadic life of a searcher for gold.” He continued: “As for the man experienced from his youth in an occupation like those in the placers—to work in the fields, for example—if he is courageous and persevering, he is able to see his position in California with some confidence. The emigrant of this class ordinarily manages to gather at the end of the day a quantity of metal that represents a value of 4 to 5 dollars at least, which corresponds to 20 to 25 francs, while his expenses ought not to rise to more than a quarter of that sum.” This was a favorable outcome by almost any standard.22 Among the success stories that Chevalier cited was that of a veteran soldier from the artillery and later a farmer in one of the departments of the Midi. After a long and discouraging period of six months of finding scarcely enough to pay for food, this man continued to work with the same energy, and over the next three months, he accumulated gold to the value of $3,000—that is, F 15,000. This was not the only such story. “Many of our compatriots today peacefully enjoy the fruits of their work [after] the moral and physical privations that they imposed on themselves on going to California.” He went on: “Almost all of



France these latter appear to belong to that class of men of the countryside, workers, sober and patient, not discouraged by difficulties, and who counted only on their personal efforts to acquire, by stubborn efforts, that which destiny, which distributed the social positions, had not to this point bestowed to their lot.” He concluded that continuing labor in the face of difficulties would be rewarded, but it would involve much hard work over an extended period.23 Chevalier also wrote that the French needed to work hard. He noted the strong American work ethic that dominated the mining sites. He observed: “In the United States, it is the liberty of work that is the law of the country. The great liberty offered the American citizen is the liberty in the domain of work.” He summed up his observations in a single sentence: “California [is] in the hands of this enterprising race.”24 Within this dominating American presence by numbers, physical strength, and character, the French had done well. They had a substantial presence in California, a population that was “young, active, and enterprising,” intent on exercising a strong influence on the development of this civilization. In short, this was a great enterprise in which the French were poised to participate. And they expected to compete.25 Some French observers went on to suggest that the French would compete with the Americans on their own terms. In other words, they would compete while, at the same time, they would retain those French qualities that they so valued. Part of what emerged from the gold rush was a French vision of California set against a backdrop of the French in France. Even as they found much to praise in the Americans, the French found much to be happy about in their own character and activities. Consider, for example, this characterization of French activities in San Francisco in 1851: “The French are not rich, not enterprising, not well thought of, because of their real inferiority next to the Americans, because of their love of chitchat and their taste for the café life. There is no money to be made among them.” Of course the comment did not do justice to several dimensions of French commercial life in San Francisco. The French community had entrepreneurs like François Pioche, who competed with great success with the Americans because he was able to bridge the commercial and cultural distance between the two. At the same time, almost everywhere and on every occasion, the French defined themselves in counterpoint to the Americans. Perhaps the French preferred a longer meal and an extended conversation over coffee. Such priorities would fall within their traditional cultural norms of the importance of such interludes for the quality of life they enjoyed. That they would relish such moments in San Francisco as well as Paris would be no surprise. A balance of comments suggested that the French could compete quite well with the Americans when they chose to do so. At the

The Balance Sheet same time, on other occasions, they preferred a more leisurely approach to business and life. The French would surely have endorsed such a variation.26 The same ideas echoed on a large canvas. One of the most obvious examples was the issue of land and land ownership. Thus, “the French prefer honest mediocrity: they do not wish to exchange 10 hectares of France for 300 acres of the best soil in America.” If one noted the obvious success of cultivators in America, as shown in the size of holdings and the rapid adaptation to commercial agriculture, why did the French not follow suit? The reason was simply a different outlook on the world. The French lived in small villages, and they were accustomed to work on a small scale. They also liked the continuity of generations of family life in the same setting. When the French examined their character in the context of the American, they liked what they saw.27 In California, the French worked at their own pace and almost always in their own communities. These communities were defined principally by language but also by habits and cycles of work and leisure. This world mirrored an essential part of the world they had left in France: communities defined by stability and longevity. In both cases, a prevailing quality of the participation was continuity, not wandering from site to site, constantly on the move in search of a better situation. The French came from a world of extended family connections. These connections played a crucial and continuing role in their lives in France, and for most French Argonauts, it played a similar role in their lives in California. Thus, a French gold seeker, like Ernest de Massey, placed loyalty to his family on the highest rung of priorities. He did so at the risk of his own advantage. Finally, to a small but identifiable degree, California mirrored the ambitions of the French as reflected in hard work and production on a small scale, emphasizing quality workmanship in small units of production. In this respect, they contrasted to the British and the Americans, both of whom were moving to large-scale production and celebrating size and mass. The French still thought in terms of the small units of labor, individuals, the family, the village. Perhaps this helps to explain the complaints about the French organizing and working in large groups in the mining camps. For whatever reason, the French thought in smaller terms and rejoiced in their circumstances.28 FRENCH ARGONAUTS AND THOSE THEY LEFT BEHIND

One other dimension of the French plans and departures needs to be addressed. Few of the prospective French Argonauts paid serious attention to the condition of those they left behind. Some mentioned sadness at leaving



France wives and children, but they said little or nothing about the condition of these dependents or how they proposed to adjust to their long absences. Reading between the lines of their stories, we see that two strands emerge. The first is related to issues of social and economic class. Just as this group had sufficient resources to make the voyage to California—some first class and many accompanied by goods to sell—so they had reserves to support their families in their absence. The second conjured up the traditional male prerogative in which men seek wealth and adventure (even danger), while families remain safely at home, supporting them with every resource possible. One of the interesting features of so many of these accounts was that the French Argonauts did not seem to receive mail from home, or if they received letters, they did not comment on them. Nor did they anywhere reflect an ongoing concern about the condition of their families, whether related to illness, money, harvests, or schooling. In short, they seemed cut off from their families and from France, and apart from occasional asides, they did not seem concerned. The French emigration to California in search of economic opportunity was a response to a surge of gold fever that blanketed the newspapers and magazines across the nation for thirty months. It was a movement of people that cut across political lines and extended across large stretches of the nation. It did not offer emigration to artisans, farmers, or small tradesmen. It is true that a few villages contributed small groups. These were clearly the exceptions. But at whatever level of society, the exodus for California left behind large numbers of family members. Whether the family was in the chateau of Ernest de Massey or in the village cottages of the men from Bruley, the rush to gold in California was not only about those who departed with such public acclaim, but also about those who remained behind when the shouting had died away. Here the paradox emerged. French observers (however insightful in many areas) had little or nothing to say about the hidden costs of the California adventure. More specifically, they were generally silent on the cost to families, to wives and children, to elderly parents, to villages and communities without the presence and support of this exodus of able-bodied French Argonauts. Several participants who left accounts speak of their regret and even anguish at leaving their families. Few, if any, turned back. Of course, we may not have the accounts of those who returned home. Back in the family and the village, their explanations could be private and oral. We know only of those who soldiered on, driven (they always argued) by duty to families to go forth and persevere in the face of endless hardships, dangers, and disappointments. Charles de Lambertie concluded that his resolution was severely shaken by “the urgent letters that I received from my wife and my sister, who write to me

The Balance Sheet to cancel the purchases of the merchandise and to return; that the Paris newspapers are filled with unpleasant news about California. These uncertainties which float about make me sad and morose.” Still, the prospect of sadness on departure was more than balanced by visions of triumph and rapture on return to France. Yet another doubt surfaced on the eve of sailing. De Lambertie wrote: “I find myself prey to the cruelest hesitation. In these retrospective outbursts, my thought carries with the most tender emotions to my wife and to my children, who hold me as the North Pole holds a magnetized needle. I feel moved to pity my courage when I envision these dear objects, and when I imagine the dangerous reefs and the perils of all kinds that I will brave, for a moment I wish to say good-bye and embrace them again.”29 Upon rare occasions, the French Argonaut might examine his prospects, options, and motives against a background of his family in France. His conclusions might be generous and even affecting. After much introspection, de Lambertie concluded: “I said to myself, I could be so happy in France, surrounded by my wife and my children, with the passable fortune that I possess; I have voluntarily condemned myself here to a veritable life as a galley slave, at work that is the most disagreeable and the most taxing.” In the end, like so many others, he made the appropriate male decision.30 De Lambertie’s condition was one shared by innumerable miners from the nations of the world. Why had he given up this happy domestic situation (with its implications of independent wealth) to pursue a golden fantasy in the cold waters of distant mountain streams? Almost all miners, at times in their mining experiences, contemplated this question. And, like so many others, when this moment passed, he bade a mental adieu to his wife and returned to the shovel, bucket, and cradle. The reasons were a mixture of the practical and of pride: “I said to myself, without doubt, it would be most agreeable to depart for France, to return to my country, my family and all my friends; but the money which I had squandered on this great voyage will leave an empty place in my fortune; and . . . I will regret having lost courage at the moment when I could restore everything. M. Bahlie told me, in a moment where he had a fresh outbreak of hope, let’s go forward to make our fortune; next year there will not remain great things to glean in the placers. Let’s go, I said; my energy, come to my assistance. Never have I had such need of your support.” So once again, de Lambertie took up his tools and resumed his hard labors.31 Ernest de Massey has left an account of his voyage and his two years in California that covers some four hundred pages. He goes into great detail about his adventures and trials; the feckless behavior of his nephew, Alexandre Veron; and the passive incompetence of his hired laborer, Pidaucet. He has nothing to



France say about those he left behind, about their trials and burdens. It was true that de Massey came from a privileged class, by comparison with many French Argonauts. It is also true that he left behind no wife or children. And, like so many others, he left professing his determination to redeem himself from the financial failures of the past, to return to his family in Passavant with the family name and his own personal fortune enhanced. That his brother would eventually join him in California spoke to his view that California remained a place of economic opportunity. In the framework of correspondence that underlay the California gold rush experience, every national group had its variations. The French Argonauts felt strongly about the obligation to send funds home. It might be thought of as part of the contract of their departure. The historian Daniel Lévy, writing in 1884, noted that “the French miners sent to their families, from 1850 to 1851, more than four million francs . . . through the intermediary agency of the French consulate. Considerable sums were also sent by other means.”32 In exchange, the correspondents in France would provide regular news of relatives, friends, and life in the neighborhood. Few of the surviving collections of these exchanges give much attention to the family dimension. It is true that the designated correspondents of the friends from the village of Bruley offered regular glimpses into family life, as appropriate. This was especially true of news about those who might be coming to join the citizens of the village already in California. The young men from Lorraine were an exception. In his letters, Jean Migot always showed great respect for the elders of the village. He wrote, “You cannot know the pleasure that I feel on conversing an instant with you; when one is thousands of leagues away, and when for some months one has not been close to parents that one loves sincerely, one often thinks of that absence; and one has good reason to say: the more one is separated, the more one loves.” And the signature that adorns so many of his letters: “Your very humble and devoted brother.”33 Migot always sent “many good wishes” to his large roster of uncles, aunts, cousins, godfathers, and godmothers and to the in-laws of his sisters. He asked that embraces be given to his nieces and nephews. He sent greetings to old friends by their diminutive names. To all these greetings he added a melancholy closing: “Speak to them often of me.” He missed them, but above all, he did not want to be forgotten. His infrequent letters had become attempts to shore up his fading connections with his extended family.34 The influence of gold and the impact on a personal level could be played out in a variety of forms and situations. One of the notable conditions associated with life in gold rush California was its anonymity. In a world of endless mobility

The Balance Sheet and transience, men were who they said they were. Whatever stories they told were what they wanted known about themselves. Personal habits or patterns of behavior were no longer shaped or reined in by the presence of friends, relatives, neighbors, or a community. These groups had long since disappeared. So whether men drank, gambled, caroused, or were involved in any other kind of public display to excess became their own business. Or the business of a small, select group of friends of like-minded anonymity. What of the issue of marital fidelity? After all, like their American counterparts, these Frenchmen were generally young, living in an anonymous world, with values turned upside down, and a long way from home. Charles de Lambertie described an encounter with a friend. This man told him that while in California, he had been unfaithful to his spouse. De Lambertie continued about his own experiences: “However, I have sometimes seen a young Chilean woman, who had some luck to triumph over my fidelity. . . . She was lovely, and a young man accustomed to seeing French women ought to understand beauty.” Presumably that was sufficient justification. De Lambertie recognized that such encounters belonged to this world of temporary connections, and so he would eventually leave “my beautiful enchantress.” He seems to have enjoyed his time with her to the fullest and without any sense of guilt over his wife and three children.35 The French struggled mightily to succeed in California. They dug, carried, and washed in the goldfields. They worked at a variety of menial jobs beneath their sense of their own station in life. They happily (or at least willingly) endured the greatest physical hardships of poor shelter, marginal food, and digging and washing in cold water and bright, burning sun. They spared little time for thoughts about their families. Perhaps this was a part of their sense of the contractual arrangements, which gave them leave to disappear for years halfway around the world in exchange for wealth that would ease the present condition of the family for the indefinite future. Instead, the indefinite future became their exiled sentence in California. Part of this may have fed into the feeling that it was their masculine duty to labor under these harsh conditions and never show regret, as it was their masculine duty never to show weakness or regret. For whatever reasons, most French Argonauts played their assigned roles without missing a line or a step. Unfortunately, the responses of their families remain a blank. TOWARD A FRENCH IDENTITY

Did participation in the California gold excitement give French people a clear (or clearer) sense of national identity? The Americans regarded all French



France people as the same. Indeed, they called them the “Keskadees,” reflecting the standard French inquiry “What did he say?” (Qu’est-ce qu’il a dit?). The French also had a further incentive to unity in their attempts to face down the hostility of the Americans in the mining camps. French observers, such as Étienne Derbec, commented on the French Canadians, marveling at their adjustments to the landscape, their warm hospitality, and their quaint French (unchanged for two hundred years). Even the most careful correspondent tended to treat all French under the same heading.36 Other unifying elements appeared. All French citizens (in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848) were supposed to apply for passports before they left the country. Some did; others did not. The rule was not rigorously enforced, but the presence of such a national form of identity kept the issue of national identity in a clear form. Furthermore, French emigrants to California called constantly on the French consul, the official representative of the French government. Patrice Dillon was overwhelmed with his multiple responsibilities. In addition to handling commercial disputes and resolving confrontations between French and American miners, Dillon had to deal with endless applications to his office for relief of various kinds. Finally, there appeared at the entrance to San Francisco harbor the ships with the lingotiers, the French citizens sent at government expense by lottery funds. Never had Dillon’s abilities been so needed or challenged. He discharged his duties with great insight, even as he appealed to his government to support in California what it had set adrift at the changing of the tide in Le Havre. His endless labors were done on behalf of the French national government. That this government changed form from a republic to an empire in the course of Dillon’s service did not lessen the high level of his services to all French citizens. French authors who wrote accounts of the French and California and the goldfields always assumed a kind of generic French identity based on language and origin. Within this general identification, Parisians were distinctive. There were occasional references to people from other places. One of the longest and most detailed accounts dealt with a man from Lille. Most of them were honest workers. Dumas contrasted a street urchin from Paris living by his wits with a diligent carpenter. Both had their successes in gold rush California. Mme. Giovanni, a later Dumas creation, criticized the working habits of the French in always demanding a set wage. She noted that the Americans would work for less and do twice the work. Then, there was the case of Ernest de Massey. The most important part of his character was his identification with his social class. Accordingly, he determined to conduct himself at all times in accordance with these principles. He

The Balance Sheet was also devoted to his family, even at the cost of his own success. In the cycles of labor in the mines, he was forced to work for others—on one occasion the Irish, on another the Americans. He discharged his duties as laborer with the same standards that he would have expected from someone laboring for him. De Massey also kept close track of political postures. Yet whatever a man’s politics, de Massey never doubted his French origins and French patriotism, nor his sense of the virtues of French culture and life. When de Massey wrote about variations in the Frenchmen he encountered, he spoke of social and economic class, not national or regional identity. Gustave Aimard caught some of the character of the French in a distant place. “Frenchmen of honor have been seduced to come to the goldfields,” he wrote. He continued: “French emigration, in America or elsewhere, has rarely, or to speak more truthfully, has never succeeded.” Aimard summarized the French experience in California in two sentences. He began with the observation that “the Frenchman is no colonizer; that is, under all circumstances, he remains a Frenchman, and does not wish to be anything else.” He concluded: “He ever regards himself as a traveler and not a sojourner; whatever be the position he may achieve, his eyes are incessantly fixed on France, the only country, in his eyes, where men can live and die happily.”37 His was a fitting epitaph to the close of the French adventure in California.


