Miners’ Ten Commandments

By James Hutchings, 1853

Crossing the Plains

Crossing the Plains

A Man spake these words and said: I am a miner who wandered from “Away Down East” and came to sojourn in a strange land and “Sees the Elephant.” And, behold, I saw him, and bear witness that, from the key of his trunk to the end of his tail, his whole body has passed before me; and I followed him until his huge feet stood still before a clapboard shanty; then, with his trunk extended, he pointed to a candle-card tacked upon a shingle, as though he would say “Read!”

Miners Ten Commandments:

Miner's Claim

Miner’s Claim

I. Thou shalt have no other claim than one.

II. Thou shalt not make unto thyself any false claim, nor any likeness to a mean man by jumping one. Whatever though findest on the top above, or on the rock beneath, or in a crevice underneath the rock, or I will visit the miners around to invite them on my side; and when they decide against thee, thou shalt take thy pick, thy pan, thy shovel, and thy blankets, with all that thou hast, and go prospecting to seek good diggings; but thou shalt find none. Then, when thou hast returned, in sorry shalt thou find that thine old claim is worked out, and yet no pile made thee to hide in the ground or in an old boot beneath thy bunk, or in buckskin or bottle underneath thy cabin; but has paid all that was in thy purse away, worn out thy boots and thy garments, so that there is nothing good about them, but the pockets and thy patience is likened unto thy garments, and at last thou shalt hire thy body out to make thy board and save thy bacon.

Miners' Commandment III

Miners’ Commandment III

III.  Thou shalt not go prospecting before thy claim gives out. Neither shalt though take thy money, nor thy gold dust, nor thy good name, to the gaming table in vain; for monte, twenty-one, roulette, faro, lansquenet, and poker will prove to thee that the more though puttest down, the less though shalt take up; and when thou thinkest of thy wife and children, thou shalt not hold thyself guiltless, but — insane.

Miners Commandment IV

Miners Commandment IV

IV.  Thou shalt not remember what their friends do at home on the Sabbath day, lest the remembrance may not compare favorably with what though doest here. Six days thou mayest dig or pick all that thy body can stand under, but the other day is Sunday; yet thou washest all thy dirty shirts, darnest all thy stockings, tap thy boots, mend thy clothing, chop thy whole week’s firewood, make up and bake thy bread and boil thy pork and beans that thou wait not when thou returnest from thy long-tom weary. For in six days’ labor only thou canst not work enough to wear out thy body in two years; but if thou workest hard on Sunday also, thou canst do it in six months; and thou and thy son and thy daughter, thy male and thy female friend, thy morals and thy conscience be none the less better for it, but reproach thee shouldst thou ever return to thy mother’s fireside; and thou strive to justify thyself because the trader and the blacksmith, the carpenter and the merchant, the tailors, Jews, and Buccaneers defy God and civilization by keeping not the Sabbath day, nor wish for a day of rest, such as memory of youth and homemade hallowed.

V. Though shalt not think more of all thy gold, nor how thou canst make it faster, than how thou wilt enjoy it after thou hast ridden rough-shod over thy good old parents’ precepts and examples, that thou mayest have nothing to reproach and sting thee when thou art left alone in the land where thy father’s blessing and thy mother’s love hath sent thee.

Thou shalt not destroy thyself by getting "tight," nor "slewed," nor "high," nor "corned," ...

Thou shalt not destroy thyself by getting “tight,” nor “slewed,” nor “high,” nor “corned,” …

VI. Thou shalt not kill thy body by working in the rain, even though thou shalt make enough to buy physic and attendance with. Neither shalt thou kill thy neighbor’s body in a duel, for by keeping cool, thou canst save his life and thy conscience. Neither shalt though destroy thyself by getting “tight,” nor “slewed,” nor “high,” nor “corned,” nor “half-seas over,” nor “three sheets in the wind,” by drinking smoothly down “brandy slings,” “gin cocktails,” “whisky punches,” “rum toddies” nor “eggnogs.” Neither shalt thou suck “mint-juleps” nor “sherry cobblers” through a straw, nor gurgle from a bottle the raw material, nor take it neat from a decanter, for while thou art swallowing down thy purse and thy coat from off thy back, thou art burning the coat from off thy stomach.

And if thou couldst see the houses and lands, and gold dust, and home comforts already lying there — a huge pile — thou shouldst feel a choking in thy throat; and when to that thou add’st thy crooked walking and hiccupping; of lodging in the gutter, of broiling in the sun, of prospect holes half full of water, and of shafts and ditches from which thou hast emerged like a drowning rat, thou wilt feel disgusted with thyself, and inquire, “Is thy servant a dog that he doeth these things?”

