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The Chilean Crusade for El Dorado

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By Anthony Belli

Vicente Perez Rosales, Chilean 49er

Vicente Perez Rosales, Chilean 49er


Not content with having drunk up our brandy, these scoundrels rifled our saddlebags where we had a bottle of quimagogo. One of the damned gringos drank it all, thinking it was port; the bottle held enough to kill three horses. When we saw they had gulped down this medicine like wine, I assure you we would have been terrified had we not been secretly enjoying a mood of vengeance.

-- Vicente Perez Rosales, Chilean 49er




The California Gold Rush has no equal, Herbert Howe Bancroft said of the year 1849 that it was an "era” in time that had passed in a single year. The events which began with James Marshall’s discovery of gold in Coloma induced an aberration of time, space and humanity tantamount in global history. The western slope of California's Sierra Nevada range played host to men from nearly every nation of the world, Brits, Mexican, Chinese, Kanaka, Peruvian, Irish, French, Italian, all invaded the lands of the Miwok and Maidu. More came from Nicaragua, Spain, Australia, Yankees from the States – white and black, Argentina and Chile. The California Gold Rush was the largest migration of humanity since the Crusades.    

California under American conquest began it’s history from this mixed bag of race, religion and culture which has developed into California's unique society and culture of today. Where else can one celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, a Native American Pow-Wow and the Chinese New Year without leaving the state? The story of the Gold Rush therefore is incomplete as told in text-book form, the true story of California's Gold Rush is best told in the words of those 49er’s who manned these Sierra foothills as world history unfolded.

Those from Chile certainly left their mark on California, and in a much more profound way then just leaving us with volumes of place names beginning with Chile, or in its typically American version -- "Chili.” El Dorado County’s own Chileno history can be found in the mining camps of Chile Bar (inundated by Folsom Lake,) and Chili Bar north of Placerville, Yomet, Pekin, Spanish Flat, Kanaka Town, Johntown, Hangtown, Garden Valley and Chile Hill. Chilenos played an important though unintentional role in how Hangtown acquired it’s name, also resulting in Hangtown's Main Street oak joining the ranks of two other famous California hanging trees, one at Jackson the other at Second Garrote.

Likewise it was Chilean miners who sought justice for the murder of one of their own resulting in the hanging of Richard Crone, aka: "Irish Dick” who swung from Placerville's lesser known hanging tree which sat in the vicinity of today’s Coloma and High Streets.


News Of Marshall’s Discovery Reaches Chile


Word of Marshall’s discovery first arrived in Valparaiso, Chile with the arrival of the brig JRS on August 19, 1848. Captain G.L. Hobson, a Valparaiso merchant himself, related the tale of his difficult voyage home since half his crew had jumped ship at San Francisco upon hearing the news. He reported California's gold fields were so bountiful that all one had to do to earn a fortune was to merely reach down and pick it up off the ground. Folks paid little heed to his fabulous tales from California.


Ten days later with the arrival of the schooner Adelaida which carried $2,500 in California gold Chile’s future was abruptly changed. First to respond were foreign merchants, members of American and British colonies. Less then two weeks after the Adelaida arrived at Valparaiso forty-five English-speaking businessmen boarded the Virginian and sailed for California.


At this point Chile was suffering an economic decline and many of her young men took note at the sudden departure of the "gringos.” The rush from Chile was on. The Chilean Foreign Office first issued passports for those experienced miners whose passage could be paid, others worked as temporary ships crew and soon each ship was filled to capacity. By June, 1849 the Foreign Office had issued more then 6,000 passports.


No longer were Chileans applying for passports, adventurers, prostitutes, and folks from every walk of life departed Chile, all California bound. Those English-speaking gringos who’d first left Chile were now opening shops in San Francisco and importing goods from Chile including foods, mining supplies, explosives, and prefabricated homes. By the end of 1849,  92 of 119 ships of Chilean registry sat in various states of decay rotting in the San Francisco Bay leaving Chile’s Merchant Marine fleet in ruins. How ever many skeptics remained were soon convinced as every ship returning to Chile’s harbors was greeted by crowds of people yelling for "News from California!” The reply was the same. Gold! Gold in abundance! Nuggets the size of boulders!



Continued Next Page


Abandoned Ships in San Francisco Harbor 1849

Abandoned ships in the San Francisco Harbor, 1849.


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