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notes on currency, travel cost, and income 1. Sources: for the average daily wages and annual income, Philip T. Hoffman, California Institute of Technology, personal communication; for average daily returns in the goldfields, Rodman W. Paul, California Gold: The Beginning of Mining in the Far West (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1947), appendix B.

chapter 1. france in 1848 1. Graham Robb, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007), is a wonderful introduction to the diversity of France, mixed with the unifying themes of land and village life. 2. Roger Price, ed., 1848 in France (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 11–24. 3. Ibid., 24–28. 4. Ibid., 28–42. 5. La Vigie de Dieppe, June 25, 1848. 6. This account draws on Price, 1848 in France, 33–42; Jill Harsin, Barricades: The War of the Streets in Revolutionary Paris, 1830–1848 (New York: Palgrave Publishers, 2002), chs. 3, 5, 7, and 13; and John M. Merriman, Agony of the Republic: The Repression of the Left in Revolutionary France, 1848–1851 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), ch. 1. 7. Price, 1848 in France, 77–79. 8. Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., “The French Consulate in California, 1843–1856,” California Historical Society Quarterly 13 (1934): 271–76. 9. Le Siècle, December 31, 1848; Le Journal des Débats, January 12; February 8, 10, 11, 13, 1849; Le Constitutionnel, February 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 1849. Tyrwhitt-Brooks’s account was later exposed as a forgery, the work of two men of imagination who sought to capitalize on the market for early first-person accounts. 10. On the French presidential election of December 10, the following represent a cross section of opinion: Le Courrier de Lyon, December 13, 16, 20, 1848; La Gazette de



Notes to Pages 20–28 France (Paris), December 12, 15, 1848; Le Mémorial Bordelais, December 12, 1848; Le Siècle, December 4, 15, 1848; Le Constitutionnel, December 12, 13, 15, 1848. Bonaparte’s supporters established the newspaper Le Dix Décembre to celebrate his triumph. Its first issue appeared April 25, 1849. 11. Gilbert Chinard, “When the French Came to California: An Introductory Essay,” California Historical Society Quarterly 22 (1943): 292. Chinard’s is an excellent introduction in English. Abraham P. Nasatir’s French Activities in California: An Archival Calendar Guide (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1945), is the most complete account, with excerpts from important documents and a complete bibliography of French sources. The best scholarly account is Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), chs. 5–7.

chapter 2. news of the california gold discoveries spreads across france 1. Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., “The French Consulate in California, 1843–1856,” California Historical Society Quarterly 13 (1934): 62–63. 2. Erwin G. Gudde, California Gold Camps (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 122, says of the “French” heading that it was “probably the most common of the adjectives denoting nationality in the gold region toponymy.” Gudde lists forty-four mining camps beginning with “French.” 3. Nasatir, “The French Consulate in California,” 165–66. 4. Ibid., 166. 5. Ibid., 169, 171, 173–74. 6. Ibid., 270–71. 7. Ibid., 273–74. 8. New York Herald, August 19, 1848. 9. Times (London), October 10, 18; December 14, 21, 22, 1848. 10. Le Courrier des États-Unis, June 22, 1848. 11. Ibid., July 3, 1848. 12. Ibid., November 30; December 6, 15, 18, 1848. 13. An article in L’Illustration, August 4, 1849, analyzing the most important papers of Paris, said that the Journal des Débats and the Times of London were the most influential papers in Europe. See also Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush: The Letters of Étienne Derbec (Georgetown, CA: Talisman Press, 1964), 192, n. 1. 14. Le Journal des Débats, November 15, 1848. 15. Le Siècle, December 23, 31, 1848. 16. Ibid., December 31, 1848. 17. Le Constitutionnel, December 25, 1848. The paper devoted little space to the gold discoveries in January, but in early February, over six issues in its feuilleton column, it serialized “Les Chercheurs d’Or du Sacramento,” a dramatic fictional account of the early California gold rush days. Le Constitutionnel, February 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 1849.

Notes to Pages 28–35 18. Le Journal des Débats, November 13, 1848; January 12; February 22; March 7, 1849. 19. La Presse, January 2, 5, 1849; Le Pays, January 6, 16, 27, 1849; L’Illustration, January 13, 1849. The year 1849 saw a major cholera outbreak in the eastern United States. The disease spread up the rivers and infected a portion of those Forty-Niners who departed overland for California in the spring of that year. 20. Le Siècle, March 26, 1849, printed a detailed account of practical advice for the prospective French Forty-Niner. The source of this information was M. Lacharme, a French civil engineer, resident for several years in Central America, who provided “practical information of which some items are of the highest importance for immigrants.” Among the headings: itinerary, equipment, diseases and medications, climate “generally healthy,” and natural dangers (snakes, scorpions, centipedes, and venomous insects). And finally, the practical issue of mining itself: “With few exceptions, gold can be obtained only through much work and knowledge.” 21. Le Mémorial de Vaucluse (Avignon), January 27, 1849. 22. L’Écho de l’Oise (Compiègne), February 9, 1849. See also Le Courrier de la Drôme et de l’Ardèche (Valence), January 27, 1849, which noted that the thirst for gold had been implanted in France. 23. Eugène Hatin, Histoire Générale de la Presse Française (3 vols., 1865), 2:399–400. 24. Le Moniteur Universel, January 11, 14, 27; February 2, 9, 10, 1849. 25. Ibid., February 18, 1849. 26. Ibid. 27. Ibid., February 25, 1849. 28. Ibid. 29. Ibid. 30. Ibid., March 2, 1849. The author continued: “Everywhere in this vast landscape, in whatever direction, gold was found throughout. . . . These riches are scarcely opened up, and they will probably not be exhausted for several years and perhaps even for some centuries.” 31. Ibid. 32. Ibid., March 6, 1849. 33. Ibid., April 22, 1849. 34. Le Courrier de la Moselle (Metz), January 9, 1849; La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), January 4, 1849. 35. Le Mémorial Bordelais, February 20; December 16, 1849; La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), December 14, 1849. 36. L’Écho du Nord (Lille), February 20–27, 1849. The Écho’s feuilleton was in English, marking a notable departure from the usual accounts. 37. Le Mémorial Bordelais, December 28, 1848. 38. Le Journal du Havre, February 16, 1849. The goldfields would have been about half the length Carey mentioned, or 150 miles. 39. Le Mémorial Bordelais, July 18, 1849. 40. La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), December 9, 1849. On Valparaiso as a source of commercial information, see Le Courrier de Marseille, December 5, 1849; L’Union Bretonne (Nantes), December 5, 1849.



Notes to Pages 35–43 41. La Gazette du Languedoc, August 31, 1849. 42. For example, L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), December 17, 1849, with a letter containing “interesting details about this fabulous country,” dated San Francisco Bay, September 23, 1849. Other letters from San Francisco are found in Le Mémorial Bordelais, September 21, 1849; March 22, 1850; Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), February 9, 1850. 43. La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), April 12; February 16; December 16, 1849.

chapter 3. the french respond to the california gold discoveries 1. Arsène Grosjean, “Huit Mois en Californie” (manuscript, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA), n.p. 2. Edmond Jomard, “De Paris au Sacramento,” Revue Contemporaine, no. 1 (May 1852): 575. 3. Ernest de Massey, “Voyage en Californie, 1849–50; Les Argonautes du XIXè Siècle à la Recherche la Toison d’Or en Californie: Journal d’un Passager de ‘la Cérès’ du Havre” (manuscript, Los Angeles Public Library), 12. De Massey added that most of the passengers had been “victims of our political dissensions.” 4. Ibid., 13. 5. La Gazette de France, February 15, 1849. 6. L’Hermine (Nantes), February 2, 1849; L’Impartial de Bretagne (Dinan), February 23, 1849. The latter blamed the economic difficulties on the Revolution of 1848. 7. L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), February 26, 1849. 8. Le Phare de la Manche (Cherbourg), February 11, 1849. 9. Le Mémorial Bordelais, February 20, 1849. 10. Boulogne Gazette, March 20, 1849. The Gazette noted that the flood of gold would lead to a rise in commodity prices and a fall in annuities and that real estate would increase in value “two or three times.” 11. Le Pilote de la Somme (Abbeville), February 13, 1849. 12. Ibid. 13. Le Mémorial Bordelais, March 5, 1849. See also L’Union Bretonne (Nantes), September 6, 1849. 14. L’Océan (Brest), May 12, 1849. The letter writer noted that foreigners could appear before a magistrate and buy a certificate that would allow them to trade in the interior. 15. L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), February 22, 26, 1849. 16. Le Mémorial Bordelais, March 5, May 21, 1849. 17. La Revue du Havre, January 20, 1849. The scheduled departing ship was actually La Meuse. See the list of scheduled departures in Le Journal du Havre, January 1, 19; March 15, 1849. 18. Le Journal du Havre, February 9, 14, 1849. 19. Ibid., August 29, 1849. 20. Ibid., October 25, November 23, 1849. The actual gold production was $41 million in 1850, rising to $76 million in 1851.

Notes to Pages 43–51 21. Ibid., December 27, 1849. The population of San Francisco at the close of 1849 was under ten thousand. 22. Le Journal de Toulouse, February 3, 1849. This newspaper ignored the cautionary tone of the letter and concentrated on the possibility that its official nature suggested that the French government would move energetically to protect the interests of French people and their access to the economic opportunities opened by the gold discoveries. Its account concluded with the universal cry: “Auri Sacra Fames!” 23. Ibid., March 8, 9, 28, 1849. 24. Le Mémorial Bordelais, February 20, 1849. 25. Le Journal des Débats, March 7, 1849. See also Le Dix Décembre, April 25, 1849, on the need for civil order. 26. Le Courrier d’Alsace (Colmar), March 14, February 11, 1849. 27. Le Phare de la Manche (Cherbourg), February 11, 1849. 28. L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), February 26, 1849. See also similar descriptions of the absence of authority in California in L’Écho du Midi (Montpellier), February 22, 1849; L’Indicateur de la Champagne (Reims), July 23, 1849; Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), August 14, 1849; La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), April 30; May 1; August 12, 1849. 29. Le Précurseur de l’Ouest (Angers), February 12, 1849. 30. La Foi Bretonne (Saint Brieuc), February 24, 1849. 31. On the organization of mining districts and their legal conditions, see Rodman W. Paul, California Gold: The Beginnings of Mining in the Far West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947), 210–14. 32. Le Journal des Débats, April 7, 1849. 33. L’Écho du Lot (Cahors), July 25, 1849. 34. Le Messager du Nord (Lille), February 13, 1849; New York Herald, quoted in ibid., February 18, 1849; Le Journal du Havre, quoted in Le Siècle, April 15, 1849; California Herald, quoted in Le Précurseur de l’Ouest (Angers), April 6, 1849 35. Le Courrier d’Alsace (Colmar), February 9, 1849. 36. Le Mémorial Bordelais, February 20, 1849; Le Siècle, March 10, 1849. 37. Le Salut Public (Lyon), February 17, 1849. 38. Le Journal de Rouen, January 15, 1849. The cry was always “On veut de l’or!” 39. Le Messager du Nord (Lille), January 18, February 13, 1849. 40. L’Illustration, February 10, 1849. 41. L’Indépendance Belge (Brussels), August 22, 31, 1849. 42. Le Rhin (Strasbourg), February 11, 1849; L’Illustration, February 10, 1849; L’Indépendance Belge (Brussels), August 22, 31, 1849; Le Journal de Maine et Loire (Angers), March 3, 1849. 43. Benjamin Delessert, “Les Mines d’Or de la Californie,” Revue des Deux Mondes, no. 1 (1849): 470. 44. Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., “The French Consulate in California, 1843–1856,” California Historical Society Quarterly 11 (1932): 199–200. 45. Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (New York: Knopf, 1963), ch. 2.



Notes to Pages 51–57 46. Nasatir, “The French Consulate in California, 1843–1856” (1932): 203–207. 47. Le Journal de Toulouse, April 25, 1849. This commentator declared that the Americans would turn out to be “the most faithful and redoubtable of allies.” 48. Le Journal d’Avranches, March 4, 1849; Le Courrier de l’Isère (Grenoble), July 19, 1849; Le Journal de Lot-et-Garonne (Agen), February 5, 1849. 49. Gilbert Chinard wrote in this context, “Could France hesitate to participate in the division of the booty? Was it not the patriotic duty to send to California miners who, while making a fortune for themselves, would at the same time work for their own country?” “When the French Came to California: An Introductory Essay,” California Historical Society Quarterly 22 (1943): 295. 50. On the rise of the sense of American exceptionalism as represented by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, see Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History, ch. 2. 51. See, for example, L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), February 22, 1849, reprinting extracts of documents from the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, with the comment, “The metal riches of California occupy at this moment all thoughts and turn all heads.” 52. L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), March 1, 1849. Traffic along the coast (cabotage) was reserved exclusively for American ships. Among the suggested items for export were umbrellas, crystal, mirrors, furniture, perfumes, and ribbons. 53. La Gazette du Midi (Marseille), December 17/18, 1849. 54. La Gazette du Languedoc (Toulouse), January 15, 1849. 55. Le Journal de Toulouse, February 3, 1849. See also March 9, 28, 1849, with their references to the well-known Duflot de Mofras. In the account of his voyage to California, he ended by introducing the pressing issue of how the French government would protect its citizens and their access. The same article raised the question of the security of such distant trading ventures, with the suggestion that commercial voyages be delayed until a large American population had arrived as a market. 56. Delessert, “Les Mines d’Or de la Californie,” 477, 483. Delessert also analyzed the significance of the gold strikes for the European economic system (477–78).

chapter 4. the rise of the french california companies 1. Le Précurseur de l’Ouest (Angers), January 16, 1849. 2. Le Journal des Débats, quoted in L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), February 26, 1849. The article noted that the New York Herald listed twenty-eight American companies of a similar nature. 3. Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique, XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), 122–24, provides an excellent overview. She notes that in turbulent economic times, available funds constantly sought new investment opportunities (124). 4. Henry Blumenthal, “The California Societies in France, 1849–1855,” Pacific Historical Review 21 (1956): 255. 5. Ibid., 259.

Notes to Pages 57–64 6. For example, “L’Espérance,” an ad in the Mémorial Bordelais, July 18, 1849. See also René Rémond’s analysis of the advertising campaigns in Les États-Unis devant l’Opinion Française, 1815–1852 (Paris: Colin, 1962), 111. Cahiers de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques. 7. Ibid., 112. For extensive extracts from the bylaws of the Californienne, see Désire Fricot, ed., “California Unveiled: Or, Irrefutable Truths Based upon Numerous Testimonies about That Part of the World by Trény,” California Historical Society Quarterly 23 (1944): 61–67. This was originally published in 1850. 8. Eugène Hatin, Bibliographie Historique de la Presse Périodique Française (Paris, 1866), 507–508; Rémond, Les États-Unis devant l’Opinion Française, 113. 9. Blumenthal, “The California Societies in France,” 255, notes that twenty-two companies were founded in 1849, with the value of the shares offered of $117,820,000. 10. Ibid., 255ff., summarizes these promises. 11. See Le Moniteur Universel, September 27, 1849, on shipping houses built in Bordeaux to California, where they would become restaurants and cafés. 12. La Gazette du Languedoc, May 1, 1849; Jan Albert Goris, ed., “A Belgian in the Gold Rush; A Memoir by Dr. J. J. F. Haine,” California Historical Society Quarterly 37 (1958): 345. 13. La Vigie de Dieppe, January 9, 1849. 14. Ibid., January 19, 1849. 15. Ibid., March 6, 1849 16. Ibid., December 11, 1849. See also Le Courrier de la Drome et de l’Ardèche (Valence), January 27, 1849, and its note: “M. Colette-[Quenouille], a merchant in Dieppe, has opened a subscription to finance a bark to California for trade. It seems that the thirst for gold has been implanted in France.” 17. La Liberté: Journal de Vaucluse (Carpentras), March 5, 1849. See also news of a local company forming for an expedition to California with the note: “For persons who wish to become a part, an address. . . .” L’Union Nationale (Augmon), March 14, 17, 21, 1849. 18. L’Indicateur de la Champagne (Reims), June 16, May 23, 1849. Cretenier was also the author of a guidebook for emigrants, La Californie, advertised for sale at local bookstores. Reims also had a branch office of the company L’Union Californienne, founded for colonization and the exploitation of the mines in California. 19. La Gazette du Midi (Marseille), April 25, 1849. 20. Le Charentais (Angoulême), November 18, 1849; Le Courrier de l’Isère (Grenoble), March 3, 1849. 21. Alphonse Antoine Délepine to his father, August 20, 1850, in Claudine Chalmers, ed., “‘ A Soul Lost in the Wilderness’: Tales of a French Argonaut,” Californians, July/ August 1988: 17. See also Charles de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili (Paris, 1853). De Lambertie met Arago in Valparaiso. Quotations in the next several paragraphs are also from Délepine’s letter. 22. A second account based on the Arago Company is Henry Brunnell, “Un Lillois en Route pour la Californie,” L’Écho du Nord (Lille), March 27, 1849. 23. Le Courrier de Lyon, May 19, 1849. 24. Le Moniteur de la Californie: Journal de Lyon et des Colonies, March 18, 1849.