Verily, I will say farewell, old bottle; I will kiss thy gurgling lips no more; and thou, slings, cocktails, punches, smashes, cobblers, nogs, toddies, sangarees, and juleps, forever, farewell. Thy remembrance shames me; henceforth, I will cut thy acquaintance; and headaches, tremblings, heart-burnings, blue-devils, and all the unholy catalogue of evils which follow in thy train. My wife’s smiles and my children’s merry-hearted laugh shall charm and reward me for having the manly firmness and courage to say: “No! I wish thee an eternal farewell!”

VII. Thou shalt not grow discouraged, nor think of going home before thou hast made thy “pile,” because thou hast not “struck a lead” nor found a rich “crevice” nor sunk a hole upon a “pocket,” lest in going home thou leave four dollars a day and go to work ashamed at fifty cents a day, and serve thee right; for thou knowest by staying here though mightest strike a lead and fifty dollars a day, and keep thy manly self-respect, and then go home with enough to make thyself and others happy.

Thou shalt not steal a pick, or a pan, or a shovel, from  thy fellow miner, ...

Thou shalt not steal a pick, or a pan, or a shovel, from thy fellow miner, …

VIII. Thou shalt not steal a pick, or a pan, or a shovel, from thy fellow miner, nor take away his tools without his leave; nor borrow those he cannot spare; nor return them broken; nor trouble him to fetch them back again; nor talk with him while his water rent is running on; nor remove his stake to enlarge thy claim; nor undermine his claim in following a lead; nor pan out gold from his riffle-box; nor wash the tailings from the mouth of his sluices. Neither shalt thou pick out specimens from the company’s pan to put in thy mouth or thy purse; nor cheat thy partner of his share; nor steal from thy cabin-mate his gold dust to add to thine, for he will be sure to discover what thou hast done, and will straightway call his fellow miners together, and if the law hinders them not they will hang thee, or give thee fifty lashes, or shave thy head and brand thee like a horse thief with “R” upon thy cheek, to be known and of all men Californians in particular.

IX. Thou shalt not tell any false tales about “good diggings in the mountains” to thy neighbor, that thou mayest benefit a friend who hath mules, and provisions, and tools, and blankets he cannot sell; lest in deceiving thy neighbor when he returns through the snow, with naught but his rifle, he presents thee with the contents thereof, and like a dog, thou shalt fall down and die.

Thou shalt not commit unsuitable matrimony, nor covet "single blesssedness," nor forget absent maidens, ...

Thou shalt not commit unsuitable matrimony, nor covet “single blessedness,” nor forget absent maidens, …

X. Thou shalt not commit unsuitable matrimony, nor covet “single blessedness,” nor forget absent maidens, nor neglect thy first love; but thou shalt consider how faithfully and patiently she waiteth thy return; yea, and covereth each epistle that thou sendeth with kisses of kindly welcome until she hath thyself. Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor trifle with the affections of his daughter; yet, if thy heart be free, and thou love and covet each other, thou shalt “pop the question” like a man, lest another more manly than thou art should step in before thee, and thou leavest her in vain, and, in the anguish of thy heart’s disappointment, thou shalt quote the language of the great, and say, “sich is life;” and thy future lot be that of a poor, lonely, despised and comfortless bachelor.

A new commandment give I unto you. If thou hast a wife and little ones, that thou lovest dearer than thy life, that thou keep them continually before you to cheer and urge thee onward until thou canst say, “I have enough; God bless them; I will return.” then as thou journeys towards thy much-loved home, with open arms, shall they come forth to welcome thee, and falling on thy neck, weep tears of unutterable joy that thou art come; then in the fullness of thy heart’s gratitude thou shalt kneel before thy Heavenly Father together, to thank Him for thy safe return. Amen. So mote it be.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2024.

About the Commandments: The Miners’ Ten Commandments were written by James Hutchings and first published in the Placerville Herald in June 1853. The commandments were later reprinted as a letter sheet and sold to miners and prospectors who used it as stationary to write letters.

Miners Pioneer Ten Commandments of 1849, W.R. Bennett, 1887.

Miners Pioneer Ten Commandments, W.R. Bennett, 1887.

Also See:

California Gold Rush

Gold Mining in America

Mining on the American Frontier

The Old-Time Miners