SOCAL-L ArchivesArchiver > SOCAL > 1998-06 > 0899226000
Subject: The Foreign Miners' Tax & the Southern Mines - 1850 - A fresh view
Date: Tue, 30 Jun 1998 13:00:00 EDT
I previously posted 49er B.B.Harris' recollections of the upheaval in
and around Sonora after the California legislature passed on April 13, 1850,
the Foreign Miners' Tax, which permitted only native or naturalized citizens
to mine without licenses that cost twenty dollars a month. Even if you saw my
previous posting, this exerpt from 49er Bernard J. REID's letter to his
brother - dated May 30, 1850 from "Woods Creek(a branch of the Tuolumne)
Southern Mines" - gives a FRESH view of the turbulent situation, especially in
the Southern Mines. It was written only 11 DAYS after Tuolumne County Tax
collector Lorenzo A. BESANCON, began enforcing this new tax law in Sonora.
On May 30, 1850, REID writes:
"...The legislature has imposed a monthly tax of $20 on every foreigner
digging gold. The law was to operate from the 15th inst.[of this month].
Within 10 miles of Sonora there is a large marjority of foreigners. They
thought the tax oppressive and were deliberating resistance. The ringleaders
and fomeneters of trouble were chiefly French Socialists - Red Republicans....
"They collected the simple and ignorant Mexican and Chilian peasantry -
harangued them with inflammatory speeches - denounced the tax as 'unjust' and
'tyrannical' - and said IF IT MUST BE PAID, pay it in powder and ball.
Frenchmen from all quarters collected about Sonora [May 18] all armed to the
teeth, and affairs grew serious. The excitement was heightened by an American
who rashly undertook to cheat a Chileno out of his hole - by representing
himself the Collector and demanding the tax. The Chileno said he had not then
enough money to pay it. 'Then you must quit work.' The Chileno quietly left
the hole - but no sooner was he out than the perfidious scoundrel jumped into
it in his place. This exasperated the Chileno who with one blow cut the
jugular vein of the American and he died in a few minutes.
"The Americans in and about Sonora felt apprehensive for their safety and
sent runners to Mormon Gulch and Jamestown for reinforcements. That night
about 400 Americans there under arms - they remained next day which was the
last "day of grace" given by the Collector - and owing no doubt to the
determined front they presented, no difficulty took place, except that a
Mexican drew a knife on the Sheriff(newly elected)but was killed on the spot
by the Sheriff's deputy[Richard CLARK/CLARKE? - former partner of - our pack
train trip from Stockton to Agua Fria - 49erRobert BROWNLEE.]. One Frenchman
was arrested for inciting the mob by inflammatory harrangues.
"Thus ended, or rather was prevented, the war which if begun would have
raged furiously in this quarter. It would have become a war of extermination,
for the want of any power on either side to arrest it, and it would have swept
to its end so quickly. For several days a painful suspense prevailed, and we
were all in readiness to march at a moment's warning to the assistance of the
authorities and our fellow citizens in danger.
Now all is quiet and many of the foreigners have left .I am sorry to
say that several Americans who reap a rich harvest of profit off the
foreigners, encouraged the disaffection, denounced the law, and preached
actual treason...."(Letters in So.CA Hist. Quarterly, Vol. LXVII,No.1(Spring,
NOTE: I am sure most of you already know this. But the miners referred
to the SOUTHERN MINES as those watered by the tributaries of the San Joaquin
River - with the NORTHERN MINES being watered by the tributaries of the
Thanks for listening:-)
Bob Norris in Dallas