Notes to Pages 65–75 25. Ibid., March 24, 1849. The incipient Colony of Lyonville was one of the few companies to refer to the generosity of the American government in making land grants to applicants. 26. Ibid., March 31, 1849. Here the reference point was the British Empire, which had successfully mixed cultural uplift with great profits. 27. Ibid., March 28, April 7, 1849. 28. Ibid., April 7, 1849. 29. Ibid., April 18, 1849. 30. Ibid., April 21, 1849. 31. La Gazette des Affaires, January 13, 1849. The following week, the Gazette continued to argue that such projects involving mines of uncertain ownership were “premature.” January 20, 1849. 32. Ibid., February 10, 1849. The name of the ship was La Meuse. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid., February 17, 1849. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid., March 10, 1849. 37. Ibid., March 17, 1849. 38. Ibid., March 24, 1849. 39. Le Phare Commercial, April 1849. 40. Ibid., May 20, 1849. 41. Ibid. 42. Ibid., June 10, 1849. 43. Ibid., June 17, 1849. 44. Ibid., July 1, 1849. In a pointed closing, the paper “urged vigilance against a company on the Boulevard Poissonnaire. The young director has made fallacious promises.” The editor later printed retractions and apologies for an “acerbic” tone in reporting on several companies by name, including the Californienne. In the article, the correspondent claimed the company inspired no confidence. The editor hastened to dilute the criticism, declaring that the critique was “a little too virulent.” Note that the Californienne remained a heavy advertiser in the paper throughout.

chapter 5. the rush to gold 1. Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique, XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999): 112–13. These passport applications have become an important tool for historians in tracing the backgrounds and origins of French Argonauts. 2. Annick Foucrier, “Comment Trouver Mille Francs? Familles et Émigration de la Franche-Comté vers la Californie au Début de la Ruée vers l’Or (1849–1851),” in Familles, Terre, Marchés: Logiques Économiques et Stratégies dans les Milieux Ruraux (XVIIè–XXè Siècles), ed. Gérard Béaur, Christian Dessureault, and Joseph Goy (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2000), 236–47.

Notes to Pages 76–82 3. Ibid., 236–41. Foucrier found that one of the lenders was a colonel in the 34th regiment of light infantry. 4. Ibid., 246. As an example, thirty workers in Puy-de-Dôme signed contracts for F 1,000 before departure (246). See also Annick Foucrier, “Familles et Financement des Départs lors de la Ruée vers l’Or en Californie: L’Exemple du Puy-de-Dôme,” in Famille et Marché, ed. Christian Dessureault, John A. Dickinson, and Joseph Goy (Sillery: Septentrion, 2003), 261–74. 5. Foucrier, “Comment Trouver Mille Francs?” 241. 6. Ibid., 247. Foucrier concludes that for many families “the rush to gold seems to be a migration of rupture. A large majority of mature but single men, without wives and without children, to make the most of the opportunities.” 7. Philip T. Hoffman, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, and Gilles Postel-Vinay, “History, Geography, and the Market for Mortgage Loans in Nineteenth-Century France,” in Understanding Long-Run Economic Growth: Geography, Institutions, and the Knowledge Economy, ed. Dora L. Costa and Naomi R. Lamoreaux (Chicago: National Bureau of Economic Research and University of Chicago Press, 2011), 155–76. 8. Albert Bénard de Russailh, Journal de Voyage en Californie à l’Époque de la Ruée vers l’Or, 1850–1852 (Paris: Aubrier-Montaigne, 1980), 55. This edition has a fine introduction by Sylvie Chevalley. 9. Charles de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili (Paris, 1853), 11. 10. Ibid., 14–15. 11. Michel Lamontellerie, “Quelques Notes sur un ‘Forty-Niner,’ Jean Chauvin, Dit ‘Frédéric’ ” (handwritten manuscript in possession of the author), 2. 12. Ibid., 2–3. 13. Ibid., 3. 14. Léon Manet, ed., “Un Lorrain en Californie, 1850–1854,” Le Pays Lorrain 26, no. 3 (March 1934): 131–32. 15. Ibid., 132. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid., 134. See also La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), March 2, 1849: “Every day the convoys of the railroad train of Havre and Boulogne carry some Parisians who wish to seek a fortune in California.” 20. Gabriel Richard, ed., “Trois Lorrains en Californie,” Revue des Deux Mondes, February 15, 1943: 397–99. 21. Ibid., 399–400. 22. Ibid., 401. 23. Ibid., 401–402. Richard lists nine California companies by name and briefly describes the organization and promises of each (402–403). 24. Ernest de Massey, “Voyage en Californie, 1849–50; Les Argonautes du XIXè Siècle à la Recherche la Toison d’Or en Californie: Journal d’un Passager de la ‘Cérès’ du Havre” (manuscript, Los Angeles Public Library), 2, 3.



Notes to Pages 82–92 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30.


32. 33. 34. 35. 36.

37. 38. 39.

40. 41.

Ibid., 2. Ibid., 3. Ibid., 4. Ibid., 2, 3. Ibid., 3. Letters of Honorine Ansart (mother), June 26, August 2, 1849; January 26; March 11; May 20, 1850, in Charles Ansart du Fiesnet, “Une Vie Ratée” (mimeographed manuscript in possession of the author). Jean-Nicolas Perlot, Gold Seeker: Adventures of a Belgian Argonaut during the Gold Rush Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 5–6. Perlot was a Frenchspeaking Belgian, and his voyage to California and his experiences there were almost entirely in French-speaking mining camps and communities. Ibid., 6–7. Ibid., 7. Ibid., 7–8. Quoted in Le Siècle, January 14, 1850. See also La Revue du Havre, February 10, 1850. The account that follows is drawn from the article in Le Siècle. La Revue du Havre, January 14, 1850. This document was signed by duport jeune, grassat, brizevin, gambert, the delegates of the workers leaving on the Jean Lafitte. See also the extensive notes in Abraham P. Nasatir, French Activities in California: An Archival Calendar Guide (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1945), 441–42. Arsène Grosjean, “Huit Mois en Californie” (manuscript, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA), n.p. Perlot, Gold Seeker, 8. See Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien, 105–12, for an excellent introduction to French immigration to California and its rural and urban dimensions. Based on an analysis of 1,722 passengers departing from Le Havre, Foucrier notes the small proportion of women (8.6 percent), the comparative youth of the French Argonauts (a large majority between the ages of twenty and forty-one), occupations ranging from artisans (24.5 percent) to merchants and clerks (20 percent) and proprietors and rentiers (15.2 percent). But in a nation that was predominantly rural, farmers (7.5 percent) were in small numbers (112, 115–21). Ibid., 111. Foucrier concludes that “California offered an alternative, a direction toward which to move, carried in a movement of great breadth.” Ibid., 118. For a sense of the diversity of France at mid-century by language, region, economy, arts, and literature, see Graham Robb, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007).

chapter 6. voyages and arrivals 1. Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique, XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), 127–32, is an overview of the first voyages of the French Argonauts; Liliane Crété, La Vie Quotidienne en Californie au Temps de la Ruée vers l’Or, 1848–1856 (Paris: Hachette, 1982), ch. 2, describes the routes.

Notes to Pages 92–99 2. Alexandre André, Mon Itinéraire du Havre à San Francisco et dans l’Intérieur de la Californie en 1849 et 1850 (Paris, 1913), 2. There is a later edition in English by Georges Joyaux, A Frenchman at the California Trinity River Mines in 1849 (New York: The Westerners, 1957). 3. Léon Manet, ed., “Un Lorrain en Californie, 1850–1854,” Le Pays Lorrain 26, no. 3 (March 1934): 136. 4. Ibid., 135. 5. Arsène Grosjean, “Huit Mois en Californie” (manuscript, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA), n.p. 6. Ibid. 7. Doyce B. Nunis, ed., Abbé Henri J.-A. Alric: Sketches of the Journey on the Two Oceans and to the Interior of America (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1971), 21, 22. 8. Ibid. In the dispute, the French authorities at Valparaiso sided with the discharged passengers and billed the captain for the cost of their passage on an American ship. 9. Charles de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili (Paris, 1853), ch. 2. 10. Ernest de Massey, “Voyage en Californie, 1849–50; Les Argonautes du XIXè Siècle à la Recherche la Toison d’Or en Californie: Journal d’un Passager de la ‘Cérès’ du Havre” (manuscript, Los Angeles Public Library), 8. 11. Ibid., 9. 12. Ibid., 7. 13. Ibid., 12. 14. Ibid., 13. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid. De Massey described the woman in these terms: “She is not beautiful, but when she makes herself up, she has the chic of the kept women of the 4th or 5th class. She has a child and a number of lovers. A husband by the name of Michaud. The name of this woman is Estelle Ivclin” (13). 17. Ibid., 7. 18. Ibid., 14. De Massey concluded: “Ah! The good notes that come from [Captain] Messmaker.” 19. La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), May 15, 1849, noted that in the spring of 1849 there were 1,400 passengers on the Isthmus of Panama and no means of transportation to California. As for rumors, “there is much exaggeration in what has been said relative to California.” 20. Edmond Jomard, “De Paris au Sacramento,” Revue Contemporaine, no. 1 (May 1852): 577–80. 21. Ibid., 587. 22. Ibid., 588–89. 23. Ibid., 589. 24. Ibid., 590–92. 25. Alexandre Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” Revue des Deux Mondes 7 (1850): 694–95. Achard was one of the few to take a steamboat. 26. Le Mémorial Bordelais, June 28, 1850



Notes to Pages 100–108 27. Madame de Saint-Amant, Voyage en Californie, 1850 et 1851 (Paris, 1851), 1–7. See also the introduction to excerpts of Mme. de Saint-Amant’s letters in Michel LeBris, Quand la Californie Était Française (Paris: Le Pré aux Clercs, 1999), 142 28. Le Journal des Débats, January 4, 1850. 29. Madame de Saint-Amant, Voyage en Californie, 17–18. Her account also reproduced her letters written from London, on board the Severn, which called at Barbados and St. Thomas. She noted that “everything here is paid for in gold, and the natives cruelly exploit the circumstances.” 30. Ibid., 19. 31. Ibid., 19–21. 32. Ibid., 21–22. 33. Ibid., 22–23. 34. Ibid., 23. 35. Ibid., 25. 36. Ibid., 26. 37. Jomard, “De Paris au Sacramento,” 592–93. 38. Hypolite Ferry, Description de la Nouvelle Californie: Géographie, Politique, et Morale (Paris, 1850), 312–13. 39. L’Océan (Brest), November 3, December 22, 1849. 40. Claudine Chalmers, “L’Aventure Française à San Francisco pendant la Ruée vers l’Or, 1848–1854,” 3 vols. (unpublished PhD dissertation, Université de Nice–Sophia Antipolis, 1991), 1:175–87, is a detailed description of the arrival of the French Argonauts in San Francisco. 41. L’Abeille Lilloise (Lille), February 24, 1850. 42. Grosjean, “Huit Mois en Californie.” 43. Quoted in Le Mémorial Bordelais, July 13, 1850; Grosjean, “Huit Mois en Californie.” 44. Gabriel Richard, ed., “Trois Lorrains en Californie,” Revue des Deux Mondes, February 15, 1943: 408. 45. Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), March 21, 1850. This letter was also printed in Le Journal du Havre, March 19, 1850. 46. Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, ed., “A Frenchman in the Gold Rush: The Journal of Ernest de Massey,” California Historical Society Quarterly 5 (1926): 7. This is a published translation of the second half of de Massey’s manuscript in the Los Angeles Public Library. 47. Ibid., 8. 48. M. Delescaux, a mechanic from the Société Lyonnaise, dated San Francisco, January 29, 1850, in Le Salut Public (Lyon), April 12, 1850. 49. Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), March 21, 1850. In his letter, Montes acknowledged an unnamed benefactor who would be the first person rewarded on his return to France. Another comment on the failure of the California companies to meet their promises is in Le Courrier de Lyon, April 12, 1850. 50. Le Mémorial Bordelais, September 6, 1850. 51. Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush: The Letters of Étienne Derbec (Georgetown, CA: Talisman Press, 1964), 79.

Notes to Pages 109–121 52. Jean-Nicolas Perlot, Gold Seeker: Adventures of a Belgian Argonaut during the Gold Rush Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 31–33. 53. Abraham P. Nasatir, “Guillaume Patrice Dillon,” California Historical Society Quarterly 33 (1954): 212. 54. Ibid., 213. Dillon observed that the American and British merchants treated business as an intense competition, like athletes “who descend into the arena in order to give a moral combat” (214).

chapter 7. in the mines 1. Charles de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili (Paris, 1853), 242–44. 2. Ibid., 245. 3. Jean-Nicolas Perlot, Gold Seeker: Adventures of a Belgian Argonaut during the Gold Rush Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 41–44. 4. Ibid., 44–53. 5. Ibid., 95–103. 6. Ibid., 104–109. 7. Ibid., 110–20. 8. Arsène Grosjean, “Huit Mois en Californie” (manuscript, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA), n.p. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. Ibid. 16. De Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili, 247–48. 17. Ibid., 248–49. 18. Ibid., 249–51. 19. Ibid., 255–56. 20. Ibid., 258–59. 21. Ibid., 252–53. 22. Léopold Ansart du Fiesnet to his mother, n.d., in Charles Ansart du Fiesnet, “Une Vie Ratée,” 9–11 (mimeographed manuscript in possession of the author). 23. Ansart du Fiesnet to his mother, n.d.; in ibid., 10. 24. Ansart du Fiesnet to his mother, n.d.; in ibid., 11. 25. Ansart du Fiesnet to his brother Edmond, November 25, 1851; in ibid., 11–12. 26. Gabriel Richard, ed., “Trois Lorrains en Californie,” Revue des Deux Mondes, February 15, 1943: 407. 27. Ibid., 412–14. 28. Ibid., 415–16. 29. Malcolm J. Rohrbough, Days of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the American Nation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), ch. 6. See also Jo Ann Levy,



Notes to Pages 121–125

30. 31. 32.

33. 34.

35. 36. 37. 38. 39.

40. 41.



They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush (Hamden, CT: Archon Press, 1990). Alexandre Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” Revue des Deux Mondes 7 (1850): 706. Patrice Dillon, “La Californie dans les Derniers Mois de 1849,” Revue des Deux Mondes 5 (1850): 200. Claudine Chalmers, “Françoise, Lucienne, Rosalie: French Women-Adventurers in the Early Days of the California Gold Rush,” California History 78 (1999): 138–45, 147–53, is a thorough discussion. The Holinski quote is from p. 142. Chalmers notes the leading part played by Françoise de Saint-Amant in French society in early San Francisco. She writes of Saint-Amant, “She had class, education, an enterprising and bold spirit, and, it seems, an unquenchable passion for adventure” (152). Le Salut Public (Lyon), May 16, February 17, 1849. Le Courrier d’Alsace (Colmar), June 27, 1849. The statistics on immigration into the port of San Francisco noted the following numbers between April 12 and June 30, 1849: 110 ships, 5,677 men, 209 women. See also Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), September 3, 1849. On the sex ratios in the mining counties in California, see Rohrbough, Days of Gold, 322, n. 8. For a discussion of “a cargo of women” as an “excellent speculation,” see Le Mémorial Bordelais, June 26, 1849. Rohrbough, Days of Gold, 175–76. On the French coverage, see Le Journal de Lot-etGaronne (Agen), May 19, August 22, 1849. Le Journal de Maine et Loire (Angers), August 29, 1849; Le Courrier du Pas-de-Calais (Arras), August 20/21, 1849; La Revue du Havre, August 30, 1849. L’Abeille de la Vienne (Poitiers), October 1, 1849; L’Écho de la Frontière (Valenciennes), September 29, 1849. The article was quoted in Le Journal de Maine et Loire (Angers), November 7, 1849. Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), April 26, 1852. On the customs of the Americans, the editor noted the lottery for young women imported into California. The numbers: 100 tickets, 100 pounds sterling each. The winning number would have first choice, the second number, second choice, and so on. The editor’s comment: “O country of independence, of progress, and above all, of gallantry!” La Chronique de Paris, April 1850: 99, 101–102. The Chronique was a royalist paper that supported the claims of Henri de Bourbon to the French throne. La Revue du Havre, June 30, 1850. In a letter written at the end of the mining season of 1850, an Argonaut named Hartmann wrote that after sixteen months all his illusions about California had taken flight one after the other. At the same time, he was “happy to have come here.” L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), October 30, 1850. Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., “A French Pessimist in California: The Correspondence of J. Lombard, Vice-Consul of France, 1850–1852,” California Historical Society Quarterly 31 (1952): 143–45. Alexandre André, Mon Itinéraire du Havre à San Francisco et dans l’Intérieur de la Californie en 1849 et 1850 (Paris, 1913), 58.

