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  Gold.jpg (18522 bytes) California 1848

Gold Fever!

Colonel (Governor) Mason on the Gold Rush  from the City Museum of San Fransisco

William T. Sherman and Early California History

The world knows about gold in California.

So does all the soldiers in the army.  Desertion was a huge problem at that time.   

The problems the government faced in newly acquired California were tremendous.   There was no civil government, police or courts.  The army had to establish posts and supply depots.  The natives needed to be protected from harassment by immigrants.  Mail delivery was virtually non-existent.  All while the population is exploding.

Ingalls arrival in Monterey was reported by Colonel Mason, military governor of California in an interesting message that also listed the sad condition of the troops on that ship. 

"HEADQUARTERS TENTH MILITARY DEPARTMENT, Monterey, California, September 12, 1848.

SIR: I have the honor to inform you that the ship "Huntress" arrived at this port on Sunday last, the 10th inst., having on board Capt. R. Ingalls, assistant quartermaster, Lieutenant M. Norton, 1st New York volunteers and 46 recruits for the two companies of regulars serving in California. These recruits are in a lamentable condition, the scurvy having broken out on board, causing the death of four men and seriously affecting the health of the rest. They disembarked yesterday, and twenty are now in hospital, thirteen sick in quarters, and the remaining thirteen reported for duty are too feeble for military duty. I would suggest the propriety of causing in future all transport ships bound for California to touch at one or more intermediate ports on the way. The charter of the Huntress required her to come direct to Monterey, without stopping unless absolutely necessary. Her trip was remarkably good: and still Captain Ingalls reports, that had the voyage been protracted two weeks longer, he would have lost the greater part of his command. The Huntress had on board a large supply of clothing for the volunteers; but as their term of service has expired, it will not be needed. I have ordered Captain Folsom, at San Francisco, to receive it and store it as well as possible. The charter of this ship requires her cargo to be landed at the end of her tackles; and as she has no launch, it is impossible to discharge her here. I, in consequence, have directed Capt. Marcy to contract with the master for the delivery of the entire cargo at San Francisco, where there are more facilities for landing and where the stores will be more secure. I would again respectfully renew the recommendation contained in my letter of April 10, that all ships chartered for this coast be required to have suitable launches, and to land their cargoes if required to do so; for, with the exception of San Francisco and San Diego, the harbors of California are open roadsteads, in which it is impossible to keep launches or lighters. Had the captain of the Huntress been so disposed, he might have laid here at great cost to the government, as it would have been impossible for us to discharge his ship under the circumstances. Captain Ingalls is ordered to San Francisco to superintend the delivery of the stores to Captain Folsom, after which he will return and report to me at Monterey. The New York volunteer regiment being partly mustered out of service, and the whole being under orders for discharge, I have discharged from service Lieutenant Norton, the officer of that regiment, who came from New York on duty with these recruits. I have the honor to enclose you duplicate copies of my letters Nos. 37, 39, and 42. sent to Washington in charge of Lt. Loeser, 3d artillery,who sailed for Pata, Peru, on the 30th ult.; and I will merely add, that the state of the country has not materially changed since that date. The artillery company here continues to diminish in numbers by desertion. This morning's report shows one officer for duty, one officer extra duty, 13 non-commissioned officers and privates for duty, 5 sick, 13 extra or daily duty, 3 confined, 9 on furlough, and 4 on detached service-a total of 47 enlisted men. No reports have been received from the dragoon company since my last letter. The reports from the gold mines continue full as flattering as ever, but much sickness has resulted from the great exposure and heat of the summer, causing many citizens to return to the cool climate of the seacoast. I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letters of April 13th and 18th; one of February 8th, to Major General Jesup; special orders No. 11, and general orders Nos. 6, 9, 10, 13, and 16, of 1848. By the post returns already sent you, you will perceive that my file of orders is very incomplete. I have no news of the squadron, but am expecting daily some part of it with Lieut. Col. Burton's command from Lower California. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, R. B. MASON, Colonel 1st Dragoons, Governor of California. Brigadier General R. JONES, Adjutant General U. S. A., Washington."

Message dated January 24. 1849 to General Graham,  Signed W. T. SHERMAN, 1st Lieut. 3d Artillery,  Assistant Adjustant

"Captain Rufus Ingalls, assistant quartermaster, was sent to Los Angeles to afford his assistance in the important and multifarious duties that fell upon the quartermaster of your command, for a short time after your arrival in the country. Colonel Mason wishes you to order him to Monterey as soon as you can spare his services."

The problem of desertions and the shortage of labor is illustrated, with obvious frustration, by Govenor Mason in this portion of a message to his superiors in Washington dated November 24, 1848:

"The recruits brought by the Huntress have nearly all deserted; just so fast as they recovered sufficiently from the scurvy to leave the hospital, they went off. "

"So long as the gold mines continue to yield the great abundance of metal they now do, it will be impossible to keep soldiers in California; and it is of no use to send them here. Soldiers will not serve for seven and eight dollars per month when laborers and mechanics are getting from fifty to one hundred. At the very time the recruits were deserting from Monterey, there was a ship in the harbor which had lost all her men; and her captain was offering one hundred dollars per month for sailors, and could not get a crew. "

Later in the same message, he plead for assistance in establishing a civillian government.  The situation was fast becoming unmanageable:

"I cannot too strongly recommend a territorial government to be organized in California at the earliest moment possible, if it has not already been done. There is no security here for life or property; and, unless a civil government is specially organized, anarchy and confusion will arise, and murder, robbery, and all sorts of crime will be committed with impunity in the heterogeneous and mixed community that now fills California. "

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Updated February 24, 2001 L.R. Davis