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Antonio Franco Coronel Describes Tensions Among Miners

Antonio Franco Coronel was born in Mexico, came to California as a child in 1834, and settled with his family in Los Angeles. As one of the original miners in the state’s gold fields in 1848, he found success at the Placer Seco in northern California. When he returned to the same area in 1849, he found many more miners there, and he describes the tensions that arose among them. After his experiences in the mines, Coronel became mayor of Los Angeles in 1853 and served as state treasurer from 1867 to 1871.

. . . I arrived at the Placer Seco [about March, 1849] and began to work at a regular digging. In this place there was already a numerous population of Chileans, Peruvians, Californians, Mexicans, and many Americans, Germans, etc. The camps were almost separated according to nationalities. All, some more, some less, were profiting from the fruit of their work. Presently news was circulated that it had been resolved to evict all of those who were not American citizens from the placers because it was believed that the foreigners did not have the right to exploit the placers. . . . 

There was a considerable number of people of various nationalities who understood the order to leave—they decided to gather on a hill in order to be on the defensive in case of any attack. On the day in which the departure of the foreigners should take place, and for three or four more days, both forces remained prepared, but the thing did not go beyond cries, shots, and drunken men. Finally all fell calm and we returned to continue our work. Daily, though, the weakest were dislodged from their diggings by the strongest. . . . 

The reason for most of the antipathy against the Spanish race was that the greater portion was composed of Sonorans who were men accustomed to prospecting and who consequently achieved quicker, richer results—such as the Californios had already attained by having arrived first and [learned how to find gold]. Those who came later [mainly Anglo Americans], were possessed by the terrible fever to obtain gold, but they did not get it because their diggings yielded but little or nothing . . . Well, these men aspired to become rich in a minute and they could not resign themselves to view with patience the better fortune of others. Add to this fever that which the excessive use of liquor gives them. Add that generally among so many people of all nationalities there are a great number of lost people, capable of all conceivable crimes. The circumstance that there were no laws nor authorities who could protect the rights and lives of men gave to these men advantages over peaceful and honorable men. Properly speaking, there was no more law in those times than that of force, and finally, the good person, in his own defense, had to establish the law of retaliation.

Source | Antonio Franco Coronel, “Cosas de California,” dictated to Thomas Savage for the Bancroft Library, 1877, translated by David J. and Carol S. Weber.
Creator | Antonio Franco Coronel
Item Type | Biography/Autobiography
Cite This document | Antonio Franco Coronel, “Antonio Franco Coronel Describes Tensions Among Miners,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed May 19, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1718.

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