Notes to Pages 125–133 44. De Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili, 253. 45. Dillon, “La Californie dans les Derniers Mois de 1849,” 210–11. 46. Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” 706.

chapter 8. the flowering of the new california companies 1. In the face of declining public interest, the original California companies continued to offer occasional advertisements and promotional notices. These were almost exclusively listings of the departures of chartered ships with their cargoes of associate workers. The company Californienne was especially active. With much fanfare, its first expedition with associate workers set sail from Le Havre on November 27, 1849. See Gilbert Chinard, “When the French Came to California: An Introductory Essay,” California Historical Society Quarterly 22 (1943): 297. 2. Henry Blumenthal, “The California Societies in France, 1849–1855,” Pacific Historical Review 21 (1956): 255. The historian René Rémond has summarized the uniformity of the publicity in these terms: “Everyone uses abundantly the resources of printing: brochures, prospectuses, [and] newspapers expounding their views magnify their intentions, enlarge their results.” Les États-Unis devant l’Opinion Française, 1815– 1852 (Paris: Colin, 1962), 112. Cahiers de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques. 3. Ibid., 112. 4. Le Messager du Nord (Lille), September 8, 1849. The real production figures were $10 million (1849), $41 million (1850), and $76 million (1851). 5. Rémond, Les États-Unis devant l’Opinion Française, 113. 6. L’Océan (Brest), September 16, 1850. The local agent in Brest was a pharmacist. 7. Le Dix Décembre, December 28, 1849; Le Siècle, June 6, 1850. 8. Chinard, “When the French Came to California,” 308; Abraham P. Nasatir, French Activities in California: An Archival Guide (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1945), 441–42. 9. Chinard, “When the French Came to California,” 309. 10. Ibid., 301–302. 11. Ibid., 309; Le Journal des Débats, July 1, 9; August 2, 1850. 12. Le Journal des Débats, August 14; July 2, 9, 24; September 3, 1850. 13. Le Télescope, July 28, 1850. For a detailed analysis of the advertising techniques of the second generation of California companies, see Blumenthal, “The California Societies in France,” 255. A good example of a newspaper to promote the interests of the California companies is Le Californien: Journal de l’Industrie et du Commerce Français dans l’Océan Pacifique, August 5–20, 1849. 14. “Le Comptoir Général de la Californie,” L’Océan (Brest), October 27, 1850; “Banque Française de Californie,” Le Commerce du Dunkerque et du Nord, September 17, 1850. 15. Chinard, “When the French Came to California,” 309. 16. Le Dix Décembre, March 22, 25, 1850; Chinard, “When the French Came to California,” 309–10. 17. Le Commerce du Dunkerque et du Nord, August 31, September 12, 1850.



Notes to Pages 134–140 18. La Gazette du Midi (Marseille), August 29, 1850; Chinard, “When the French Came to California,” 308. The company noted that on arriving in San Francisco, workers could not be depended upon to live up to their contracts and instead disappeared into the gold country. Accordingly, the company canceled its emigration program and concentrated on shipping merchandise. 19. Le Commerce du Dunkerque et du Nord, September 21, 1850. 20. La Chronique de Paris, April 1850, 291–92. 21. Le Siècle, September 5, 1850; Le Charivari, August 2, 1850. Among the examples of the heavy advertising in the summer and fall of 1850, see L’Écho du Nord (Lille), April 19, 1850; Le Salut Public (Lyon), April 19; August 7; September 24; October 10, 1850; Le Courrier de Lyon, March 13; July 30; September 10, 1850; Le National Boulonnais, May 12; June 16; August 18, 1850. Ads for the Bretonne, the Aurifère, and the Compagnie Française are in Le Dix Décembre, March 22; April 5, 26; May 4, 23, 1850. 22. Eugène Hatin, Bibliographie Historique de la Presse Périodique Française (Paris, 1866), 507–508, lists seventeen such company papers, with at least five publishing on a regular basis. 23. L’Écho du Sacramento, November 1, 1849. 24. Ibid. 25. Ibid. 26. Ibid., December 1, 1849. 27. Ibid. 28. Ibid., March 1, April 1, 1850. See also the listing of the California Companies of France. 29. Ibid., April 1; June 1; July 1, 1850. Note the first meeting of the general assembly of stockholders of the Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Californie. The meeting of April 17 was presided over by M. Abbé Fabre. 30. Ibid., September 1, 1850. 31. Ibid., July 1, September 1, 1850. 32. Ibid., July 1, September 1, 1850. See also “ ‘Journal of a Sea Voyage’ by One of Our Workers through His Father,” in ibid., October 1, 1850. 33. La Chronique de Paris, April 1850, 99. 34. Ibid., 102. 35. La Gazette des Affaires, February 2; March 9, 23; April 11, 1850; Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., A French Journalist in the Gold Rush: The Letters of Étienne Derbec (Georgetown, CA: Talisman Press, 1964), 197, n. 17. 36. L’Illustration 7 (1849–1850): 158–60; 16 (1850): 135–38; L’Abeille Lilloise, October 17, 1850. 37. An early example is the letter from Jean Montes, widely reprinted for French readers, dated San Francisco, December 5, 1849, in Nasatir, French Activities in California, 393–96. 38. La Gazette des Affaires, February 17; March 10, 17, 24, 1849. The criticisms included a caricature of the continuing extravagant claims. In a new company named Misfortune, the founders were called “the American Rummage Company”; the seat of the company was Sandville, in an alley, by a wine merchant. The social capital was F 1 trillion,

Notes to Pages 140–146


40. 41. 42. 43. 44.


with all else in like proportion. See also Messager Franco-Américain, August 1, 1850, with a visual representation. See the letters from Moerenhout to his minister in Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., “The French Consulate in California, 1843–1856” California Historical Society Quarterly 13 (1934): 355–74. La Chronique de Paris, August 1850, 273–78. Le Télescope, July 18, August 17, 1850. Le Courrier de Lyon, February 22, 1851. Ibid., April 30, 1851. Ibid., May 11; July 10; October 8; November 16, 1851. In a final note to the last of the legitimate California companies, the Compagnie des Mineurs Belges was taken over by an English company. Ibid., December 18, 1851. L’Almanach Californien, 1850; Hypolite Ferry, Description de la Nouvelle Californie: Géographie, Politique, et Morale (Paris, 1850), 310–11. See also “La Californie et les Sociétés Californiennes,” L’Illustration, January 24, 1851, and L’Abeille Lilloise, January 30, 1851.

chapter 9. the lottery of the golden ingots 1. Donna Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” American History Illustrated 23 (May 1988): 34–37, 45. The official status of the lottery was reflected in two ways: two members of the National Assembly were on the board of directors, and the prefect of the Paris police wrote to city mayors in an official capacity, urging them to promote the lottery in their communities. 2. Gilbert Chinard, “When the French Came to California: An Introductory Essay,” California Historical Society Quarterly 22 (1943): 289–314. 3. Le Siècle, October 27, 1850. 4. La France Centrale (Blois), September 20, 1850. 5. Le Charivari, August 31, 1850. For early visual representations, see “Revue Comique par Cham,” ibid., September 29, 1850. 6. L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), December 25, 1850. 7. Le Mémorial Bordelais, December 25, 1850. Le Commerce du Dunkerque et du Nord, July 31, 1851, raised the same objections. See also a letter dated Paris, December 22, 1850, on the plans of the left to support the emigration of disaffected workers to California so that they could “subsist there up to the point where they can form an establishment.” The debate in the Assembly was covered in detail in L’Indicateur de la Champagne (Reims), December 23/24, 1850. The final vote suggested that the left may have viewed the lottery as a benefit for the working classes. See L’Écho du Midi (Montpellier), December 26, 1850. 8. Le Siècle, October 27, 1850. 9. Le Messager Franco-Américain, September 12, 1850; La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), August 20/21, 1850; see also Le Courrier du Gard (Nîmes), September 26, 1850. 10. Among the most prominent newspapers in their extended coverage (ads and editorials) throughout 1851 were Le Courrier du Pas-de-Calais (Arras), L’Impartial de Rouen,



Notes to Pages 147–152


12. 13.

14. 15.

16. 17. 18. 19.


21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30. 31. 32.

L’Indicateur (Fontenay), La Sentinelle de Jura (Lons-le-Saunier), and Le Courrier du Gard (Nîmes). L’Impartial de Bretagne (Dinan), December 6, September 27, 1850. L’Argus des Théâtres, October 16, 1850, lists the names and addresses of all the Paris outlets for tickets. L’Abeille Lilloise, January 30, 1851. Le Charivari, September 16, 1850; it also commented, “The Society of Dix Décembre favors this lottery because it will lead to the exile of four or five thousand Republicans several thousand leagues from their country.” Ibid. On the declining support for the lotteries, see ibid., September 25; December 1, 14, 27, 1850. Ibid., August 31; September 16, 25, 29, 1850. The government’s censorship of political unorthodoxy would claim Charivari as a victim. See “Condemnation of Charivari,” ibid., May 28, 1851. For ads with specific appeals for women, see L’Océan (Brest), July 5, 1851. Le Charivari, November 5, 1850. Ibid. Ibid., February 8, 1851. Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), February 16, 1851; Le Constitutionnel, February 28, 1851. See also “Le Lingot d’Or sur le Boulevard Montmartre,” L’Illustration, February 21, 28, 1851. Alexandre Dumas (son), Histoire de la Loterie depuis la Première jusqu’à la Dernière, la Loterie des Lingots d’Or (Paris, 1851), 130. For background, see Abraham P. Nasatir, “Alexandre Dumas fils and the Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” California Historical Society Quarterly 33 (1954): 125–42. Dumas, Histoire de la Loterie, 132. Ibid., 134. Ibid., 134–35. Ibid., 138, 139. Ibid., 140. Ibid., 141. Ibid., 142. The widespread publication of Dumas’s history reflected the range of interest across the nation; see, for example, L’Abeille Lilloise, February 23, 1851; L’Indicateur de la Champagne (Reims), February 22, 1851; Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), March 14, 1851; Le Commerce du Dunkerque et du Nord, February 22, 1851. Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” 34. Ibid., 35; Le Droit, September 12, 1851. See also Le National Boulonnais (Boulogne), September 24, 1851. Le Courrier du Gard (Nîmes), September 20, 27, 30, 1851. The correspondent put the total number of tickets sold at 3 million (September 30, 1851). Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” 36. Reprinted in Le National Boulonnais (Boulogne), September 24, 1851. At the last moment, a large number of tickets was rumored to have been sold at the discounted price of 25 centimes each. L’Océan (Brest), November 17, 1851.

Notes to Pages 152–157 33. La Gazette des Tribunaux, September 18; October 3, 14, 1851. The text of the summons given by M. Savalette is in Le Journal du Havre, October 2, 1851. A letter of M. Langlois to Le Siècle defending his administration is printed in Le Journal du Havre, October 5, 1851. It turns out that M. Oudine, the director of the lottery, worked for Savalette. See also ibid., October 6, 1851. Le Journal du Havre was a basic source for the news about the lottery (daily coverage from October 22 to November 28, 1851, including the lawsuits), basing much of its information on the Paris newspapers, especially La Patrie. 34. Le Mémorial Bordelais, October 29, November 10, 1851, reprinted much official correspondence. 35. On the changes of dates and preparations for the drawing, see L’Indicateur de la Champagne (Reims), August 30; September 4, 20; October 1, 22, 1851; Le Droit, October 24, 1851; La Gazette des Tribunaux, November 1, 1851. 36. L’Océan (Brest), November 15, 20, 1851. Both before and after the drawing, L’Océan argued that the lottery was illegal. Others remained skeptical of California as a final destination. See Le Messager de l’Assemblée, September 22, 1851; Le Courrier du Havre, September 30, 1851; Le Courrier de Lyon, September 21, October 6, 1851. 37. Le Charivari, Sept 15, 1851. 38. Ibid. 39. Ibid. 40. Ibid., October 25, 1851. 41. Ibid., November 9, 1851. 42. Ibid., November 16, 1851. 43. Le Droit, October 25, 1851. Also see La Gazette des Tribunaux, November 1, 1851. 44. La Chronique de la Semaine, November 1, 1851; Le Courrier de Marseille, November 19, 1851. 45. Le Constitutionnel, November 17, 1851. 46. Ibid., November 17, 1851. The commission included the senior mayors, the judge of the first arrondissement, the judge of the commercial court, the chef de bureau in the Ministry of Finance, the principal cashier of the Bank of France, and Monnin-Japy himself. It was a call to validate the drawing and, by implication, the whole lottery exercise and the government’s involvement in it. 47. Le National Boulonnais (Boulogne), November 19, 1851; Le Courrier de Marseille, November 19, 1851. 48. Le Constitutionnel, November 17, 1851; Le Courrier de Marseille, November 19, 23, 1851. 49. Among the newspapers that covered the run-up to the drawing and the drawing itself, the best coverage is in Le Constitutionnel, October 6, 30; November 5, 16, 17, 30, 1851; L’Écho du Nord (Lille), September 20, 26; October 1, 6, 7, 14, 17, 22, 28, 29; November 9, 14, 17, 18, 20, 1851; La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois, June 14; July 12, 18; August 21; September 29/30; October 8, 9; November 17/18, 1851; L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), August 1, 16; October 6, 25, 31; November 8, 10, 16, 18; December 1, 2, 1851; La Gazette des Tribunaux, November 1, 15, 16; December 2, 1851; Le Journal du Havre, October 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 22, 24, 27, 28; November 8, 13, 14, 17, 19, 20, 21, 1851. 50. Le Constitutionnel, November 17, 1851.



Notes to Pages 157–169 51. Le Mémorial Bordelais, November 21, 23; December 1, 1851. 52. For reflections on the lottery, see Le National Boulonnais (Boulogne), November 26, 1851. 53. La Revue du Havre, November 20, 1851; Le Charivari, September 15, 1851. Note the special attention given to a winner in Remoulins by the Nîmes Courrier du Gard, November 20, 1851. 54. La Patrie, November 30, 1851. 55. La Gazette des Tribunaux, March 13, 1852. See also Le Mémorial Bordelais, January 12, 1852. 56. La Patrie, November 30, 1851. Of the identified double tickets, one was for F 50,000; a second, 25,000; and a third, 10,000. 57. La Gazette des Tribunaux, May 1, 1852. See also Le Courrier des Tribunaux (Bordeaux), May 9, 1852. For a statistical analysis of the lottery, see Amedée Achard, La Revue du Havre, November 16, 1851. 58. The remainder debarked at one or more of the ports of call on the voyage.

chapter 10. french stories and french images of california 1. Le Charivari, December 21, 1848; January 10, 1849. See also “La Saison des Pluies en Californie,” La Revue Comique de la Semaine, April 15, 1849. 2. Le Journal de Maine et Loire (Angers), March 3, 1849. 3. L’Abeille Lilloise, March 4, 1849; Le Pays, January 27, 1849. 4. Le Charivari, January 29, 1849. 5. Ibid., May 14, 1849. 6. Le Caricaturiste Revue Drôle, August 15, 1849. 7. L’Abeille Lilloise, January 25, 1849. This is a literary and artistic journal, with an emphasis on skepticism, sarcasm, and caricature, at least where the gold rush is concerned. 8. Le Charivari, March 17, 1849. 9. Ibid., March 25, 1849. 10. Ibid., April 1, 1849. 11. See, for example, Le Constitutionnel, February 8–11, 13–14, 1849; Le Courrier de Nantes, April 17, 1849, and subsequent issues. 12. L’Estafette des Modes, February 1, 1850. 13. The conversation among the characters included an extended exchange on how much gold one expected to find in the new El Dorado. The drama followed the story line in the original “Chercheurs d’Or du Sacramento,” which appeared in Le Constitutionnel, February 9, 10, 11, 1849. 14. L’Événement, February 4, 1850; La Presse, January 29, 1850. The review in Le Journal des Débats focused on the production, which it described as “badly played, badly prepared, badly heard.” The reviewer concluded that these failures were “a pity,” for “the author, Marc Fournier, is a man of lively imagination” who, in this production, had “the misfortune to mingle too much fiction and truth.” Journal des Débats, January 28, 1850. See also a review in Le Siècle, January 28, 1850.

Notes to Pages 169–177 15. Frontier and Midland 14 (1933–1934): 160–61, 168. 16. Le Siècle, August 12, 1850. 17. L’Événement, August 12, 1850. A fourth theatrical production in the Théâtre des Variétés, with the title La Californie, opened on August 12, 1850. It featured “pretty young women in scanty costumes.” A reviewer concluded that it must be very hot in California. Le Charivari, August 12, 1850. See also another theatrical production, La Californie, by L. N., presented in Boulogne. This was a vaudeville production in one act and two tableaux, a total of thirty scenes. The setting for the play was San Francisco. 18. L’Écho du Nord (Lille), March 14, 1849, from Le Crédit. This story is serialized over twenty-two issues and appeared in many papers. Edmond Texier (1816–1887) was an important writer, editor, and journalist. In 1848, at the age of thirty-two, he became editor of the new Le Crédit. Later, he was editor of Le Siècle and L’Illustration. He also wrote continuously. Among his many works, he translated Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin into French (1854). 19. Edmond Texier, Impressions de Voyage: Deux Parisiens en Californie (Paris: Poussielgue, n.d.), 2–3. Texier’s twenty-two episodes were subsequently published in this pamphlet form of forty pages. Subsequent citations are to this pamphlet, found in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. 20. Ibid., 12. 21. Ibid., 17. 22. Ibid., 21. 23. Ibid., 25. 24. Ibid., 30. 25. Ibid., 35. 26. Ibid., 38. A second extended fiction exercise was Henri Bruneel’s “Un Lillois en Route pour la Californie,” which followed a Lille native to California. The main character, Victor Toury, was a member of the Jacques Arago Company, a story that would have resonated with readers. See L’Écho du Nord (Lille), November 27, 28, 1849. 27. J. B. J. Champagnac, Le Jeune Voyageur en Californie: Récits Instructifs et Moraux Offrant des Détails Curieux sur Cette Région de l’Amérique et sur les Coutumes, Usages, et Mœurs de Ses Habitants (Paris, 1852), 1–2. 28. Ibid., 22, 23, 25, 26. 29. Ibid., 97, 103, 107. 30. Le Charivari, October 30, 1851.

chapter 11. the french trade, mine, and reflect 1. Patrice Dillon, “La Californie dans les Derniers Mois de 1849,” Revue des Deux Mondes, no. 5 (1850): 213; Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush: The Letters of Étienne Derbec (Georgetown, CA: Talisman Press, 1964), 24–26. Among the observations in the press about the high quality of French immigrants: “California has never opened its arms to a better class of citizens than the emigrants of the great republic of Europe.” La Gazette du Midi (Marseille), January 26/27, 1851.



