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Mining“. . . Pirney, one of the pioneers to whom the present western prosperity is due, came from his native home in England when a boy, accompanied by his parents. He was one of the earlier enthusiasts to appreciate the mining possibilities on the coast, and after crossing the plains with ox-teams and wagons in 1848, was more successful than average in wresting from the hidden stores of the earth a livelihood and even competence. He located in Sacramento county and filed on land which was never proved up, and where he was naturalized as an American citizen. Eventually he worked at his trade, that of stone mason, but in later years removed from San Francisco to his old home in Canada, where he raised fruit on his farm and where he died at the age of sixty-seven years. . . .”1
The preceding account appears to have had the facts stretched a bit. The part about the ox-teams and wagons is especially suspect, and Pirney is known to have been still in Indiana in January 1850. Nothing has come to light documenting time spent in Sacramento County or San Francisco, though it is true that he was naturalized.
No letter seems to survive describing Pirney’s mining efforts. It is not known whether Robert tried mining before he realized there were surer profits from providing food for the miners than scrabbling for gold. The only reference to mining (which mentions the advent of hydraulic mining) is in a letter from “Doc” Jones to Pirney.
“. . . I think I shall quit the mines for good and try my Luck a Raising hogs. I got pretty near Broke at Volcano. I lost two hundred and fifty dollars on my humbug Claim. I could have made my Money back and Something more if I had had any partners worth a Cent, but a good Claim is verry easly Spoiled by Poor management. besides, I Expect to loose about 600 dollars in Debts Due me. Some of them Ran away, I guess. I sold my house & lot for 600 dollars. . . . The Mineing Interests Now depend upon getting water from ditches. principally there is a Large ditch brought into Volcano from Some of the branches of the Moqualum nes River. but they never got it in till the Last of March and the water failed in June, So that the Mineing opperations there are nearly dead. the claims on the South Branch are yielding verry well generally, tho they are attended with heavy expense. Rancherie2 will be a good mineing Camp next winter as they will be apt to have plenty of water. . . . Pirney If you ever Come back to this country I should like to take another Mineing Tour with you, tho I dont think I would undertake it with any one els . . .”3
1 Guinn (1903), biography of Pirney’s son, R G Flint.
2 The mining camp of La Rancherie was located near Sutter's Mill, where gold was first discovered in 1849. La Rancherie stood out for its stability: it could boast a few buildings made of clapboard and some that were even painted. Picture.
3 Jones (1856). This letter is also quoted in the "Volcano" and "Jones" sections.
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