Notes to Pages 178–183 2. Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique, XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), chs. 6 and 7, is an excellent brief introduction to the French in San Francisco. Only real estate, the housing market, and money lent at interest seemed to be constantly on the upswing. 3. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 78, 80, 84. Derbec noted that money was the most valuable of all commodities, with interest rates on loans at 20 percent a month. 4. Ibid., 90–91. Derbec concluded this letter with the heartfelt comment, “May God protect France!” from the many trials and tribulations inflicted upon it (91). 5. Le Messager Franco-Américain, March 8, 1850. 6. Le Siècle, December 16, 1850; Le Télescope, July 18, 1850. 7. Le Journal des Débats, September 11, 1849. The article noted that commerce in the interior of California had undergone a prodigious expansion, with ten steamboats plying the route between San Francisco and Stockton and another ten between San Francisco and Sacramento. See Le Mémorial Bordelais, December 8, 1851. 8. Le Messager Franco-Américain, June 20, 1850. 9. Charles de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili (Paris, 1853), 211. Claudine Chalmers, “L’Aventure Française à San Francisco pendant la Rueé vers l’Or, 1848–1854,” 3 vols. (unpublished PhD dissertation, Université de Nice–Sophia Antipolis, 1991), 2: ch. 10, analyzes the development of the French community in San Francisco, with special attention to the range of economic enterprises. On French prostitution, see also Susan L. Johnson, Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 76–79. 10. Le Constitutionnel, April 24, 1851. 11. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 78, 79. 12. Le Mémorial Bordelais, December 19, 1851; Le Constitutionnel, August 1, 1851. 13. Le Mémorial Bordelais, July 15, 1851. This issue lists the losses of French businesses. On the great fire of May 3–4, 1851, see also Le Constitutionnel, August 20, 27, 1851. See also Chalmers, “L’Aventure Française à San Francisco,” 2: 365–80, on fires and reconstruction. 14. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 85. 15. La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), July 10, 1851; Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 29. 16. La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), March 10, 1850. 17. Charles Shinn, Mining Camps: A Study in American Frontier Government (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1884), is the standard account of the evolution of these early mining districts, first in the lead mines in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois and subsequently in mining camps across the West. 18. Le Journal des Débats, April 7, 1849; this letter gives an example of an early mining district in action. 19. Alexandre André, Mon Itinéraire du Havre à San Francisco et dans l’Intérieur de la Californie en 1849 et 1850 (Paris, 1913), 67. 20. Le Mémorial Bordelais, November 24, 1851. On the ongoing discussion of profit and loss in gold mining, see, for example, Le Journal du Havre, November 28, 1851;

Notes to Pages 183–195

21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32.

33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

February 11, 1852; L’Étoile du Peuple (Nantes), June 11, 1851. See also Derbec’s observations in Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 101, 102. Derbec saw “the disillusionment of my companions and their departure from the mines, [their] preferring to become porters in San Francisco or elsewhere rather than follow the difficult occupation of mining” (102). Léon Manet, ed., “Un Lorrain en Californie, 1850–1854,” Le Pays Lorrain 26, no. 5 (May 1934): 241–42. L’Indépendant de la Moselle (Metz), January 10, 12, 1852. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 98, 99, 100. Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien, 132–43, is an overview of the French experiences in the mines. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 103. Ibid., 114–16. Derbec offered this tribute to his native land: “France is the Queen of the world because of her civilization, her arts, her taste, and her valor. The Americans here give a sad impression of their country: the majority are real savages; the Mexicans are preferable to them in many respects” (103). Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, ed., “A Frenchman in the Gold Rush: The Journal of Ernest de Massey,” California Historical Society Quarterly 5 (1926): 223–24. Ibid., 220, 221. Ibid., 223, 226. Ibid., 225–26. Ibid., 232. Ibid., 252, 253, 254. Léopold Ansart du Fiesnet to his brother Edmond, November 25, 1851, in Charles Ansart du Fiesnet, “Une Vie Ratée,” 11–12 (mimeographed manuscript in possession of the author). Ibid., 12. Ibid., April 5, 1852, 12. Ibid., June 14, 1851; June 30, 1852; 13. Alexandre Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” Revue des Deux Mondes 7 (1850): 703–704. Ibid. Ibid., 708. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 100. Ibid., 105, 107–108, 116. For two other useful analyses of the French mining experiences, see Le Mémorial d’Aix, March 28, 1852; L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), December 7, 1851.

chapter 12. the french argonauts encounter the americans 1. Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., “The French Consulate in California, 1843–1856,” California Historical Society Quarterly 13 (1934): 64–65. 2. Le Commerce du Dunkerque et du Nord, January 6, 1849. 3. Le Journal de Rouen, February 23, 1849. 4. La Gazette de France, February 13, 1849.



Notes to Pages 196–203 5. Ibid. 6. Alexandre Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” Revue des Deux Mondes 7 (1850): 708. 7. Le Trait d’Union, quoted in Le Journal de Rouen, October 24, 1849. Le Trait d’Union was a French-language newspaper published in Mexico City. 8. L’Indépendance Belge (Brussels), October 9, 1849; L’Écho de l’Oise (Compiègne), December 18, 1849; L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), December 17, 1849. Rumors circulated that General Persifor Smith, the governor of California, had ordered the arrest of foreign miners. See La Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois (Lille), July 29, 1849. These rumors turned out to be false. 9. L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), May 5, 1849. 10. La Presse, July 16, 1849; Le Mémorial Bordelais, July 18, 1849. 11. Madame de Saint-Amant, Voyage en Californie, 1850 et 1851 (Paris, 1851), 146. 12. Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” 698. 13. Patrice Dillon, “La Californie dans les Derniers Mois de 1849,” Revue des Deux Mondes 5 (1850): 208. Dillon added that the Americans disliked the Chileans and the Mexicans because the latter seemed to be working for companies and not directly for themselves (208). 14. Ibid., 209. 15. Le Moniteur Universel, April 13, 1849. 16. Malcolm J. Rohrbough, Days of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the American Nation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87–88, describes the organization and operation of the “mining district.” 17. Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” 704–705. Achard noted that the Americans were particularly hostile toward the Mexicans, “whom they treat as a conquered race.” For the ongoing issue of politics in the camps, see Alexandre Achard, “A French Village in California: Murphy’s Diggings, June 1850,” Le Courrier des États-Unis, October 17, 1850. 18. Charles de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili (Paris, 1853), 259–61. 19. Ibid., 262–63. On the conflict between the Americans and the Chileans, see Le Journal du Havre, March 21, 1850. 20. Le Journal des Débats, August 9, 1849. 21. Benjamin Delessert, “Les Mines d’Or de la Californie,” Revue des Deux Mondes, no. 1 (1849): 477, 483. 22. Ibid., 484. 23. Rodman W. Paul, California Gold: The Beginnings of Mining in the Far West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947), 345–48; Rohrbough, Days of Gold, ch. 12. 24. Rohrbough, Days of Gold, 224–26. 25. Quoted in ibid., 222. 26. Le Siècle, March 25, 1849; L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), May 14, 1849; Le Moniteur de la Californie (Lyon), March 24, 1849. On the report of the refusal of Californians to recognize Smith’s authority, see Le Mémorial Bordelais, June 11, 1849.

Notes to Pages 204–210 27. Malcolm J. Rohrbough, The Trans-Appalachian Frontier: People, Societies, and Institutions, 1775–1850 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 205, quotes Thomas Bolling Robertson’s description of the differences between American and French settlements in Missouri in 1814. Robertson was a member of Congress and future governor of Louisiana. 28. Le Mémorial Bordelais, September 25, 1850. 29. Achard, “Voyage de Paris à San Francisco,” 706. 30. Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush (Georgetown, CA: Talisman Press, 1964), 80. The final quote is from the comment of the newspaper’s editors on publishing the letter. Derbec’s letter was dated San Francisco, February 15, 1850, and published in Le Journal des Débats and in L’Indicateur (Bordeaux). Derbec’s next letter (San Francisco, March 1) was less alarmist (85–87). 31. Stockton Transcript, April 27, 1850; Stockton Times, April 22; May 25; June 1, 1850. California entered the union as the thirty-first state on September 9, 1850. On the foreign miners’ tax, see John Walton Caughey, Gold Is the Cornerstone (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1948), 194–95. 32. Sonora Herald, May 19, 1850. The author of the letter estimated that some ten thousand foreign miners were at work in Tuolumne County. 33. Ibid., May 22, 1850. 34. Ibid., May 31, 1850. 35. Ibid., September 7, 1850. 36. Ibid. 37. Ibid., August 20, 1850. The twenty-dollar payment would make the tax five dollars a month. 38. Ibid. 39. Leonard Pitt, “The Beginnings of Nativism in California,” Pacific Historical Review 30 (1961): 28–36, describes how unofficial mobs toured the mines in the fall of 1850, in a campaign of terror and intimidation. Many foreign miners fled, and two months later, a second wave of expulsions reflected in part the failure of the collector to show up to renew licenses. Hence, those who had complied with the law were now victimized by it. Pitt also notes that the tax failed to enrich the county treasury. 40. On the French resistance to the tax, see Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., “A French Pessimist in California: The Correspondence of J. Lombard, Vice-Consul of France, 1850–1852,” California Historical Society Quarterly 31 (1952): 143–45. French newspapers reacted with muted outrage, but they were far distant from the scenes of the conflict and their information always two months late. “Exorbitant and unjust” was a favorite description. One theme was that California citizens sympathized with the discontented foreigners, but they refused to aid them in their disobedience of the law. In this search for solidarity, the French newspapers surely overstated the case. Nonetheless, some influential California papers were opposed. See Le Journal du Havre, May 23, 1850. 41. Nasatir, “A French Pessimist in California,” 144. 42. De Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili, 253. Lambertie agreed that “when reduced to reasonable proportions,” the tax encountered little opposition.



Notes to Pages 210–216 43. Ibid., 260–61. 44. Léon Lemonnier, La Ruée vers l’Or en Californie (Paris: Gaillimard, 1944), 362–63. On the reaction of California papers to the repeal, see the Alta Californian, March 15, May 2, 1851. For the French papers on the repeal, see Le Mémorial Bordelais, May 9, 1851, whose article began with the declaration that “public opinion has been strongly pronounced against this tax.” 45. Rohrbough, Days of Gold, 228. 46. Joseph Schafer, ed., California Letters of Lucius Fairchild (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1931), 99–100. 47. Quoted in Rohrbough, Days of Gold, 229. 48. Frederick Gerstaecker wrote a whimsical account of the conflict over the tax, first published in 1857. See his Scenes of Life in California (San Francisco: John Howell, 1942). His chapter “The French Revolution” is a humorous story of a French attack on the town of Sonora in response to a rumor that turns out to be completely false. It explored the issues of language, national identity, and community solidarity. 49. For an early account of the persistent hostility toward foreigners in the camps, see Charles Shinn, Mining Camps: A Study in American Frontier Government (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1884), 203–208. 50. De Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili, 259–61. The quote is on p. 260. 51. Ibid., 261. 52. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 189. 53. Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, ed., “A Frenchman in the Gold Rush: The Journal of Ernest de Massey,” California Historical Society Quarterly 5 (1926): 229. 54. De Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili, 259–60. 55. Rohrbough, Days of Gold, 220–29. 56. For the summary of the confrontation that emerged from the official reports of Consul Dillon and Vice-Consul Lombard, compiled by Dillon and sent to his superior, the minister of foreign affairs, see Abraham P. Nasatir, “Guillaume Patrice Dillon,” California Historical Society Quarterly 35 (1956): 317–18; Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 243, n. 272. 57. Nasatir, A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush, 189–91. Derbec’s letter is dated May 1. 58. Ibid., 190–91. 59. William Hanson to his wife, April 27, 1851; William Hanson Letters, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, CA. 60. Alta California, April 26, 28, 29, 30, 1851. For a contemporary account by a Frenchman, see de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili, 259–63. Among the later accounts by the French, the most important are Daniel Lévy, Les Français en Californie (San Francisco, 1884), ch. 3, and Lemonnier, La Ruée vers l’Or en Californie, 362–63. Lévy notes that Mokelumne Hill was the center of the Garde Mobile settlement, which may help to account for their aggressive confidence and resistance. 61. Le Constitutionnel, June 25, 1851. The same issue reprinted Derbec’s letter of May 1, 1851.

Notes to Pages 218–226 chapter 13. the last french argonauts 1. 2. 3. 4.

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27.

Daniel Lévy, Les Français en Californie (San Francisco, 1884), 71. Ibid., 71. Ibid., 71–73. Le Moniteur Universel, January 27, 1851. Gilbert Chinard, “When the French Came to California,” California Historical Society Quarterly 22 (1943): 312, noted the “paradoxical touch” of sending to California a contingent of some 140 men from the Garde Mobile, who were expert in tearing down barricades, to meet other Frenchmen who had built them—“in fact the very men who had been imperfectly subdued by the Gardes Mobiles in 1848 and 1849.” Le Journal du Havre, January 22, 28, 1851. See also La Sentinelle du Jura (Lons-leSaunier), January 29, 1851; Le Courrier du Gard (Nîmes), February 1, 1851. Le Constitutionnel, January 26, 1851. The article noted that another six hundred members of the Garde Mobile would follow. Alta California, November 25, 26, 1850. On the pleasing prospect that the Garde Mobile might be employed against the Indians, see ibid., December 2, 1850. Joseph Schafer, ed., The California Letters of Lucius Fairchild (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1931), 99–100. Donna Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” American History Illustrated 23 (May 1988): 35; Chinard, “When the French Came to California,” 311–13. Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” 35. Le Journal du Havre, November 28, 1851. Le Charivari, October 3, 1851. Le Mémorial Bordelais, October 3, 1851. Ibid., Courtin’s letter, October 9, 1850, in “Lottery of the Gold Ingots,” Police Archives, Paris. Ibid., October 9, 1850; January 23, 1851. St. Louvent letter, ibid. Noquez letter; Buisson letter; ibid. Michelin letter, ibid. Letter to Henrieq; de Montort letter; ibid. Faucher letter, ibid. Chartray letter, ibid. These documents are found in Box A A/443, ibid. Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant, Voyages en Californie et dans l’Orégon (Paris, 1854), 443. On the character of the lingot emigrants, see Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique, XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), 124–27. Le Moniteur Universel, May 28, 1853, quoted in P.-C. de Saint-Amant, Voyages en Californie et dans l’Orégon, 445. Eveth, ‘’The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” 37.



Notes to Pages 227–238 28. De Lisle to the minister of the interior, October 13, 1851; Archives of the French Police, reel 3, no. 3955, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 29. Claudine Chalmers, “L’Aventure Française à San Francisco pendant la Ruée vers l’Or, 1848–1854,” 3 vols. (unpublished PhD dissertation, Université de Nice–Sophia Antipolis, 1991), 3:566–69, is an excellent analysis of the voyages of the lottery ships. Chalmers’s Annex 1 contains a complete listing of the seventeen voyages, with ship, captain, dates of departure and arrival, numbers of passengers, and a brief account of the conditions of the voyage (604–605). 30. Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” 37. See also an account by an American in Alta California, May 13, 1853. 31. Chalmers, “L’Aventure Française à San Francisco,” 571–83, is an account of the arrival of the lingotiers in San Francisco and their participation in the life of the city. 32. Quoted in Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” 36–37. Lévy quotes an account of a lingotier that describes the lottery emigrants as patriotic and with a wide variety of occupations: “carpenters, cabinetmakers, cooks, jewelers, tailors, cobblers, and farmers. There were also lawyers, store clerks, merchants, traveling salesmen, etc. In a word, they had trades or professions.” Les Français en Californie, 77. 33. Paul Malet, Les Voiles de la Misère: Les Sarthois, et Angevins de la Ruée vers l’Or (Turquant: Cheminements, 2000), 11, 47, 48. 34. Ibid., 41, 43. 35. Ibid., 43–46. 36. Ibid., 51–52. 37. Ibid., 52–55. 38. Ibid., 55–56. 39. Ibid. 40. Ibid., 60–62. 41. Ibid., 63–64, 68–71. 42. Abraham P. Nasatir, “Guillaume Patrice Dillon,” California Historical Society Quarterly 35 (1956): 314; Alta California, March 5, 1852. 43. Nasatir, “Guillaume Patrice Dillon,” 314–15. L’Indicateur (Bordeaux), May 13, 1853, in a story entitled “Le Retour de Californie,” recounts the experience of a lottery emigrant who immediately took passage on a ship back to France. 44. Nasatir, “Guillaume Patrice Dillon,” 315. 45. Alta California, April 17, 1852. 46. Quoted in Eveth, “The Lottery of the Golden Ingots,” 45. 47. Lévy, Les Français en Californie, 74. 48. Lévy, “Souvenirs d’un Lingot d’Or,” in ibid., 77–79. Lévy noted that after thirty-two years of unremitting labor, the hotel keeper died as poor as he had been on arrival in California.

chapter 14. the french argonauts return to france 1. Arsène Grosjean, “Huit Mois en Californie” (manuscript, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA), n.p.

Notes to Pages 238–243 2. “Récit d’un Chercheur d’Or” (Cambrai, 1851). 3. Léon Manet, ed., “Un Lorrain en Californie, 1850–1854,” Le Pays Lorrain 26, no. 5 (May 1934): 243–44. The friends from Bruley followed events in France with long delays. On February 16, 1852, after a seven-week delay, they learned the results of the referendum of December 26, 1851, confirming popular support for the end of the republic and the inauguration of the empire. The comment: “Poor France!” (244). 4. Ibid., 244. It was the hope of many French Argonauts to return to France with sufficient gold to invest in property and live on the rents. This pattern mirrored the lives of the well-to-do, and the realization of the hope would put to an end the cycle of endless hard physical labor that governed the lives of so many families. 5. Ibid., 245. The editor closed with the remark that “Migot had thus succeeded in acquiring not a fortune but a modest affluence . . . which he did not [live to] profit from.” 6. Ibid. 7. Gabriel Richard, ed., “Trois Lorrains en Californie,” Revue des Deux Mondes, February 15, 1943:416. 8. Ibid., 417. The editor of the letters offered this conclusion: “For the men from Lorraine who went to California between 1848 and 1852, this was the destiny of the largest part. A few made a fortune through a profession or cattle breeding; for the rest, this was a small number, and it was not without reason that the expression circulated in France: the uncle in America has become synonymous with the castle in Spain” (417). See also a long poem of some twenty verses, “Le Retour de la Californie,” published in L’Étoile du Peuple (Nantes), December 24, 1850. 9. Charles Ansart du Fiesnet, “Une Vie Ratée,” 14–15 (mimeographed manuscript in possession of the author). Edmond was now professor of history at the University of Paris. 10. Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique, XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), ch. 6. On May 13, 1853, L’Indicateur (Bordeaux) published a lively fictional account of the return of three French Argonauts from California. This success story—for so it was—rested on a single decision: “Wiser than most of the immigrants, they resisted gold fever, and when they had amassed a sufficient hoard to assure themselves of an honorable existence for the rest of their days . . . they hastened to pack up and to bring their packets and to put themselves on the first ship leaving for France.” 11. Le Mémorial Bordelais, January 2, 1852. 12. Daniel Lévy, who interviewed several of the lingotiers, portrayed them as French patriots who found new lives in their new land, California. Les Français en Californie (San Francisco, 1884), 77. 13. Paul Malet, Les Voiles de la Misère: Les Sarthois, Mayennais, et Angevins de la Ruée vers l’Or (Turquant: Cheminements, 2000), 68–69. 14. Ibid., 74. The friend observed that Henri was “accompanied by the daughter of his employer, a pretty redhead, whom he hopes to marry” (74). 15. Ibid., 98. 16. Ibid., 99–100. 17. Ibid., 113–26. The quote is from p. 124.



Notes to Pages 244–249 18. Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien, ch. 6. See also Claudine Chalmers, “L’Aventure Française à San Francisco pendant la Ruée vers l’Or, 1848–1854,” 3 vols. (unpublished PhD dissertation, Université de Nice–Sophia Antipolis, 1991), 3:724–27. 19. Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, ed., “A Frenchman in the Gold Rush: The Journal of Ernest de Massey,” California Historical Society Quarterly 5 (1926): 5. 20. Michel Lamontellerie, “Quelques Notes sur un ‘Forty-Niner,’ Jean Chauvin, Dit ‘Frédéric’” (handwritten manuscript in possession of the author), 4. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid., 5. This alienation even extended to Chauvin’s own family. His later descendants “are fervent in wiping their memory [of him]. It is not easy to enjoy the luxury of acting differently from others!” Three generations later, on being asked about this distant black sheep, one relative replied, “I do not know who he was . . . definitely from another family than ours.” Ibid. 23. Jean-Nicolas Perlot, Gold Seeker: Adventures of a Belgian Agronaut during the Gold Rush Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 151–57, 162–64. 24. Ibid., 181–90, 275. 25. Ibid., part VIII. 26. Albert Bénard de Russailh, Journal de Voyage en Californie à l’Époque de la Ruée vers l’Or (Paris: Auber-Montaigne, 1980), 42. For a Frenchman who pioneered in merchandise, banking, and real estate development in San Francisco, see David G. Dalin and Charles A. Fracchia, “Forgotten Financier: François L. A. Poiche,” California Historical Society Quarterly 53 (1974): 17–24. 27. Henry Blumenthal, “The California Societies in France, 1849–1855,” Pacific Historical Review 21 (1956): 256. Blumenthal observes that “the failure of the California societies was full of implications for the Second Republic. Although Frenchmen were defrauded or disillusioned by some of their compatriots, the United States too lost as a result of these ill fated adventures . . . deterring potential French investors in the United States” (260). 28. Le Journal de Rouen, July 13, 1849. 29. By November 1850, there were twenty-seven complaints against California companies. See La Gazette des Tribunaux, December 5, 1849; January 19; July 6; November 30; December 12, 1850. 30. Ibid., December 5, 1849; January 19; July 13; November 1, 1850. 31. Ibid., December 12, 1850; January 26, 1851. 32. Le Constitutionnel, January 13, 1851; La Gazette des Tribunaux, January 11, 1851. Another kind of fraud victimized two young Frenchmen who had been promised transportation from London to California for F 200. They were left abandoned in London, without a word of English between them. Local authorities finally came to their assistance. Le Constitutionnel, November 24, 1850. 33. L’Abeille Lilloise, December 5, 1850; Le Courrier des Tribunaux (Bordeaux), March 16, 1851. The Californienne sent six convoys of associate workers to California, more than any other California company. But it made no arrangements in California to feed, house, or provide work. Blumenthal argues that the dispersal of the arriving immigrants and their refusal to work for the absentee investors in France doomed the companies. Blumenthal, “The California Societies in France,” 257.

Notes to Pages 249–256 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.


40. 41.


La Gazette des Tribunaux, September 18, 1851. Le Courrier des Tribunaux (Bordeaux), April 20, 1851. Le Courrier de la Gironde (Bordeaux), January 13, 1851. La Gazette des Tribunaux, November 30, December 12, 1850. Léon Lemonnier, La Ruée vers l’Or en Californie (Paris: Gallimard, 1944), 133–45; Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant, Voyages en Californie et dans l’Orégon (Paris, 1854), 443–44. Compare these numbers, for example, with the 4,016 transported by the Lottery of the Golden Ingots, of whom 3,293 arrived in San Francisco. René Rémond, Les États-Unis devant l’Opinion Française, 1815–1852 (Paris: Colin, 1962), 113; Cahiers de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques. From the 1850s to the end of the century, French investment in the United States was only 4 percent of the total foreign holdings of France. Ibid., 113. Blumenthal, “The California Societies in France,” 251–60; Rémond, Les États-Unis devant l’Opinion Française, 113. See the court cases in La Gazette des Tribunaux, December 5, 1849; November 30, December 12, 1850; January 10, 11, 19, 26; February 16, 28, 1851. P.-C. de Saint-Amant, Voyages en Californie et dans l’Orégon, 445–46.

chapter 15. the long echoes of the french “rush to gold” in california 1. Daniel Lévy, Les Français en Californie (San Francisco, 1884), part 3. 2. Maurice Soulie, The Wolf Cub: The Great Adventures of Count Gaston RaoussetBoulbon in California and Sonora, 1850–1854 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1927), 76, 77, 80–81. 3. Ibid., 102–104. Ernest de Massey called Pindray “one of the greatest imposters of the century.” On de Massey’s encounter with Pindray, see Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, ed., “A Frenchman in the Gold Rush: The Journal of Ernest de Massey,” California Historical Society Quarterly 5 (1926): 249–52. 4. Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant, Voyages en Californie et dans l’Orégon (Paris, 1854), 117. 5. Joseph Allen Stout, Jr., The Liberators: Filibustering Expeditions into Mexico, 1848– 1862 (Los Angeles: Western Lore Press, 1973), 49–50, 55, 57. 6. Le Courrier de Lyon, February 2, 1852. See also P.-C. de Saint-Amant’s comments that the success of Pindray in Mexico would give France “the germ of a strong and powerful colony” and make up for its loss of Canada. Voyages en Californie et dans l’Orégon, 114. 7. Ibid., 117–18. 8. Soulie, The Wolf Cub, 90–91. 9. Ibid., 125–33. Abraham P. Nasatir, “Guillaume Patrick Dillon,” California Historical Society Quarterly 35 (1956): 319–20. Nasatir notes that Dillon supported the filibustering enterprise “desiring to rid California of unemployed French nationals, who, as foreigners, were hated for their mining activities” (319). The budget of the French



Notes to Pages 256–262

10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.


17. 18. 19. 20. 21.

22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31.


government in 1852 suggested the diplomatic priorities of the new empire: London (F 250,000), St. Petersburg (F 250,000), Washington (F 80,000). See Le Mémorial Bordelais, May 26, 1852. Soulie, The Wolf Cub, 132. Stout, The Liberators, 66–67. Soulie, The Wolf Cub, 165–77. Ibid., 178–200. Nasatir, “Guillaume Patrice Dillon,” 320–21. Stout, The Liberators, 113–21; Soulie, The Wolf Cub, 217–46. On the French press coverage of the second expedition, see Le Courrier de la Moselle (Metz), May 4, 1852; Le Courrier de Lyon, July 15, December 15, 1852. Charles de Lambertie, Le Drame de la Sonora (Paris, 1856); Claudine Chalmers, “L’Aventure Française à San Francisco pendant la Ruée vers l’Or, 1848–1854” 3 vols. (unpublished PhD dissertation, Université de Nice–Sophia Antipolis, 1991), 3:677–96. Hippolyte de Chavannes de la Giraudière, Les Petits Voyageurs en Californie (Tours, 1853), 9–10. Ibid., 45, 46, 54–58. Ibid., 97–99, 100–101. Ibid., 163–64, 167–68, 171, 175–77, 179–85. J. B. J. Champagnac, Le Jeune Voyageur en Californie: Récits Instructifs et Moraux Offrant des Détails Curieux sur Cette Région de l’Amérique et sur les Coutumes, Usages, et Mœurs de Ses Habitants (Paris, 1852), 237. Ibid., 242, 243. Alexandre Dumas (father), Un Gil Blas en Californie (Paris: A Cadot, 1852). Different editions of this work appeared the same year in Brussels, Paris, and Germany. Ibid., 27. Page citations are to the original French edition. Ibid., 28. The preparations for the voyage were interrupted by the failure to obtain a bank loan to charter the ship. Another friend and neighbor, Tillier of Groslay, had joined the Société Nationale. Ibid., 31. Among the items of cargo were a dozen small houses to be reassembled in California. Ibid., 61, 64, 66. Ibid., 69, 79, 81. The story describes a conflict between the French and the Americans clearly based on the incident at Mokelumne Hill (81–82). Ibid., 135–36. Ibid., 136, 147. Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, ed., The Journal of Madame Giovanni (London: Hammond, 1944), xviii. Wilbur’s description of Mme. Giovanni: “A young woman of thirty, medium height, slender, pale, resembling Mademoiselle Rachel; mentally, she is a woman who is cold and grave, who occasionally laughs, but who can hold you with a glance or a word at considerable distance” (xv). Wilbur described Dumas’s story as “a purely feminine viewpoint.” This quality would make it unique among works of gold rush fiction from any country. Alexandre Dumas, Le Journal de Madame Giovanni (Paris, 1856), 85.

Notes to Pages 263–271 33. Ibid., 87, 90. 34. Ibid., 91. The following day, the gentlemen visited a gambling parlor, and the ladies went for a drive and witnessed a hanging. 35. Ibid., 96, 98, 99. Mme. Giovanni described how Americans transformed the landscape: after cutting down the forest, they immediately established a newspaper, constructed a steamboat, and drew up plans for a railroad. 36. Ibid., 100–101. Mme. Giovanni wrote in detail about the American mistreatment of black Americans and Chinese (ch. 28). 37. Ibid., 103, 104, 15. In her introduction, Wilbur refers to Dumas’s account, which shows how the mines gradually “drifted into the control of the hard-working, shrewd, and at times utterly unscrupulous Yankees, leaving to the more temperamental Frenchmen the ownership and management of the hotels, cafes, theatres, shops, and mercantile houses in the embryonic cities.” Wilbur, The Journal of Madame Giovannni, xx. 38. Dumas, Le Journal de Madame Giovanni, 111. A very French dimension of the account is the romantic attachment of the wealthy Englishman, Sir George, to Mme. Giovanni. But Sir George, “a man with 300,000 pounds in rent, a great seigneur in England, spends his time in San Francisco paying court to a woman who does not love him” (124). 39. Ibid., 153. 40. There is no mention of a claim up to this point, and it is a surprise to the reader. Mme. Giovanni provides just a single word about it. Miners were often hard up (more so as they moved into the seasons of 1851 and 1852), and in the camps, merchants would often trade goods for a claim (or part of a claim). It is possible that M. Giovanni obtained a claim in this way. 41. Ibid., 154. Mme. Giovanni leaves a detailed account of her visit with Mr. Dillon, the French consul. 42. Ibid., 157. California and the gold rush were the setting of Blaise Cendrar’s novel L’Or, a life of John Sutter. Published in 1927, the novel resurrected the frenzy of 1848 and how it turned Sutter’s world upside down. 43. Jean-Nicolas Perlot, Gold Seeker: Adventures of a Belgian Argonaut during the Gold Rush Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 392–405, 419. 44. Ibid., 425. 45. Paul Malet, Les Voiles de la Misère: Les Sarthois, Mayennais, et Angevins de la Ruée vers l’Or (Turquant: Cheminements, 2000), 97–98. 46. Ibid., 98–99. 47. Ibid., 135–36.

chapter 16. the balance sheet 1. Le Constitutionnel, December 25, 1848; Le Siècle, December 23, 1848; Le Mémorial Bordelais, December 28, 1848; Le Journal des Débats, January 11, 1849. 2. Stanislaus de Lapéyrouse, Misères Oubliées: Californie, 1850–1853. Aventures et Souvenirs d’un Chercheur d’Or (Paris: Maurice Dreyfous, 1886), 1–2. 3. Le Charivari, June 3, 1849. 4. L’Abeille Lilloise, April 7, 1849.



Notes to Pages 271–280 5. Le Précurseur de l’Ouest (Angers), February 12, 1849; L’Abeille Lilloise, April 7, 1849. With a “league” measured at three statute miles, the distance of twenty-four thousand miles is greatly exaggerated. 6. L’Écho de la Frontière (Valenciennes), January 9, 1849. 7. Annick Foucrier, Le Rêve Californien: Migrants Français sur la Côte Pacifique, XVIIIè–XXè Siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), ch. 5, is an excellent overview of the French response. 8. “La Californie en 1851” (Versailles, 1852). 9. Le Charivari, December 10, 1850, printed what was probably the first obituary for the French in the California gold rush. Titled “The End of California,” it was clever— after the style of Charivari—but its message was undermined as it appeared simultaneously with the upsurge of the new cycle of California companies and the rising attention to the Lottery of the Golden Ingots. 10. Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant, Voyages en Californie et dans l’Orégon (Paris, 1854), 114. 11. Martial Chevalier, “La Californie et l’Émigration Européenne,” Revue des Deux Mondes, no. 15 (1852): 1015–16. 12. Le Moniteur Universel, April 13, 1849. 13. Jan Albert Goris, ed., “A Belgian in the Gold Rush; A Memoir by Dr. J. J. F. Haine,” California Historical Society Quarterly 37 (1958): 333. 14. Le Salut Public (Lyon), August 12, 1850. 15. Le Courrier de Lyon, November 9, 1849. 16. Patrice Dillon, “La Californie dans les Derniers Mois de 1849,” Revue des Deux Mondes, no. 5 (1850): 202–203. 17. Ibid., 203. Dillon tells the story of a young, successful French wine merchant who was harassed by an American. The Frenchman appealed to official authority for relief. The alcalde told him to get a pistol and forge his own justice. The young Parisian immediately liquidated his assets and returned to France with F 60,000. And, he assured Dillon, with “his head still on his shoulders” (ibid., 204). 18. Gustave Aimard, The Gold Seekers: A Tale of California (London, 1861), 97. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid., 102. On Aimard’s comments about Mexicans in the goldfields, see pp. 99 and 120. 21. Le Constitutionnel, April 10, 1852. 22. Chevalier, “La Californie et l’Émigration Européenne,” 1014. 23. Ibid., 1015. 24. Ibid., 1015–16. See also Louis Simonin, “La Californie en 1860: Ses Progrès et Sa Transformation,” Revue des Deux Mondes 32 (1861): 556–92, which gives a summary of the French presence in California after ten years. Simonin noted that the French population in the camps included butchers, laundrymen, masons, and ironworkers”(568). He concluded: “It is the simplicity of these formalities [with mining claims] that has created the great Californian exploitation and brought about the work in the placers and the mines to a degree of prosperity unknown in the old Europe” (583). Of the Americans, he wrote that they were interested only in material things and ignored everything cultural, intellectual, and moral.

Notes to Pages 280–287 25. Chevalier, “La Californie et l’Émigration Européenne,” 1016. 26. Le Courrier de Lyon, December 26/27, 1851. 27. Le Journal du Havre, October 29, 1851. Thomas Bolling Robertson’s contrast of the American and French villages along the Mississippi River in 1814 still resonates here. See Malcolm J. Rohrbough, The Trans-Appalachian Frontier: Peoples, Societies, and Institutions, 1775–1850 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 205. The French preferred comfort, leisure, and permanence against the energy, ambition, and transience of the Americans. 28. See Whitney Walton, France at the Crystal Palace: Bourgeois Taste and Artisand Manufacture in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992). 29. Charles de Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie et au Chili (Paris, 1853), 14–15. 30. Ibid., 251. 31. Ibid., 251–52. 32. Daniel Lévy, Les Français en Californie (San Francisco, 1884), 80. 33. Leon Manet, ed., “Un Lorrain en Californie,” Le Pays Lorrain 26, no. 5 (May 1934): 244. 34. Ibid., 244–45. 35. De Lambertie, Voyage Pittoresque en Californie and au Chili, 211–12. Also see the account of Stanislaus de Lapéyrouse, who described his adventures with Manuelita, “an attractive Chilienne,” during his days on shore in Chile. He concluded that he had settled his accounts with her and departed for California. His reference on the voyage “to an attractive stock of women more or less married” reflected his attitude toward women. Misères Oubliées, ch. 1. 36. See, for example, Derbec’s widely published letters in Abraham P. Nasatir, ed., A French Journalist in the California Gold Rush: The Letters of Étienne Derbec (Georgetown, CA: Talisman Press, 1964). 37. Aimard, The Gold Seekers, 102, 110.


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Printed materials have full citations in the notes. These materials are not listed again here.

unpublished manuscript materials Ansart du Fiesnet, Charles. “Une Vie Ratée: Léopold Ansart du Fiesnet, 1830–1881.” Clermont, 1968. Ms. mimeograph copy in possession of the author. De Massey, Ernest. “Voyage en Californie, 1849–1850, Les Argonautes du XIXè Siècle à la Recherche la Toison d’Or en Californie.” Ms., Los Angeles Public Library. Grosjean, Arsène. “Huit Mois en Californie.” Ms., Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Lamontellerie, Michel. “Quelques Notes sur un ‘Forty-Niner,’ Jean Chauvin, Dit ‘Frédéric.’” Ms. handwritten in possession of the author. “Lottery of the Golden Ingots.” Mss., Police Archives, Paris. “Lottery of the Golden Ingots” Mss., Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA.

french newspapers by place (except paris) Abbeville Pilote de la Somme

January 1849–December 1850

Agen Journal de Lot-et-Garonne

January 1849–December 1850

Ain Écho de la République

January 1848–June 1849



Bibliography Aix Mémorial d’Aix

January–December 1849

Alais Écho d’Alais

January 1849–December 1850

Angers Journal de Maine et Loire Précurseur de l’Ouest Union de l’Ouest

October 1848–December 1850 January–June 1849 November 1849–November 1850

Angoulême Charentais

January 1849–January 1851

Annecy Écho du Mont-Blanc

1849 (scattered)

Arras Courrier du Pas-de-Calais

November 1848–December 1851

Augmon Union Nationale

January 1849–March 1850

Avignon Liberté, Journal d’Avignon Mémorial de Vaucluse Union Nationale

October 1848–June 1849 October 1848–November 1849 November 1848–March 1850

Avranches Journal d’Avranches

1848–1849 (scattered)

Blois Courrier de Loir-et-Cher Journal de Loir-et-Cher

November 1848–January 1851 January 1849–December 1850

Bibliography La France Centrale Républicain de Loir-et-Cher

January 1849–December 1850 March 1848–February 1850

Bordeaux Courrier de la Gironde Courrier des Tribunaux Guyenne Indicateur Mémorial Bordelaise Peuple Souverain Tribune de la Gironde

July 1849–June 1852 December 1850–December 1853 January 1849–December 1850 January 1849–May 1853 November 1848–December 1852 February–June 1849 October 1848–October 1849 (end)

Boulogne Boulogne Gazette Impartial National Boulonnais

June 1848–August 1849 October 1848–April 1850 March 1849–December 1851

Bourg Écho de la République

November 1848–June 1849

Bourganeuf Chercheur

January 1849–December 1851

Brest Océan

November 1848–December 1851

Cahors Écho du Lot

November 1848–January 1850

Cambrai Gazette de Cambrai

January–December 1850

Carcassonne Fraternité

September 1848–August 1849



Bibliography Carpentras Écho de Ventoux Liberté: Journal de Vaucluse

January 1849–December 1851 January–June 1849

Châlon-Sur-Saône Patriote de Saône-et-Loire

January–December 1849

Chambery Patriote Savoisien

November 1848–December 1849

Chartres Journal de Chartres

October 1848–December 1850

Château-Thierry Écho de l’Aisne Réforme de l’Aisne

January 1851–March 1852 October–December 1848; March 1849– December 1850

Châtillon Châtillonnais

January–April 1849

Chaumont Union de la Haute-Marne

May 1849–March 1850 (end)

Cherbourg Journal de Cherbourg Phare de la Manche

January 1849–December 1850 January–November 1849

Colmar Courrier d’Alsace

November 1848–June 1849

Compiègne Écho de l’Oise

November 1848–December 1850

Bibliography Dieppe Vigie de Dieppe

May 1848–December 1851

Dijon Citoyen Courrier Républicain de la Côte-d’Or

January–August 1849 January–December 1849

Dinan Impartial de Bretagne

March 1848–January 1851

Dunkerque Commerce du Dunkerque et du Nord

January 1849–March 1852

Fonterey Indicateur

January 1849–December 1851 (scattered)

Grenoble Courrier de l’Isère

November 1848–December 1850

Havre Courrier du Havre Journal de Graveille Journal du Havre Revue du Havre

January–June 1850 April 1849–May 1852 January 1849–December 1852 January 1849–February 1852

Langes Conciliateur Messager de la Haute-Marne

March 1848–November 1848 October–December 1848 (end)

La Rochelle Charante-Inférieure

December 1848–December 1851

Lille Abeille Lilloise Écho du Nord

November 1848–June 1851 January 1849–December 1852



Bibliography Gazette de Flandre et d’Artois Messager du Nord

January 1849–December 1852 October 1848–November 1850

Lons-Le-Saunier Sentinelle de Jura

January 1850–December 1851

Lyon Censeur Courrier de Lyon Moniteur de la Californie Peuple Souverain Salut Public Tribune Lyonnais

January–December 1849 November 1848–April 1853 March–May 1849 April–June 1849 (end) January 1849–November 1850 October 1848–February 1851 (end)

Marseille Courier de Marseille Gazette de Provence Gazette du Midi

July 1849–December 1851 January 1849–March 1850 November 1848–December 1851

Metz Courrier de la Moselle Indépendant de la Moselle

January 1849–December 1852 January 1850–January 1852

Meurthe Indicateur

1849–1852 (legal notices)

Montauban Conciliateur

April–June 1849

Montpellier Écho du Midi

January 1849–December 1850

Moulins Écho de l’Allier

January 1849–December 1850

Bibliography Nantes Courrier de Nantes Étoile du Peuple Hermine Union Bretonne

January 1849–December 1851 November 1848–June 1851 November 1848–December 1849 April–December 1849

Nîmes Courier du Gard Gazette du Bas-Languedoc Républican du Gard

January 1849–December 1851 November 1848–December 1849 October 1848–July 1849

Nontron Nontronnais

December 1849–August 1850

Poitiers L’Abeille de la Vienne

November 1848–November 1850

Reims Indicateur de la Champagne

January 1849–December 1851

Rodez Écho de l’Aveyron

October 1849–May 1850

Rouen Impartial de Rouen Journal de Rouen Mémorial de Rouen

January 1849–December 1850 November 1848–November 1852 November 1848–November 1850

Saint Brieuc Foi Bretonne

September 1848–September 1850

Saint Étienne Sentinelle Populaire

January–June 1849



Bibliography Saint Paul Bien Public

November 1849–November 1851

Salins Démocrate Jurassienne

January–May 1849

Strasbourg Alsacien Courrier du Bas-Rein Démocrate du Rhin

November 1848–May 1850 January 1850—December 1851 December 1848–December 1850

Tarbes Journal de Tarbes

November 1848–November 1849

Toulon Démocrate du Var Sentinelle de la Marine Toulonnais

July 1849–December 1850 January 1849–December 1851 January–December 1849

Toulouse Gazette du Languedoc Indépendant Journal de Toulouse

January 1849–November 1851 July 1849–April 1850 November 1848–June 1850

Valence Courrier de la Drôme et de l’Ardèche

January 1849–December 1850

Valenciennes Écho de la Frontière

November 1848–November 1850

Versailles Journal de Seine-et-Oise

January 1850–July 1852

Bibliography Yvetot December 1849–September 1850 October 1848–August 1851 November 1848–September 1849

Abeille Cauchoise Écho de Mayenne Ruche de la Dordogne

paris newspapers and periodicals Almanach pour Rire Argus Argus des Théâtres Aurifère Bien Public Californie Agricole Californien Caricaturiste Revue Drôle Charivari Chronique de Paris Constitutionnel Courrier de la Californie Courrier de San-Francisco Courrier Français Dix Décembre Écho de la Presse Écho des Feuilletons Écho du Sacramento Estafette des Modes Événement Gazette de France Gazette des Affaires Gazette des Tribunaux Illustration Journal des Débats Journal des Économistes Journal pour Rire Messager de la Semaine Messager Franco-Américain Moisson d’Or Moniteur Universel National Nouveau Monde Pays Phare Commercial

1850, 1851, 1852 July–September 1850 1849 March 1850–August 1851 May–December 1848 July–December 1850 August 1849–September 1850 June 3, 1849–June 30, 1850 November 1848–December 1851 1850, 1851, 1852 December 1848–December 1851 Vols. 1 and 2 February–September 1850 December 1848–April 1849 April 1849–May 1850 March 1849–August 1852 1848, 1849, 1850 November 1849–March 1851 1850 January 1849–March 1851 December 1848–June 1849 January 1849–November 1854 January 1849–December 1852 January 1848–December 1856 December 1848; January–June 1849; January–March 1850 January 1849–October 1851 1849 October 1849–August 1850 March–December 1850 July–October 1850 January 1849–January 1851 December 1848 July 1849–August 1850 January–August 1849 April 1849–December 1850



Bibliography Presse Révolution Démocratique et Sociale Revue Britannique Revue Comique Revue des Deux Mondes Siècle Silhouette Télescope

December 1848–June 1851 November–December 1848 November 1848–April 1849 1849 1848–1858 December 1848–July 1851 January 1849–January 1850 July–September 1850

belgian newspapers Brussels Indépendance Belge

July 1849–December 1849

u. s. newspapers California San Francisco Alta California Courrier de San Francisco

1848–1851 1850

Sonora Sonora Herald


Stockton Stockton Times Stockton Transcript

1850–1851 1850

New York Courrier des États-Unis


u. k. newspapers Times (London)



Abbeville, 39 Abounze (businessman), 69, 247–48 Achard, Alexandre: absence of women viewed by, 121; Americans viewed by, 196, 198, 200; Camp Murphy viewed by, 189–90, 205, 217; departure of, 99; randomness of mining viewed by, 126 agriculture, 24, 241, 272, 281 Aimard, Gustave, 277–78, 287 alcaldes, 49, 205 Algeria, 14, 50, 64, 144, 145, 254 Alric, Henri, 93–94 Alta California, 215, 231, 232 American Indians, 111, 120, 255; American employment of, 23; attacks by, 200, 245, 265; encounters with, 112, 119; French employment of, 106; hostility toward, 194, 199, 204, 240, 254; intermarriage with, 121 American Revolution, 204 American River, 1, 22, 23, 31 André, Alexandre, 92, 125, 183 Ansart du Fiesnet, Edmond, 84, 118–19, 187–89, 239–40 Ansart du Fiesnet, Félix-Charles, 83, 84 Ansart du Fiesnet, Léopold, 83–84, 118–19, 187–89, 239–40 Ansart du Fiesnet, Selim, 84 Apache Indians, 255, 256

Arago, Jacques, 62 Arnard, H., 232 associate workers, 74, 75, 130, 131, 132 Australia, 1, 50, 278 automation, 132 banking, 133, 179 banquet movement, 10–11 Barbados, 98 battle of Waterloo, 50 Beaumont, Comtesse de, 229 Bénard de Russailh, Albert, 77, 246 Beranger (prospector), 113 Bion (swindler), 250 Blanchard (businessman), 248 Blanco (general), 256 Bonaparte, Louis Napoléon, 25, 100, 102; election of, 7, 19, 241, 274; imperial vision of, 252, 254; Italian upheaval and, 53; Mexican scheme of, 258 Bordeaux, 33, 39 borrowing, 76–77 Boston, 51, 68 Boulogne Gazette, 40 Boutmy (entrepreneur), 69 Bouvée, Clément, 80, 238 Bouvée, Joseph, 80 Bouvée, Louis, 80, 238 brandy, 24, 48, 59, 114, 179



Index bread, 10, 106, 114 Bretonne company, 94, 133 Briot, Dr., 95 British Empire, 50, 51, 275 Bruley, 79–80, 92–93, 183, 238–39, 282, 284 Buisson, Arsène, 223 Burnett, Peter, 207–8 Cabet, Étienne, 15–16, 17, 161 Californienne company, 57, 86, 94, 131, 132, 249, 250 Camp Murphy, 189–90, 205, 212, 217 Canada, 50, 286 Canary Islands, 94 Cape Horn, 73, 74, 92–94, 97 Caravane Havraise, 42, 67 Carey, Henri, 34 Caricaturiste (magazine), 162, 164–65 Carraguet (petitioner), 223–24 Catholicism: in France, 7, 50; in Italy, 53; in Mexico, 50 Cavignac, Louis-Eugène, 19 censorship, 9, 10, 26, 241, 270 Cham (pseud. of Amedée de Noé), 166–67 Champagnac, J. B. J., 173, 259–60 champagne, 179 Charivari (magazine), 27, 166; California image reshaped by, 162, 221–22, 271; desertions viewed by, 164; lottery and, 144–45, 147–49, 153–55 Charles X, king of the French, 8 Chartray family, 224 Château de Passavant, 82 Chauvin, Jean Frédéric, 78, 79, 244–45 Chauvin, Jean Homère, 78–79 Chauvin, Jean Lambert, 79 Chavannes de la Giraudière, Hippolyte, 258–59 Cherbourg, 33, 39 “Chercheurs d’Or du Sacramento, Les” (Duplessis), 167 Chevalier, Martial, 189, 279–80 Chile, 122–23; merchants and prospectors from, 1, 120, 196, 199, 202; trade with, 43

China: prospectors from, 1, 210, 234, 240; trade with, 31, 51–52, 178 cholera, 29, 81, 98, 102, 129, 241 Chronique de la Semaine, 155 Chronique de Paris, 123–24, 137–38, 140 civil disorder, 46–47 claims, 113, 181–82, 198, 199–200, 276 class distinctions, 7–8, 96–97 Clavelle-Doisy (swindler), 250 clothing, 31, 40, 41, 48, 59 coal mining, 70 Colette-Quenouille (merchant), 60–62, 67 colonization, 50; Pacific, 52 Committee of Vigilance, 231, 253 Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Californie, 134, 136–37 Compagnie des Mineurs Belges, 141 Compagnie Française et Américaine de San Francisco, 250 Compagnie la France, 248 Compagnie Parisienne, 248 Company of Ten, 112–13 Comptoir Dieppois, 60, 61 Congress of Vienna (1815), 8 Constitutionnel (newspaper), 26, 28, 155, 216, 219, 270, 278 constitution of 1848, 18–19, 44, 241 Constructeur company, 250 Cooper, James Fenimore, 146 Corsica, 145 Courrier de la Californie, 136 Courrier des États-Unis, 25–26 Courrier du Havre, 221 Courtin (petitioner), 222–23 court system, 180, 275, 277 Cretenier, Alexandre, 62 crime, 44, 45–46, 102, 106–7, 179–80, 190–91 Cuba, 253 Curet, Captain, 63 Daumier, Honoré, 174 death penalty, 12 de France, Jules, 96

Index de Lambertie, Charles, 111, 115–18, 179, 201, 210; affluence of, 87; American egotism viewed by, 200, 213; dalliance of, 285; determination of, 78; expulsion decried by, 212; homesickness of, 282–83; ocean voyage of, 94; pessimism of, 125 de Lamollet (entrepreneur), 96 Délepine, Alphonse Antoine, 62–63 Delessert, Benjamin, 49, 54, 189, 201–2 de Lisle (diplomat), 227 Delmas (priest), 135 Demange, Grégoire, 80 Demange, Justin, 80, 238 Demange, Stéphane, 80 de Massey, Ernest, 83, 106, 185, 187, 212, 282, 283; American egotism viewed by, 213; aristocratic background of, 38, 81–82, 87, 284; class consciousness of, 94, 95, 96–97, 286–87; diverse career of, 244; family loyalty of, 82, 186, 281; political leanings of, 82, 95 de Massey, Ormond, 244 Demers (bishop), 224 de Montort (functionary), 224 Derbec, Étienne, 178, 184–85, 212; clannishness viewed by, 206; failed companies viewed by, 108, 136, 139, 141; French Canadians viewed by, 286; Mokelumne conflict viewed by, 214–15; public order praised by, 179–80, 190–91 de Saint-Amant, Françoise, 100–102, 197 de Saint-Amant, Pierre-Charles, 100, 225–26, 251–52, 256 desertion, 23, 26, 29, 40, 41, 103, 164; from American ships, 30; by American soldiers, 46, 49; from English ships, 34; from French ships, 44, 53; severity of, 53 Deterville (swindler), 248–49 D’Eu (petitioner), 224 Dieppe, 13–14, 39, 60 Dillon, Patrice, 109, 124, 212, 228; American rectitude praised by, 121, 198–99; in fiction, 266; lingotiers assisted by, 221, 231–34, 242; Mexican ventures

backed by, 256; Mokelumne conflict and, 214, 215; moral code viewed by, 277; success and failure viewed by, 125, 177; in tax controversy, 209; workload of, 286; writings of, 189 disease, 47, 48, 97, 99 d’Oliveira, Emmanuel, 197 Droit (newspaper), 151, 153 drunkenness, 45, 48, 200, 225–26, 227, 232 Duflot de Mofras, Eugène, 43–44, 68, 69, 275 Dumas, Alexandre, fils, 149–51, 158, 189 Dumas, Alexandre, père, 25, 169, 189, 258, 260–66, 286 Dunkerque, 33, 39 Duplessis, Paul, 167 dysentery, 227 Écho du Sacramento, 134–37 Économie company, 250 education, 7, 8 elections: of April 1848, 13, 25, 240; of December 1848, 18–19, 27, 44, 241, 270, 274 Événement, 168–69 factionalism, 18–19 Fairchild, Lucius, 210–11, 234 Farnham, Elizabeth, 122, 164 Faucher, Léon, 224 Feather River, 23, 232 Ferry, Hypolite, 103 feuilletons, 167, 170, 273 filibustering, 233, 240, 254, 255, 257, 274 financial arrangements, 76–77 firearms, 46, 187, 197, 204 fiscal reform, 12 food, 9, 49, 79; cost of, 162–63 Fortune company, 85, 108, 111, 132, 245 Fourcades, Les (Mokelumne Hill), 177, 210, 211–16, 218 Fournier, Marc, 168 fraud, 246–52



Index freedom of association, 12 freedom of the press, 12, 26 French Bank of California, 133 French Benevolence Society, 232 French Canadians, 286 French Hill, 212 French Revolution, 8, 9 Gadel, Édouard, 119–20, 239 Gaillard (prospector), 86 gambling, 45, 91, 93, 104, 184 Garde Mobile, 14, 145, 217–20, 226, 228, 237, 256, 269 Garde Républicaine, 226 Gazette de France, 39 Gazette des Affaires, 27, 66–69, 72, 138, 139–40 Gazette des Tribunaux, 27, 250 Georgia, 182 Gerbe d’Or company, 132 Germain, Honorine, 244–45 Germain, Jacques, 244–45 Gil Blas on Californie, Un (Dumas, père), 260–61 Gillet, Firmin, 80, 238 Godoneche (lottery director), 159 Gold Seekers, The (Aimard), 277–78 Gosselin (entrepreneur), 96 Goujot, Nicolas, 80 Grosjean, Arsène, 37–38, 86, 93, 104, 113–15, 237–38 Guatemala, 69 Haine, J. J. F., 276 Hanson, William, 215 harvest failures, 9, 10 Hawaiian Islands, 1 Henrieq (functionary), 224 Hereford (businessman), 248 Herval (vicar), 86 hides, 23 Hochgesangt, Ch., 85–86, 249 Holinski, Alexander, 121 housing, 104, 133

Hudson’s Bay Company, 44, 68 hunting, 8 Icarian movement, 16, 161 Illustration (publication), 48, 139 immigration, 44, 52 imperial expansion, 50, 73, 201–2, 213, 222, 253, 272 Imperial Russian-American Company, 68 Indépendance Belge (newspaper), 49 India, 50 Indicateur, 145 Irish, 213 Italy, 53–54, 129 Jeune Voyageur en Californie, Le (Champagnac), 173, 259–60 joint stock companies, 56–72 Jomard, Edmond, 38, 98–99, 102–3 Jones, Thomas ap Catesby, 30, 45 Journal de Madame Giovanni, Le (Dumas, père), 262–66 Journal de Rouen, 195 Journal des Débats, 28, 45, 46–47, 55, 108, 139, 178, 201, 270 Journal du Havre, 85–86, 219, 221 Journal pour Rire, 27, 162 June Days, 14, 18, 45, 56, 217, 240–41 King, Thomas Butler, 214 Lafayette, marquis de, 198, 275 Laffite, Caillard, and Company, 158 Lallier (entrepreneur), 71 land ownership, 7, 281 Langlet (entrepreneur), 96 Langlois, Jean-François, 143, 151, 152, 158–59 language barrier, 59, 69, 88, 98, 107, 112, 180, 199, 200, 213 Larkin, Thomas, 34 La Rochelle, 39 Law, John, 67 leases, 76–77

Index Le Bozek (captain), 227 Ledru-Rollin, Alexandre, 19, 241 legal system, 180, 204, 248, 275, 277 Le Havre, 33, 39, 42, 67 LeMaître, Joseph, 83 Lévy, Daniel, 233, 284 Lille, 8, 286; rural France vs., 14–15 lingotiers, 220–34, 237, 240, 242, 286 literacy, 7, 8 loans, 76–77 Lombard (vice-consul), 124–25, 209–10 Lord, Israel, 211 Lorraine, 79–81, 119–20, 129 Los Angeles, 240 Lottery of the Golden Ingots, 3, 4, 249, 256, 264, 269; aftermath of, 157–61; authorization of, 143–46; Charivari and, 144–45, 147–49, 153–55; drawing for, 155–57, 242, 274; Dumas’s history of, 149–51; enthusiasm for, 146–48, 170, 174, 273; favoritism and incompetence in, 151–53; ingot exhibition and, 148–49; ships financed by, 220–34 Louis-Philippe, king of the French, 8–9; abdication of, 11 luxury goods, 179 Lyon, 8; newspapers in, 33; radicalism in, 64; rural France vs., 14–15 Lyonville, 64–67, 72 Manifest Destiny, 18, 51, 52, 196, 199, 203, 206, 213, 253 Margraff (prospector), 246 Mariposa River, 177 Marseillaise company, 62 Marseille, 33, 39, 62 Marshall, James W., 1, 17–18, 23 Marysville, Calif., 177, 232, 233 Mason, Richard, 24, 33, 42, 203 Mathet, Catherine, 228–29 Mathet, Eustache, 228–31, 242, 243, 267–68 Mathet, François, 243, 268 Mathet, Henri, 228–31, 242–43, 267–68 Mathet, Rosalie, 243, 268

Mathieu, Auguste, 239 Maximilian, emperor of Mexico, 258 McDougall, John, 210 Mémorial Bordelais (newspaper), 41, 145, 152–53, 222, 270 Merced River, 177, 185, 245 Messmaker (captain), 83 Mexico: filibustering in, 233, 240, 254, 255, 257, 274; as independent republic, 50; land ceded by, 18, 202, 270; Pindray’s expedition to, 254–56, 274; prospectors from, 1, 196, 199, 202, 203, 207, 208–9, 210, 234, 240; trade with, 43; war with, 30, 52, 194, 195, 196, 206, 213, 270 Michelin (petitioner), 223–24 Migot, Jean, 80, 92–93, 183, 238, 284 Migot, Louis, 80 military government, 46, 48–49 Mines d’Or de la Californie, 62 mining districts, 182–83 Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, 53, 59, 72, 184 Ministry of Works, 12 Mississippi bubble, 67 Moerenhout, Jacques, 16, 21–24, 54, 140, 164, 193 Mokelumne Hill (Les Fourcades), 177, 210, 211–16, 218 Mokelumne River, 111, 115, 116 Moniteur de la Californie (newspaper), 64–66 Moniteur Universel (newspaper), 29–33, 53, 218, 225–26, 276 Monnet (shipowner), 247 Monnin-Japy, Louis-Auguste, 155–56 Moniteur Universel, 218 Montes, Jean, 105, 107 mortgages, 76, 77 Moulins de Saint-Maur scandal, 69 Munier-Pugin, Édouard, 239 Munier-Pugin, Jules, 119, 120, 239 Munier-Pugin, Victor, 119, 120, 239 Murphy Camp, 189–90, 205, 212, 217



Index Nantes, 33, 39 Napoleon I, emperor of the French, 50 Napoleon III, emperor of the French. See Bonaparte, Louis Napoléon National Assembly, 8, 12, 240; attacks on, 9; factionalism in, 18–19; lottery debated in, 145; opposition in, 11, 15, 241; workshops disbanded by, 14 newspapers: advertising in, 56, 57, 72, 97, 107, 129–31, 134, 139, 146–48, 151, 165–66, 246–47; American, 18, 24, 25, 130; American entrepreneurs viewed by, 41–42; cheerleading by, 28–29, 39–40, 55, 56–57, 130, 222; civil disorder viewed by, 46–47; company, 134; conservative, 15; emigration discouraged by, 203; French, 17, 24–25, 30–32, 203; government documents in, 53; growth of, 26; letters to, 34–35; local and regional, 33–34; lottery winners celebrated by, 157; physical dangers viewed by, 47–48; skepticism of, 27, 43, 72, 139–40, 270 New York City, 51, 68, 178 New York Herald, 25 New York Mining Company, 55 Nicaragua, 43, 253 Noquez (petitioner), 223 Oregon, 178, 202, 246, 275; acquisition of, 195; prospectors from, 1, 120, 205 Oudine (lottery director), 158, 159 Pactole company, 248 Panama, 73–74, 97–99, 197–98, 203, 253, 275, 276 papacy, 53, 129 Paradis (storekeeper), 233 Paris, 8; banquet movement in, 11; Icarian movement in, 16; prospectors from, 87, 286; rural France vs., 14–15; unemployment in, 10, 56; workshops in, 13 passports, 75

Patrie (newspaper), 152, 158 Pays (newspaper), 29, 163 peasantry, 8, 10, 15, 16 Perlot, Jean-Nicolas, 84–85, 87, 108, 112, 245–46, 266–67 Peru, 254; merchants and prospectors from, 1, 120, 199, 202; trade with, 43 Petit Manuel de l’Actionnaire (Philippart), 134 Petits Voyageurs en Californie, Les (Chavannes de la Giraudière), 258–59 Phare Commercial (publication), 27, 70–72 Pidaucet, François, 82, 185, 283 Pilote de la Somme (newspaper), 40 Pindray, Charles, marquis of, 254–56, 274 Pioche, François, 280 plebiscite, 241, 242 Plumas River, 177 political parties, 13 Polk, James K., 17, 27, 28, 270 Portland, Ore., 246 Précurseur de l’Ouest (newspaper), 47–48, 55 Presse (newspaper), 26, 28–29 prostitution, 121, 179, 231, 253 Provençaux company, 112 Public Balance, 244 railroads, 7, 56, 70, 87, 129, 139, 241 Raison, Joseph, 80 Raousset-Boulbon, Gaston, 233, 256–57, 274 real estate, 133 regionalism, 7 Reims, 62 Rémond, René, 251 republicans, 9, 10; divisions among, 12, 13; victory of, 11–12 Revolution of 1830, 8–9 Revolutions of 1848, 1, 189; dashed hopes of, 229; divided views of, 44–45; economic downturn and, 39, 70, 228; in France, 7, 11, 26, 64, 209, 269, 270, 286

Index Revue des Deux Mondes, 99, 179, 189, 279 Richard, Gabriel, 80–81 rights of man, 18 right to work, 10, 12, 18, 272; workshops and, 13 Riley, Bennett, 49 Rio de Janeiro, 73, 94 Rochambeau, comte de, 198 Rouchard (emigrant), 224 Rouen, 8, 33 Ruche d’Or company, 94, 133 Russia, 8, 54, 130 Sacramento, 110, 246 Sacramento company, 250 St. Louvent (petitioner), 223 Sandwich Islands, 120, 178 San Francisco, 3–4, 35; demonstrations in, 47; economic opportunity in, 246; emptying of, 26, 32, 164; fires in, 119, 180, 214, 216; French population in, 177, 243–44, 254, 273; growth of, 43, 103, 123; housing shortages in, 104; South Americans in, 199 sanitation, 47, 103, 184, 191 San Joaquin, Calif., 205 San Joaquin River, 124, 206 San Jose, Calif., 177, 240 Santa Anna, Antonio López de, 257 Savalette (litigant), 152 seafaring, 73–75, 82–83, 91–102 sea sickness, 91, 94, 227 Seven Years War, 275 shipping industry, 144 Siberia, 130 Siècle (newspaper), 26, 27, 28, 144, 145–46, 270 Silhouette (magazine), 27, 162 slavery, 17 Smith, Persifor, 203 Société Brugnier Jeune et Cie, 71–72 Société de Commerce de San Francisco, 133–34 Société de Jésus et de Marie, 132

Société Française et Américaine de San Francisco, 132 Société Franco-Californienne, 68–69 Société Immobilière de San Francisco, 133 Société Lallier Columbel, 70–71 Société Lyonnaise, 106 Société Nationale, 69, 247 Société Nationale pour l’Exploitation des Mines d’Or de la Californie, 107 Société Parisienne, 63 Société pour l’Exploitation en Californie, 133 Sonora, 1, 21, 117, 177, 203, 205, 233, 254, 256–57 Sonora Herald, 207–8 Stanislaus River, 206 statehood, 47 Stockton, Calif., 111, 116, 215, 246 suffrage, 7–12, 15, 18, 19, 272, 274 suicides, 81 Sutter, John, 1, 201 tallow, 23 tariffs, 44, 130 taxes, 7, 8; on foreign miners, 206–11, 218; on land, 12 Taylor, Bayard, 34 Télescope (newspaper), 140–41 Texas: annexation of, 30, 195, 202, 255; as independent republic, 50; utopian experiments in, 17 Texier, Edmond, 170, 189, 258 Thibeau (manager), 85, 108 Times (London), 25 Tinel (shipowner), 247 Tocqueville, Alexis de, 275 Toison d’Or company, 80, 132 Touaillon, 69 Toulon, 39 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), 18, 52, 201, 253–54 Treaty of Paris (1783), 275 Trinity River, 185 Trottot, Nicolas, 80



Index Tuolumne, Calif., 205, 245 “Two Parisians in California” (Texier), 170–72 Tyrwhitt-Brooks, J., 17, 34 unemployment, 10, 13, 56 Valparaiso, Chile, 24, 30, 34–35, 73, 230–31 Verlet, N., 80 Veron, Alexandre, 82, 83, 185, 186, 283 Viard, Victor, 141–42 Victor Marzieu and Company, 220 Vigie de Dieppe (newspaper), 60 vigilantism, 180 Vilatelle, Count de la, 224

Voyage to Icaria (Cabet), 15–16 Washington, George, 275 Waterloo, battle of, 50 Wilbur, Marguerite, 262 wine, 24, 41, 179 women, 77; American attitudes toward, 276; on expeditions, 74, 93–94; scarcity of, 100, 120–24, 131, 164–65 work day, 12 workshops, 13–14, 56 yellow fever, 227 Yenez, José María, 257 Yosemite Indians, 245 Yuba River, 177, 232